What color is the number 2? A quick intro to Synesthesia by Julie Clark

Synesthesia graphic 2017

When you look at this graphic, what is your first thought? Do you agree with it, even in part? Is it entirely wrong? Or does it absolutely confuse you? Does it make you wonder what was going on inside my head when it was made?

The answers to those questions may reveal whether you are a fellow “synesthete,” which may confuse you even more! So, before you click away thinking this Aspie Mom has lost it, let me do some explaining.

For those unfamiliar with the term “synesthesia” and who are quite confused, let me prepare you: what you are about to learn may seem quite absurd. But, I assure you, it is not.

Just as we all have different personalities and different physical characteristics such as eye color, our brains are wired uniquely, too. Did you know not all people think in pictures? Or that some think in black and white while others see in color? For many, the realization that we all “think” differently can be revealing.

For those of us who are synesthetes, our sensory world (how we interpret and recall things such as colors, smells, touch, etc.) is wired differently. To put it another way, when I recall numbers and letters I see them in color. Each digit has a color specific to it. For others, these same letters and numbers may have another sensory characteristic associated with it, such as taste or smell.

One fascinating aspect of this is how the experience of synesthesia differs from person to person. For instance, I have two sisters. One is a fellow synesthete, one is not. Although my fellow synesthete shares the same trait of seeing letters and numbers in color, those colors are different for each of us. For my other sister, she stands and listens, as this is quite mind bending to her! She thinks we’re nuts.

But she loves us anyway.

And no, we’re not crazy, or ill. And we’re not making it up, either.

In fact, I see synesthesia rather as a sort of super power. Having the ability to overlap senses makes it easier for me to recall things. For instance, if I need to remember a number or a name, the fact that I automatically associate it with color (or a group of colors) helps me.

Back to the image at the top of the post – for me, the color-number combination is partially correct. I would change a few, but the rest are as my mind sees them. Take a look at the image again. What do you think when you process each letter and number? There is no wrong answer here.

For more information on synesthesia, I highly recommend David Eagleman’s work. He has done a tremendous amount of research in this area and you’ll find it rather fascinating. There is even a PBS documentary that does an absolutely wonderful job “showing” what it is like. For some who see the video, it is eye opening to learn other people think this way. For others, it is eye opening to learn that others do not.

Synesthesia. Sin-ess-thee-zhe.

It’s one more way to deepen our understanding of how we  each experience life. And that is a beautiful thing.


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