Tag Archives: OLP

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.

Just a thought

Is there any connection between transgender-ism and personification processes in cognition or in personification synaesthesia? I’ve no reason to believe that trannies are any more likely to be synaesthetes or vice versa, but I can’t help wondering whether being transgender could be an odd or questionable type of (gender) personification of the self, while ordinal-linguistic personification is an odd type of personification applied to the concepts of numbers and letters (and other things in some cases). Is self-image and self-concept different to the personification of other people with characteristics such as gender and age and personality? Is self-image and self-concept different to the odd personification a different kind of thinking to that found in ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia? Why do some/many people experience odd types of personification? Note that OLP involves the personification of characteristics beyond gender. It can also involve ages, appearance, personalities and personal relationships. So I wonder whether there are people who feel that they have personal characteristics other than gender that don’t appear to match their physical being? Are there people who feel that they are the wrong age or the wrong weight or a mismatch in some other way?

Another example of visual memories of scenes as synaesthesia concurrents?

In this interesting post from last November at her blog, Debbie Pullinger, postgraduate university student and synaesthete, has described her experiences of what is apparently the involuntary retrieval of visual memories of a very specific scene triggered by reading a particular book, and how such apparently randomly retrieved visual memories can then become the setting for her visualization of the plot or the recounted events in the narrative of the book. Thank you Debbie for sharing your interesting observations! I have many times experienced the same type of experiences, and I am also a synaesthete. If I am re-reading a book that I have previously read while at an outdoor location, I will generally involuntarily experience a visual memory of the scene that I saw at the same time that I first read that book. Two of our synaesthete kids and I also experience a similar memory phenomenon which involuntarily links concepts with visual memories of scenes. I believe it is an interesting and scientifically undiscovered hybrid of synaesthesia and the memory technique known as the method of loci or the memory palace. I wrote about this phenomenon in this blog, naming it Involuntary Method of of Loci Memorization (IMLM). Debbie’s experiences of the involuntary visualization of memories of real scenes while visualizing scenes in fiction and non-fiction books is I think the same phenomenon which I described at this blog on April 26th of this year in my post about Heather Sellers’ autobiography. I find it quite fascinating the Debbie described her own visual experiences while reading a particular passage in an Oliver Sacks book in which Sacks visits a musician study subject at the person’s home and listens to the subject playing piano. Debbie inexplicably visualized this scene played out in an outdoor setting. When I read a similar scene in another Oliver Sacks book I involuntarily visualized it set in the small living room of the home unit of an long-dead aunt, the way it looked decades ago when she lived there. One point of difference between Debbie and myself is her assertion that Wednesday if a mottled, mossy green. I literally can’t see how this could be true, when the word Wednesday starts with a letter that is a yellowy-tan colour, and also has a dreary but sensible adult female personality.

There’s a great big unanswered question about the experiences that Ms Pullinger has described, and the many similar types of experiences that I have described, which appear to be types of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes are synaesthesia concurrents or inducers. Are these experiences peculiar to synaesthetes? Do “normal” people experience IMLM or similar experiences? Are these rare or atypical experiences? If only a minority of people have experiences such as involuntary visualization of memories of real or past scenes while reading books, what is the size of that minority? Have we described perfectly “normal” and commonplace experiences, or have we described something interesting and novel to science? I’ve been waiting in vain for an answer to this question from any scientist for a couple of years now. I’m not holding my breath.


Grow Your Own by James Angus – another sculpture in Perth that looks like a personified thing

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Perth Train Station lego sculpture at Claremont Showgrounds exhibition 2012

Lego sculpture of Perth Train Station and surrounds at Claremont Showgrounds exhibition 2012

I’ve heard this prominent sculpture in the centre of Perth at Forrest Place unofficially described as a “dancing cactus”, but when was the last time that you saw a cactus dance? This seems to be the personification of an inanimate object, a phenomenon of the mind which could be the result of a range of causes: a well-cultivated imagination, hallucinatory drug usage, illness affecting the mind or perhaps a type of synaesthesia which involves thinking about concepts or objects as though they have personal attributes, attitudes, expressions or movements. The classic example of this is the involuntary association of letters of the alphabet and/or numbers with personal characteristics such as genders and ages and personalities, which is known as ordinal-linguistic personification, but all kinds of other things can be personified. The official title of the large green cactus-like sculpture in the Perth CBD suggests some kind of link with an illicit mind-bending drug, so it seems reasonable to speculate that this was the inspiration for this design. I don’t do drugs but I do experience ordinal-linguistic personification and I can certainly see what is “cactus” about this sculpture and also what is “dancing” about it, but I guess this could be an interpretation or perception which is assessable to just about anyone. When I look at the thing I see a group of cactus dancers with their heels rather awkwardly sticking out in mid-air. Do you see that? In an article about this sculpture which was published in The West last year, the great green thing was described as lively, playful and off-balance, which is generally what you are when you are dancing. It is the cactus that dances.

Some press articles about the dancing cactus:

Great green giant graces city. by Stephen Bevis The West Australian. August 18, 2011. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/-/entertainment/10062165/great-green-giant-graces-city/

Exclusive interview with the Perth Cactus. by Jimmy The Exploder PerthNow. September 20, 2011. http://www.perthnow.com.au/exclusive-interview-with-the-perth-cactus/story-fn6cmyjj-1226142075082

Personifying moving objects by decorating with gendered features – cute cars with curled eyelashes and boy-bits dangling at the back of utes

car with eyelashes

Car decorated with cute eyelashes

Ordinal-linguistic personification is a type of synaesthesia in which concepts such as letters and/or numbers are involuntarily thought of as having individual characteristics usually associated with people, such as genders and ages and personalities. One the face of it this might seem pretty odd, but the linking of personal characteristics with non-living things is certainly not limited to the arena of obscure psychological phenomena. In our shared culture ships are often ascribed with a female gender, and cyclones are given personal names. One very effective make of vacuum cleaner has a cute face on it and is named Henry. It appears that moving objects are especially likely to be associated with human-like characteristics, possibly because their mobility and agency causes the more primitve and instinctual parts of our brains to “read” them as people or intelligent animals.

The car in the photograph above was spotted recently in an outer suburb of Perth, Western Australia. I’m not sure whether the personification of an inanimate object or the creation of a gender identify statement was the insipration for this quaint bit of motor vehicle decoration. Another odd type of motor vehicle decoration that I’ve seen recently is like the male version of this idea. It is a thing that looks like a nutsack draped over a towing assembly at the back of a motor vehicle,  generally seen on the back of utes which tend to be associated with male drivers. They appear to be made out of an empty plastic balloon and two tennis balls. The car eyelashes appear to be an accessory that does not come with the car but can be purchased through the internet, should you require a more cute-looking mode of transport than your standard car.

Tyler, Alison Blinking madness! Car lashes are the most patronising ‘female-friendly’ gimmick of the lot. MailOnline. 6 September 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1309380/Blinking-madness-Car-lashes-patronising-female-friendly-gimmick-lot.html#ixzz1pRfWtTGU

BullsNuts. YouTube. uploaded Jun 7, 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwz4zCMwA54   (an advertisement for truck decoration accessories that appear to be sold by an Australian business)

A sculpture that brings to mind personification synaesthesia – Level Best by Amy Podmore

Link to someone else’s photo of the sculpture Level Best by Amy Podmore at Flickr, which was displayed at Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe in 2011

2011 wasn’t my fave year for the Sculpture by the Sea (I’ve never missed a year), but this piece bought a smile to my face. Would you call it Surrealist? Whimsical? I don’t know much about art, but I do know what I like. The half-object, half-person Level Best felt as though it was pushing an unconscious perception to the point of absurdity. Almost believable and slightly alarming.

Ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP) is a harmless psychological phenomenon in which some people associate personal characteristics with numbers and letters of the alphabet. Like some other types of synaesthesisia it dates back to early childhood, it involves illogical but fixed associations between individual concepts from different sets of two different types of concept, it is involuntary and it is not intentional. I think it is generally agreed among synesthesia researchers that OLP is a type of synaesthesia. I have OLP and many other types of synaesthesia. The letter Y is male, yellow and cheerful, in my mind. The idiosyncratic and involuntary personification of things that aren’t people appears to not be limited to concepts such as numbers and letters. Some synaesthetes report a sensation of personal characteristics in everyday inanimate objects such as pot plants, vegetables and cutlery. I’m sure these people aren’t mad. I’m pretty sure that they don’t actually believe that their household bric-a-brac have lives and feelings and gender identities. I fully understand that letters aren’t alive, and I’m sure that other personifying synaesthetes also have a sure grasp on reality, but all the same the idea does sound more than a little bit flakey, like an old lady holding a tea party for her pets. I privately scoffed at my quaint fellow synaesthetes gifted with the ability to discern the gender of a Bromeliad or a Hoya. Then one day I chanced upon a discussion between synaesthetes about the sexes and ages of different types of cutlery. A crazy idea for sure, but the suggestion that a fork could be male just didn’t feel right. A fork has such an elegantly rounded shape. No way could a fork be male, when it is self-evidently female! Forks always have been women (?) and knives men (!) for as long as I remember. It’s a self-evident truth, but also utterly irrational and nonsensical. Sounds like synaesthesia.

Sculpture by the Sea 2012 at Cottesloe Beach starts today. I can’t wait!

Sculpture by the Sea http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx

Another interesting sculpture at Piney Lakes Sensory Playground

Can letters of the alphabet be people? This lower-case letter E has ears, so I guess it must be true! This is a photo of another sculpture at Piney Lakes which could be interpreted as an exploration of the experience of ordinal linguistic personification synaesthesia. I’d like to make it clear that these sculptures are not my work, and I have no idea whether the artist who created these delightful works was a synesthete. My photos are a few years old, so be advised that they might not reflect how things currently are at this location.

I haven’t been to the Piney Lakes Sensory Playground for a few years, but as I remember it, it was a delightful playground for kids of a range of ages, and quite unique among Perth playgrounds because of it’s striking and amusing top-quality sculptures in a range of styles, many of them usable as play props, and it was also outstanding for the way that the landscape of the area is interesting and an adventure for younger kids and a play element in it’s own right. There was one of those big climbing-net things in the inner area of the playground, and a sand area and a fairly limited range of moving play equipment. Beyond the playground were some fake lakes with frogs (they sounded like tiny crinias, heard but not seen), bike paths and a boardwalk, and beyond the grassed area there was natural bushland surrounding the actual swampy small lake, which had a variety of interesting sculptures around it. This whole area could have changed since then. I hope it hasn’t.

The set of sculptures depicting letters of the alphabet at the Pinely Lakes playground are there as a word puzzle for the children to search for, so I guess one can assume that this was the only inspiration for their creation, and personification synaesthesia might have had nothing to do with it. Whatever the case, as a synaesthete who involuntarily sees letters as personified with characteristics such as genders and personalities, and also displaying bodily orientations and sometimes facial expressions and also their own colours (grapheme colour synaesthesia), I am charmed by the way that many of the letter sculptures at Piney Lakes are congruent with my own synaesthesia. The ears on the silvery lower case letter E sculpture are placed in just the right spot for the letter to depict something like a smiling face facing toward what I see as the right side of the text. This is how I see the letter E personified, but the silver colour is not congruent with my colour for the letter E. The letter Y at the playground is completely congruent with my synaesthesia, being bright yellow and of an active and playful disposition. I very much enjoy that colourful sculpture. There are two letter Ss at the playground, one in a colour that is the same as my letter S, but written backwards, the other delightfully psychedelic and imposing. The giant O is also pretty-much “the right colour”. You can see why I like this place so much! I think of it as “Synaesthesia Park”, a playground of the mind.

A silvery letter E with ears

A sculpture that looks like synaesthesia at Piney Lakes Sensory Playground

This sculpture is oddly congruent with my ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia and my grapheme-colour synaesthesia, because in this sculpture the letter Y is yellow and also appears to have a playful temperament. It’s a rather odd and enjoyable experience to view a whimsical piece of art that is a reflection of the idiosyncrasies of my mind.

Sculpture in a public place that looks like synaesthesia

The letter Y frolics with two lavender-coloured dogs at Piney Lakes playground

Memory enthusiasts discuss improving performance on the CFMT – a tip for prosopagnosia researchers?

