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Calendar synesthesia

Also called time-space synesthesia

A type of spatial sequence synesthesia


(Image: The months, by Caffeindingon the online debate platform Reddit/Sinestesia“I typically see it facing from the left (autumn). The blue rectangle at the top is January and the months go clockwise from there.”)

In this type of synesthesia, the synesthete has a visual perception of time units such as days, months, hours, years, decades or centuries, seen in the space surrounding or in front of them. Projector synesthetes – a minority – see their time sequences literally in external space, while associator synesthetes perceive them in the mind’s eye but not physically.


(Image: The calendar, by Gingerale947 in this post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2017.)

The spatial positioning of the elements is highly consistent and tends not to vary throughout the synesthete’s lifetime, and the only change tending to occur with this kind of maps is that the years and decades can sometimes be extended to “add” time units that were originally considered to be in the distant future and were not yet clearly seen. The time units often also have their own shape, texture and/or colour. The days, months, etc. are habitually seen from the perspective of the time unit in question, so in January, for example, the synesthete may feel as if they are standing in front of January and that February is behind, below or beside it, but on the 1st of February the perspective changes so that January shifts over to a neighbouring position or to the “back of the queue”.


(Image: The time of day, by Stacy in the Gallery in Sensequence.de)

Synesthetic calendars are totally idiosyncratic and take multiple forms: there seem to be as many of them as there are people with this type of synesthesia. Some of the most common arrangements are rings, spirals, ladders, lines with curves or sharp bends, endless loops… although the exact forms are probably all unique


(Images: Left: Years, by Brad Pettengill, in his blog. Right: Decades and centuries, by Kerry in the Gallery in Sensequence.de.)

Having this kind of synesthesia often helps the synesthete recall dates and times and some say they have no need for planners or agendas.


(Image: The days of the week, by Barbara in the Gallery in Sensequence.de)

It has been estimated (N. Sagiv et al, 2005that 20% of synesthetes could have time-space synesthesia, and it is therefore a relatively common type.


(Image: Historical eras, by Geo Morganposted in the Facebook group Synesthesia. 2020.)

Image: The decades, by Rebecca Schulz Kluchnyk, posted to the Facebook group Synesthesia. 2020.)

Here is a description written by someone with this type of synesthesia:


“I can see timelines dating back to the 1500s. Things get muddled in between, but the basic "pattern" or "track" is there. It's always there. And it's not in a straight line. It never is. There are so many curves that there's no way for me to actually map it out and make it make sense to anyone who looks at it. If I were to go into detail on how I view individual months and days within the months, I'd have to have a large poster board to do it, as it gets very detailed. Same goes for hours of the day. Days of the week are an oval, but each day has their own hours detailed. The only day that has a slightly different pattern with the hours is Sunday. It's strange how I see time on a scale, on a map. They're not just numbers. They're alive.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


Go to the page on spatial sequence synesthesia in general


11 comments:

  1. This is a great resource! It is striking how similar my internal calendar is to the "decades" one above, a landscape that begins at the lower left and extends up to the upper right. I read in a book called "The Number Sense" by Stanislas Dehaene that a number of people (both synesthetes and non-synesthetes report such internal number lines (though in the case of some "projector-synesthetes", such "time landscapes" may be external). Thanks for this terrific tool!

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    1. Thanks for commenting Pat and I'm glad you find it interesting! I'll have to check that book out because I've also read about calendar and number apatial sequence being quite common in the general population and not just synesthetes and I need to do some updating about that. I wonder if the difference is that only synesthetes see them in colour or with the great amount of detail/perspective, and as you mention the projector synesthetes actually seeing them in space are a clear case. It's something I want to read about and get more figures for... I don't have this type! I have... an agenda :D

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  2. I'm 62yr old artist, learning about calendar synaesthesis today for the very first time! I recall trying to explain this to people and had no idea there were "others" like this. I'm very visual and find this fascinating. There is also new studies in brain as a holo-deck (Star Trek NG) where the mind sees possibilities as projections or 3D models of time/space---amazing! thanks for this great site!

