Tag Archives: Cuisenaire Rods

There’s nothing random about my number colours

I must have had an understanding of basic number facts and arithmetic when my colours for numbers became set, because there are colourful and logical patterns in the colours of digits, and this logic is also interwoven with ordinal-linguistic personification*. I’ve only just realised how formal the “logic” of my grapheme – colour synaesthesia actually is, as I’m studying and trying to use number colours as a simple mnemonic. I think synaesthesia researchers would agree that this brain-based mental phenomenon of coloured letters and numbers forms in the early years of schooling when kids first learn reading and basic maths.

The even numbers up to 10 are all colours that are or are made up from one particular “warm” colour, because even numbers have warm personalities (obviously!) because they are made up of pairs (every element inside an even number has a friend for company). I can’t stand the colours of most even numbers as they remind me of bodily waste and bodily fluids. In contrast, the odd numbers from 3 to 9 are all colours that are or are made up from another particular colour, this colour being a “cold” colour. The odd numbers have somewhat chill colours because of their inherently cool (but sometimes entertaining or dynamic) personalities, because within them there are units that have no pair, that is, they contain “loner” units. Of course, the greatest “loner unit” is the number 1, and he is so special that his colour follows a special rule for all concepts that are at the beginning of learned sequences (the special firsts). Maybe you can guess what their colour is. I’m sure you can guess the colour (or non-colour) of the digit 0. I’m not sure if there’s some rule or it was just a happy accident that the digits that are multiples of three look like a spectrum of colours with the cold colour added in greater quantity with more threes added. 3, 6 and 9 really do look like they belong in a sequence by their colours alone. Their colours are the same as the vibrant colours of the plumage of a native WA bird that I was fascinated with as a young child. I find these colours truly inspiring.

Just to complicate things, I also think Cuisinaire rods, which I used to learn maths many years ago in early primary school, have colour-digit associations that have some similarities with my number colours. No synaesthete can ever know for sure how their colours for graphemes were set in the wiring of our brains, but I suspect that I gave these colour-digit associations a lot of thought when I was a much younger student than I am now.

* a type of synaesthesia in which concepts that are learned in set sequences are involuntarily personified in a way that is very stable over time, for example, the letter D is a man with a gentle but authoritative personality

Cuisenaire Rods and paper money – grapheme-colour synaesthesia and nostalgia all at the same time

Someone shared a photo of those colored wooden rods which were used to teach maths in primary schools in WA in the 1970s on Facebook. These ones had colours that were faded and drab compared to most photos of Cuisenaire Rods which can be found on the internet. Perhaps the rods that they provided for young students in WA schools faded with age or after being washed. I was quite amazed to see that six out of the ten digits represented by the rods in the WA photo were in colours that roughly correspond to my colour-grapheme synaesthesia for numbers. One of the rod colours was pretty close. I don’t think this is a coincidence. One of the numbers that was not a match for the rods in colour was indeed a match for the old Australian paper dollar note for that number.

Does finding a learned origin for my synaesthesia associations show that my synaesthesia is not “biological” or genuine? No it doesn’t. Synaesthesia researchers know that syn is a thing that develops at around the age when kids are being educated with tools such as these rods, and it is known that there are cultural/linguistic influences on grapheme-color synesthesia.

This is a link to some Cuisenaire Rods for sale. The colours are a bit different to the ones I used as a kid: