Number personification

A type of ordinal linguistic personification

Personifying numbers is one of the most common types of ordinal linguistic personification. When a person with this type of synesthesia sees or thinks of different numbers – habitually single-digit numbers, but also double-digit or higher numbers in some cases – each one is perceived as having human characteristics like gender, personality, a physical appearance, clothes and accessories, likes and dislikes, a job, hobbies, family relationships, friends and enemies or even love and a marriage partner among the other numbers. For some synesthetes the numbers have just a few very basic personality traits (only gender or a trait like good/bad, for example) while for others they can be tremendously complex, with a wealth of biographical information. These personalities can evoke an emotional response – love or hate, or mistrust for example – in the person who perceives them.

The attributes associated with each number emerge during childhood, probably on learning the numbers as a series of abstract concepts, and the personalities are consistent throughout the synesthete’s lifetime.

Ordinal linguistic personification is considered a type of synesthesia, although technically speaking it does not perhaps fulfil all the requirements for being one: the concurrent is figurative or conceptual while synesthesia is normally abstract, and it also seems to occur sometimes in non-synesthetes (here and here are some studies that mention its possible prevalence in people with and without synesthesia).

Most synesthetes who personify numbers also personify letters, and for many of them their personification also extends to other series or sequences of concepts, such as time units or domestic objects like furniture or cutlery. It is also common for ordinal linguistic personification to coexist with grapheme-colour synesthesia, so numbers have not only a personality and human appearance but also each have their own colour.

(Image: Exocomics)

When maths problems become personal problems

Some people with this type of synesthesia have difficulty in resolving maths problems as the conflicting personalities of the numbers prevent them from concentrating on the task in hand. Some are reluctant to put two numbers next to each other if they are enemies, or they cannot face doing certain equations because they don’t want to “leave out”, “hurt” or “kill” a number they are fond of. And if the same person also has grapheme-colour synesthesia and the colours produced by the arithmetic are not coherent or logical – 3 (green) + 6 (yellow) = 9 (blue) – it makes things even more complicated.

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

“0 - colour white, fat man that wears a white shirt and works in an office, 1 - colour black, smart guy who dresses smart, 2 - yellow, is a girl who likes wearing skirts. 3 is a green and is pretty disgusting, has bad hygiene. 4 is red and female and wears nice lipstick and makeup, 5 is black and a man who always wears a hat, 6 is green and is a two faced girl, 7 is light green and stands under a lampost clicking his fingers and listening to Frank Sinatra, 8 is red and is a girl with big boobs, 9 is pink and a stuck up bitch.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2016.)

“Numbers have always had a personality for me.

Examples: 3 is a brat. 2 is a boy, very soft spoken. 23 is fun and outgoing. 26 is all rough and tumble. 13 is very pretty and feminine. 80 is an old man. 36 is a business man. 78 is stern. 7 is a sharp female. I could go on and on...”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2015.)

“All numbers and some letters have color, gender, personality, etc. For example to me: 3 is pink, 6 is yellow, 9 is orange. All three are female. 3 is young, 6 is middle aged and 9 is old. 4 is a blue-ish young man. 8 is a green, older middle aged, rich man. 0 and 5 are both red, but 0 is quiet about it like a flower, where 5 is bold and in your face about it. If 5 and 0 are together, 0 almost always reverts to black to not piss off 5. 1 is black and is small but present (you get the feeling that just showing up was a battle for 1, but they made it and they are here and even though they are scared they are standing anyway). 2 is friendly, yellow, and sweet like a daisy. 7 is the strangest of them all, is purple and also yellow, depending on who he/she is around. He/she hard to pin down, sort of mysterious and mercurial. Purple 7 is male, yellow 7 is female. I don't understand why that is any more than you do. Hahahaha

It doesn't affect my life much other than making it easier to remember phone numbers and addresses, and other sequences of numbers.”

(Source: This comment on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2015.)

Examples of number personalities creating problems with maths:

“I used to/still kinda do have problems with speed maths because some numbers feel more 'mature' than others, which I get confused with larger. i.e 4 seems more mature than 6 so I'll fumble and get confused.”

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

6294 Alright, the 6 and 2 are having a really deep philosophical conversation. The 9 really wants to join into the 6/2's conversation, but they don't realize the 9 is there. Finally, the 4 has a crush on the 9 and wants to talk to her, but the nine is pre-occupied trying to join the 6/2 conversation.”

(Source: lost, read in 2017.)

Numbers can be an inducer for synesthesia, but can they be a concurrent too?

It is common for numbers to be the stimulus (inducer) that produces a synesthetic perception (concurrent). They are not a synesthetic concurrent in their own right. However, it can happen that some synesthetes make a fairly automatic association between the characteristics they perceive in certain things or people and those they associate with their personalised numbers, and as a result they can consider that someone “is a 6” or “exactly like a 6”, for example.

On a TV show, the synesthetic savant Daniel Tammet described his interviewer David Letterman as being exactly like the number 117: "a handsome number. It's tall, it's a lanky number, a little bit wobbly."

(Source: this article on the website “Geniuses.Club”.)


Go to the page on ordinal linguistic personification and personification in general

Go to the page on letter personification

Go to the page on personification of days and months

Go to the page on the mathematical synesthesias

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