I’ve just happened across a very short but interesting discussion thread at an online forum for people who are interested in memory techniques. I guess this might include people who take part in formal memory competitions and who employ memory techniques such as the Method of Loci. Two members have discussed the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). They both claim to have attained very good scores (like myself) and both employed non-cheating memory strategies to at least some degree in their attempts at the test. I find this interesting for a couple of reasons. The strategy that they both apparently independently hit upon, the idea of giving imaginary names to the faces that had to be memorized could possibly be seen as a technique of adding personification or personality traits to their memories of the faces of complete stranges with neutral expressions. One of the memory enthusiasts gave the faces silly made-up names, which I would assume would be references to imagined personality characteristics, ideas that are possibly based on impressionistic, almost instant emotional interpretations of the appearance of the faces. If this is the technique used by these memory enthusiasts that would be interesting, because that is pretty much what I naturally did when I first did that test, but without giving names ot the faces, and I got a perfect score on the test. I believe this has something to do with the ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia (OLP) that I have experienced for as long as I can remember.

My guess is that these memory enthusiasts employed this type of strategy because it has some elements in common with the ancient and proven method of loci memory technique. In this technique memory performance in memorizing a large set of meaningless data is enhanced by converting the information to be memorized into a more emotionally striking or interesting visual format and these elements to be memorized are then mentally placed into a previously memorized visual-spatial context. A part of this strategy involves converting the emotionally neutral and monotonous information to be rememberd into a more memorable format. I would argue that personifiying a large set of bland faces of strangers by ascribing imaginary names or personality traits to each of them is doing pretty much the same thing. I have argued in a previous post in this blog that the technique successfully and consciously employed by a prosopagnosic that enhanced his performance in the CFMT in a formal study is similar to my spontaneously-employed personification of the faces when I did the same test. This reportedly face-blind study subject, who was given the anonymous name of M57, figured out his own method of adding an emotional dimension to the faces to be memorized, after having done a number of face recognition tests previously. Is this an example of a super-recognizer with OLP, a prosopagnosic and two memory buffs independently employing similar techiques to enhance performance on the same test? That would be interesting.

Mnemotechnics.org   Cambridge Face Memory Test   http://mnemotechnics.org/x/forums/cambridge-face-memory-test-740.html

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper.   https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

Duchaine, Brad & Nakayama, Ken The Cambridge Face Memory Test: Results for neurologically intact individuals and an investigation of its validity using inverted face stimuli and prosopagnosic participants. Neuropsychologia 44 (2006) 576–585. http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/137neuropsychologiaDuchaine2006.pdf

Have you seen this interesting study of personification synaesthesia and empathy?

I experience personified numbers and letters of the alphabet, involving genders, ages and personalities. Although this experience does not fit into the popular definition of synaesthesia as a mixing up of the senses, it is considered to be a type of synaesthesia and it often coincides with another type of synaesthesia, grapheme->colour synaesthesia, in which numbers and letters are experienced as having their own particular colours. The proper term for this personification of written symbols is Ordinal linguistic personification, and in a recent journal paper it was described as a “benign form of hyper-mentalizing” (Amin et al 2011).

In this blog I’ve argued a number of times that there is a causal relationship between synaesthesia and enhanced face recognition ability, and I believe that whatever parts of my brain give rise to my very good face recognition ability are also the parts of my brain that are responsible for my ordinal linguistic personification (OLP) and my grapheme->color synesthesia. I explained some of this in my post lengthily titled “Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper”.

Here’s some quotes from a journal paper about grapheme personification synesthesia which was published this year in the Journal of Neuropsychology:

“From this mixed pattern of results, we cannot conclude that as a group, personifying synaesthetes exhibit heightened empathy.”

“We suggest that grapheme personification, rather than a peculiar set of claims to be dismissed, is a goldmine for social cognitive neuroscientists and cognitive neuropsychologists alike.”

I certainly agree with that!

Maina Amin, Olufemi Olu-Lafe, Loes E. Claessen, Monika Sobczak-Edmans, Jamie Ward, Adrian L. Williams, and Noam Sagiv
Understanding grapheme personification: A social synaesthesia?
Journal of Neuropsychology. (2011), 5, 255–282.

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper.