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Grapheme-texture/colour/shape/image synesthesia

In grapheme-colour synesthesia, letters and/or numbers each have their own colours. However, some synesthetes perceive not only colour for these elements but also qualities such as weight, size, consistency or texture, or even a complete image (which is not common but definitely exists). The perceptions for each letter or number are consistent and tend not to vary throughout the synesthete’s whole lifetime, typically dating back to early childhood. If the perceptions are visual, projector synesthetes see them physically in space while associator synesthetes see them in the mind’s eye.

This type of synesthesia applies to letters or numbers, but in the case of letters it sometimes occurs that the concurrents are not perceived for each separate letter but only on seeing, hearing or thinking about whole words. For some people they are actually perceived in response to separate syllables, so for example a three-syllable word might have three different textures.


Here are some descriptions written by people with this type of synesthesia:


Texture:

“Well some of the letters that have describable textures are J and G which are kind of sticky and have a muddy consistency, S and C are crisp and smooth, and P is kind of powdery. And you’re right, now that I think about it numbers don’t have texture, its only letters because of the sounds they make.”

(Source:
This post and comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Colour/texture:

This is part of the alphabet of a synesthete for whom all the letters have colour and texture:

“l- tan, creamy peanut butter texture
m- pinky red, seems watered down
n- red, like an apple left in the store too long. Glossy but losing a bit of the gloss
o- sheen. Smooth like running your fingers along the top of water”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Colour, but more than just colour

“Are any of the colors you see pretty much impossible to see in real life? It's really difficult to describe, but I imagine the number 76 as being a mix of void (like 3D black??) and a sort of yellowish orange. The 6 part has a lot of splotches of the orange (the 7 part still has them but less). I think the splotches kinda move around as well. The void part is also kind of translucent if that makes sense. I can picture the color floating in the air and me waving my hand through it. When I try to picture it being a solid color, it just feels extremely wrong. It’s kinda brownish if you trace the 7 in the 76 but once you reach the 6 it’s that weird void-orange again.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2021.)


Texture/shape/image:

For the synesthetic savant Daniel Tammet, every number up to 10,000 has its own visual properties, which include shape, size and texture:

“Every number has a texture. If it is a “lumpy” number, then immediately my mind will relate it to other numbers which are lumpy – the lumpiness will tell me there is a relationship, there is a common divisor, or a pattern between the digits.

Interviewer: Can you give an example of a “lumpy” number?

For me, the ideal lumpy number is 37. It’s like porridge. So 111, a very pretty number, which is 3 times 37, is lumpy but it is also round. It takes on the properties of both 37 and 3, which is round. It’s an intuitive and visual way of doing maths and thinking about numbers.”

(Source: Daniel Tammet, interviewed by Celeste Biever for New Scientist magazine, 2008. Full version on the website Aspie-editorial.com.)


The writer Vladimir Nabokov was a synesthete, as were his mother, his wife and his son. He described his grapheme-colour synesthesia in his autobiography Speak, Memory. This is part of his interesting description:

The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but the French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard (vulcanized rubber) and (a sooty rag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass.”

(Source: the book Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. 1951.)


Image:

The following person associates letters, numbers, personalities and colours with a precise, detailed image which appears to them automatically and consistently. Here is an example of some of their numbers and letters. It is interesting to note that upper case and lower case letters produce totally different images.

"1: a shallow, murmuring brook in the middle of the woods in a summer morning.
2: a tall, wooden ladder propped up against the wall of a Mediterranean-style house.
3: crisp fallen leaves scattered in the backyard of a suburban house
4: the stilts of a carnival clown whom you just noticed was walking right behind you.
5: an assortment of flowers haphazardly strewn in a woven reed basket.
A/a: the noon sun streaming through the trees of an orange orchard/text written in gold in a huge medieval tome.
B/b: a brick wall in the middle of a city as seen at 3pm/fluffy pillows on an unmade king-size bed.
C/c: a lemon and a lime cut in halves on a wooden chopping board with a kitchen knife to the right/a cup of cappuccino in a small café with the smell of coffee and the sound of clinking tableware around you at 7am.
D/d: a toddler in a knitted dark green sweater running to meet his father who just got home from work/a ballerina's foot spinning in pointe shoes as she pirouettes."

(Source: This post and comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2019.)


Go to the page on grapheme-colour synesthesia

Go to the page on images as a synesthetic concurrent


Other types of synesthesia with shape/colour/texture/image concurrents:

Pain-colour/shape/texture/image

Emotion-colour/shape

Sexual (and romantic) synesthesia

Tactile-visual synesthesia 


This page last updated: 21 September 2021


2 comments:

  1. Hi. I am a 56 year old autistic man with a TBI and trauma. I experience multiple forms of synesthesia I am now trying to understand, now that people have told me what synesthesia is. For me, in any given context, my mind gives each word, each idea, a kind of shape so that it can assemble it into a map that I can look at and reason from. It does it automatically. This is how I learned all 18 of my undergraduate courses in higher mathematics. Once my brain makes the map, then if I want to know if a statement is true, I just look at the map. If there is a "road" from A to B I can see, I know the thing is true, instantly. Then I just add words to say it out loud and prove it. But this is freakish and instantaneous, and does not seem like actual normal reasoning, even though it always works and works better and faster than any other way I have ever tried.
    Is there anyone else like me? Why can my mind do this? Everythign I learn always gets shaped into one and only one map that works with everything else I have ever learned. One complete map, one system, organized by a sort of shape-thinking, rather than linear logic.
    Am I a freak?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Grace and thanks for writing!

      A freak? Certainly not! Just one of a small but strong group of people who experience these things as part of their daily lives, which shape and define their thought processes and tend to give them a cognitive advantage for reaching conclusions and solving problems. That’s certainly your case, as you describe. And for those of us who don’t think in that way it’s so interesting to be able to hear about how it works. Maybe you’ve already read the page in the Tree on “Concept-shape synesthesia”:

      https://www.thesynesthesiatree.com/2021/02/concept-shape-synesthesia.html

      This includes the summary of what I found out about people who think in this way and there are several more examples there where people talk about how their own thought processes work: all slightly different from each other of course but all part of something that could be called, as you coin it in a very fitting term, “shape-thinking”. There are also some links on the page to more related articles and personal accounts, and I intend to add some more soon.

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