For the longest time I had this thing. It was kind of weird but I didn’t really think much about it. It’s not like I thought everyone was like me. It was more like I didn’t really think about it at all. I just carried on with my life and it didn’t really impact anything. That was until I saw this video discussing synesthesia and I finally had a name for my mind’s weird habit.
No, synesthesia is not some strange disease that will kill me before I reach 30 (although it does kind of sound like it). In case you didn’t bother clicking to watch the video synesthesia is “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” Basically, it is this weird association thing that 4.4 percent of the population have where you connect one thing with another that most people wouldn’t consider related. For example, you might connect certain numbers with certain colors or certain words with certain tastes.
For my part, I have ordinal linguistic personification which is “the involuntary and automatic tendency in certain individuals to attribute animate-like qualities such as personality and gender to sequential linguistic units (e.g., letters, numerals, days, months).” So, for me, four is female and nice whereas seven has no gender but is a bit mischievous. Even numbers tend to have softer personalities and odd numbers tend to be harsher. The letter A is feminine and B is masculine but has a comforting personality. If you want to read more about it, the Wikipedia page is fascinating, but because this isn’t a science blog, I’m not going to bother typing it all out.
To me, what is most fascinating, is not that I have this, but how long I went before I had I name for it or even considered that other people might not look at the world the same way that I do. To us, the workings of our brains are normal. The way we think is normal. The way that we look at the world is normal. But to others, that might be completely foreign. The first time I read A Man Made of Words by N. Scott Momaday, my mind was blown when I realized my way of thinking wasn’t the way everyone thinks. In the book, Momaday explains that Native Americans have a different understanding of time than Europeans:
“When my father spoke to me of my grandfather, who died before I was born, he invariably slipped into the present tense. And this is a common thing in my experience of the Indian world. For the Indian there is something like an extended present. Time as motion is an illusion; indeed, time itself is an illusion.”
It never occurred to me that other cultures would think about time so differently when everyone I knew treated it as a universal fact. I had grown up only being exposed to one type of thinking and so I thought that everyone viewed things the way I did.
Because we often only look at the world one way, it is difficult to redirect the rut of our own thinking. This brings me to a beautiful comic by The Oatmeal. Below is the first panel, I would encourage you to read the whole thing. I also encourage you to read it and consider your own brain and how it is structured. Maybe you don’t have synesthesia, but you do have a way of thinking that is uniquely yours and a way of thinking that needs to be open to challenge and change. So listen and maybe you will discover something new.