Tag Archives: Number perception

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

They’re teaching synaesthesia in the schools!

No wonder the youth of today have mixed-up minds!

This is text from a sheet explaining the correct way to write letters which was given to primary school students in Western Australian government school:

“With a straight neck and a round tummy, put his hat on, five sure looks funny.”

Actually, the number five doesn’t have a round tummy, the curve at the lower half of the number is legs. He is running so fast that his legs look like a round blurry wheel, just like in old cartoons which I used to watch on TV when I was a kid, a very long time ago. When people think about letters of the alphabet as though they are people, that is called ordinal-linguistic personification and it is thought to be a variety of synaesthesia. A lot of folks must have it I think.

I’ve also seen a classroom activity in which the students have been asked to sort and paste pieces of coloured paper into the two categories of “warm” and “cool” colours, a cross sensory activity for sure, bordering on synaesthesia. At this rate, we will have a 100% prevalence of synaesthesia in the upcoming generations.

Would super-recognition be relevant to performance as a radiologist?

Costandi, Mo (2011) Doctors diagnose diseases as if recognising objects. Neurophilosophy. guardian.co.uk December 20th 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy/2011/dec/20/1

Melo M , Scarpin DJ , Amaro E Jr, Passos RBD , Sato JR , et al. (2011) How Doctors Generate Diagnostic Hypotheses: A Study of Radiological Diagnosis with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28752. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028752 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028752


Embodied cognition and number-form synaesthesia connected with effect found in this study?

Leaning to the left makes the world seem smaller. New Scientist. 13 December 2011 issue 2842 p.   http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228424.000-leaning-to-the-left-makes-the-world-seem-smaller.html

I can’t believe it’s not synaesthesia! – embodied cognition

Yes indeed, this is a fascinating article from New Scientist magazine. This is the article that made me feel incredulous the first time that I read it last year, that the word “synaesthesia” was not even once mentioned in it, because it seemed to be an article about a number of different types of synaesthesia. I could go into details about why I believe this, but I’d risk restating most of the text of this two-page article. Basically, this is an article about embodied cognition. It is clear to me that the researchers studying embodied cognition have a lot to gain from sharing ideas with synaesthesia researchers (and synaesthetes), and vice versa.

A study by Australian academic Tobias Loetscher that was published in the journal Current Biology and another study by Daniel Casasanto, an academic in the Netherlands, which was published in the journal Cognition are discussed in this article. The “metaphor theory” of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is discussed. Much of this article seems to be very relevant to the idea proposed by some synaesthesia researchers that synaesthesia is the origin of metaphorical language. Wouldn’t synaesthesia or some very similar mental process be the link between study subjects’ emotional feelings of being socially isolated and their reported physical sensations of feeling physically colder?

Other parts of this article seem to be very relevant to, or a description of, number form synaesthesia and other mental mappings of concepts onto “spatial schema”. The study by Casasanto is about a psychological process that is very similar to the forward and backward vection that was the subject of the study in PLoS ONE that I discussed in a previous blog posting, in that it shows an influence on abstract thought from performing a physical task that focused the mind on one or other spatial directions. The vection study that I previously discussed was about backward and forward motion influencing abstract thought. The Casasanto study was about moving something upwards and moving something downwards influencing abstract thought.

Many of the more general conclusions in this article, based on the study findings, also seemed to be very relevant to my experiences of fine motor performances determining the content of my thoughts, often involving links with conceptual thinking, by a process that I believe is synaesthesia. “The results also led to a deeper question: does physical movement have the power to change not just the speed at which people talk, but also what they choose to talk – or even think – about?” A study by Casasanto found this to be true. “Isn’t that somewhat scary?” Casasanto asked. Yes, I think it is scary, but it is only by being aware of the irrational and arbitrary things that can influence cognition that we can ever hope to detect, control and transcend such influences.

Ananthaswamy, Anil Let your body do the thinking. New Scientist. Number 2753 March 27th 2010 p.8-9.

Two articles about embodied cognition from Miller-McCune:

Jacobs, Tom To feel good, reach for the sky. Miller-McCune. February 4th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/to-feel-good-reach-for-the-sky-8445/

Hilo, Jessica Power poses really work. Miller-McCune. November 15th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/power-poses-really-work-25322/