Monday, November 22, 2010

Synesthesia: I See Dead People (In An Oddly Specific Historical Timeline)

I think I have a condition. For real, guys. It's not a disease, it's not a disorder, it is a condition, and it's called synesthesia.

They don't know a whole bunch about it because it's neurological and since scientists are only a few years out from "you wish you had a penis, now bite down on this bar while we pump you with electricity like you are in the Pit Of Dispair," there isn't much that anyone knows about the brain. But basically the condition has to do with pathways in the brain getting crossed, leading to people assigning colors to numbers, or personalities to letters, that kind of thing.

So yes. I am self-diagnosed with at least mild synesthesia ever since they featured it on the Stuff You Should Know podcast (which I told you about here and here). But, if podcasts and Wikipedia are always correct and accurate, and I'm pretty sure they are, then I have it. Specifically I have number form synesthesia, which is when you see numbers or dates spatially. There's a little description of it on Wikipedia, along with two people's drawings of what they see. Check it out.

For me, I see years spatially on a timeline--but the timeline isn't always straight, and different decades get more space than others. It's weird, I've never actually drawn it out, but I was trying to describe it to Joe and he wanted to know what I saw. So I drew it, here:

(also I'm considering throwing dyslexia in the mix for my inability at writing numbers in the right order) (and in case you can't read my handwriting, that's the nineties popping out in 3D)

After I looked at it and not just in my mind, I could see pretty clearly why my timeline looks like that--the years that seem to have had more going on, or that were more important to me, get more space on the line. The forties tend to just hang out with the fifties because I know next to nothing about the forties, but the eighties get all kinds of space--maybe because I need room for all the important dates, like when I and two of my siblings were born. Then the nineties had more significance to me because I actually remember them better, and they start coming toward me.

I told Joe that 1899 would start again on the right, like on new piece of paper. He asked if 2000 then is on the left. And I said "Yeah. Well, no's not...I actually don't know where the 2000s are." Finally, I realized that it's because I have different visuals to remind me of the 2000s: places in my high school, teachers, my hair, my clothes, Teenage Boyfriend. I actually had memories, so I don't have a timeline for those years. But anything from 1999 and earlier, and especially the 20th century, has a very specific place in the line. If someone says "Yeah, that happened back in 1973," I visualize it in a place on the line--in this case, right in the middle.

Another thing they're connecting to synesthesia is the ability to feel touch when someone else is touched. Which I don't have. OR DO I?! Because I cannot handle watching people in serious pain. From people falling off trampolines on AFV to movies with torture or serial murders or scalping *SHUDDER, SHUDDER, MASSIVE SHUDDER* I know this is true of a lot of people--people like me, who can't handle scary movie trailers, and take issue with the Last Of The Mohicans. Maybe it's synesthesia? *shrug*, Wikipedia didn't dive into that one, so I have no answers.

Anyway, I know this wasn't a knee slapper, but I thought I'd bring it up. You know, in case we've got a meat v. meet situation on our hands, and there's anyone else out there who's realizing that not EVERYONE thinks seven tastes like bananas.


Hannah said...

Do you assign personalities to numbers? Because then you might be some sort of savant

a-like so:

FreeFlying said...

Can you diagnose me? Because I'm pretty sure I have some kind of vision issue or sizing problem. Like, I couldn't understand a lot of the words you used in that post because they were very large and had typically unused letters like z's. Maybe some kind of condition with too much t.v. as a cause? I'm putting myself in your hands, doc.

Emily said...

YOU have a condition! YOU have a condition! EVERY! BODY! HAS A CONDITION!

...or, if that doesn't suffice, I can look up things on WebMD for you until I come to the conclusion that it's a brain tumor. That always seems to work for me.

Marie said...

I found your blog when using Google Image Search to see if there were any visual representations of number line synesthesia.

I realized I have this two nights ago and have been reading about it a lot. I am almost 57, so it's quite a surprise. Your drawing of years is almost identical to what I visualize - others were similar, but yours is almost exactly the same as mine. My "left turn" happens in 1960, and goes back to the 1940s where it goes diagonally down a bit, then straightens back out around 1920. Also, my 1980s go diagonal also from top right to bottom left. My centuries also start over again from the far right. I also see it as a 3D kind of thing, especially going backwards in time through centuries - it is sort of like the intro to Star Wars - look for it on YouTube if you don't know what I mean.

I haven't had much time to think about this, and I need to sit back and experience it and try to make my own "maps." I just want to thank you for posting your drawing, it is amazing to see somebody else does this. I honestly never even thought about it, I didn't even assume everybody has this, I just didn't think about it at all. Now I am really wondering how others visualize years, or don't they visualize them at all? Much reading to do. :)

HÃ¥kon Hapnes Strand said...

This is really fascinating. I'm a Norwegian guy in my late twenties, and I found your blog in the same way as Marie. :-)

I visualize the 20th century exactly the same way you do! My "left turn" starts in 1990 just like yours. Even the spacing between the decades is equal to yours.