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What Is It Like To Have Synesthesia?

20/07/2017 12:12 BST | Updated 20/07/2017 12:12 BST

What is it like to have synesthesia? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Alexandra Pell:

I've always felt like my form of synesthesia is less interesting than other forms (for instance, I know somebody who experiences words as having flavours), but I'll describe it here. Mine has several layers, but none that seem quite so psychedelic. Darn.

I was aware of these things as far back as I can remember. I was genuinely surprised when I realised other people didn't experience graphemes (letters and numbers) as having colours/genders/personalities. I don't see the graphemes as these colours (if they're written down) in the same manner that I would if they were actually written in colours, but I "see" the colours as a sort of faint, translucent overlay and have what I can only describe as a physical sense of them. There's a physical sensation of blueness when I see a 1, which I am aware makes no sense at all.

0 = very pale icy blue, sometimes white

1 = pale blue baby

2 = pinkish reddish girl

3 = green, boy

4 = purple, boy

5 = salmon-ey, woman

6 = bluish male, jovial, able to experience enthusiasm and delight in a way that is not immature but is still somewhat child-like

7 = generally orange, though sometimes an annoying shade of violet, unpleasant, catty personality, male

8 = purple, gentle and quiet male, a bit shy, quite stable personality

9 = shifts from greens to aquas and blues, social, attractive, charismatic male

These descriptions have stayed constant since I was a child. I imagine you'll be able to ask me what's what twenty years from now, and it will still match what I just wrote up. I did not purposely associate these traits with the graphemes, nor did I memorise them. That's just what they are.

(In the interest of time, I'm skipping the alphabet.)

I see the span of numbers as a physical structure, but it's hard to describe what the structure is like. It is sort of like a number line, but with no marks. Unsurprisingly, the starting point for where my mind starts its visit on the line is often zero. From zero and into the negatives it's just a straight line going far in one direction. From zero up things start out slowly but as time passes by, the line (more a path or road, really) shifts upwards so slowly it's almost undetectable. There are tendrils hanging down all throughout the road and vague senses of other numbers outside the line that I have no way of getting to. The line itself gets weird in some spots, but its nature is beyond my ability to express linguistically.

I think almost everyone has at least some sort of vague synesthetic experience from time to time, even if it's not particularly strong. Almost everyone I encounter understands what "cool colors" and "warm colors" mean, for instance. That sort of association is just more strongly experienced by the senses in people with synesthesia.

An awful lot of people look at this...

...and feel that it looks musical. (Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky)

Aside from my full-blown manifestations of synesthesia, my mind just associates all senses with each other more often than other people's minds seem to. I am more aware of the "mouthfeel" of words (and especially names) than others seem to be. This especially applies to names in the form of proper nouns. I've spent an absurd amount of time thinking about names throughout my life.

(Anyone who wants my assessment of their name can feel free to place an order. I will send you a full page on your name after you send me ten dollars. :)

Now that I'm done explaining why I'm weird...

It really just feels like everything reminds me of everything else, sometimes with a literal sense connection and sometimes just with a very strong mental connection. It's helpful when I write fiction.