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    1. Same here! I make abstract art and play instruments, and just learned about calendar synesthesia yesterday. I just thought that maybe I had a more visual way of doing things but had no idea is was somewhat unusual. I see the months upright, in a counterclockwise direction, and in an oval shape.
      Also, my daughter tells me she sees days and months in exact colors..and her friends think shes weird. Lol. Would love to know more about this! How interesting!

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    2. I thought everyone had a calendar wrapped around them and never thought anything of it til Reed on criminal minds mentioned synesthesia and I looked it up

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  3. Is it common for someone who has calendar synesthesia to get “zoomed in” on a specific point instead of seeing the entire thing at once?

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    1. Yes, it is. Especially when they think about "today" or the present time, they feel as if they are zoomed in or perhaps standing in front of a particular part of their calendar. I think this could also happen if they choose to think about a particular time in the past. Then if they focus on the whole of time in general, they would perhaps be able to look at the whole thing at once, or at least in larger groups of days, months or years. I don't have this type myself so I can't speak from experience, but I know the "zooming in" effect is very typical.

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  4. So I'm not sure if this is synesthesia, but I have weird associations between time and space? Like I can draw the way the timeline looks, especially within the past several hundred years. There's a distinct turn at the Renaissance, and at around 1700 it starts moving "towards" me? Like if I drew it the line would go down, and then any year since I've been born is moving left to right, like I stepped to the side to watch it. Months are always in a cycle, with January being at the top left and December at the bottom left (idk why there's a gap). Weeks are weird because they go right to left, and then on the weekend they loop back around. Saturday and Sunday are almost sitting on the top, and Monday takes place at the right.

    I also used to do a similar thing with songs. On my iPod I would visualize the track order in an oval-ish shape, but distinct songs/"sections" of the playlist took place around certain bends or something. I don't do this anymore because I just visualize the album cover/tracklist the way it looks on my phone. I also have certain songs that feel like things like green tea during a rainstorm and the color sage, but I may have just been letting my brain wander. The room doesn't turn that color, it just has the same vibe to me. And I will argue with someone nonstop about what color each subject is in school, but I think everyone has an opinion on that.

    Sorry for the long comment lol, this is all just really interesting to me even if these are just random associations.

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    1. Yes, your time-space associations are definitely synesthesia!

      Automatically classifying the songs in different spatial locations would fit in with the type of synesthesia to do with spatial sequences of concepts (https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/03/spatial-sequences-of-concepts-other.html), and your colour/vibe reactions to different songs might be song-colour synesthesia (https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/03/song-colour-musical-genre-colour.html), you could focus or think about it a bit to see if you get it with many songs and if the colours/vibes are consistent.

      Yes, I think most people have some kind of colour associations for school subjects, but it can also be a type of coloured sequence synesthesia. Some ideas how to distinguish whether it’s syn or not:
      - if the person doesn’t have any other types of synesthesia it’s unlikely
      - if the person can clearly tell you “it’s because my folder for this subject/the textbook/how it’s coloured on the timetable/etc. is this colour”, then it probably isn’t
      - if it really seems to matter a lot emotionally what colour the subject is and all other colours seem very wrong, you don’t know where you got the association from but it just seems to have always been like that and you have these automatic consistent associations for a lot of subjects and not just two or three, then it more likely is syn.

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  5. Absolutely! It’s true you tend to see more pictures drawn by synesthetes of elliptical, spiral and circular shapes, but a line arrangement is actually just as common, and just as valid. An excellent study from 2009 by David Eagleman (the creator of the Synesthesia Battery) discovered that in the case of months, 27% of the spatial sequence synesthetes studied had a line arrangement. Here’s a link to the study if you’d like to see it:
    http://www.daysyn.com/Eagleman2009.pdf
    In figure 2 on page 6 of the pdf you can see the representations of the most common arrangements, with lines clearly among them! I will be adding the information in this study to my description here on the Tree. Thanks for writing!

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  6. I'd just like to add that in the study I mentioned, if you go to page 5, in section 3.1 there is a whole paragraph about linear time-space synesthesia which I think would be of interest to you!

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