More fun with brain-weird!

I have a load of fairly unusual synaesthesiae. I don't get the strict alphanumeric -> color ones, sadly; I always thought those would be fun and useful, like being able to paint things with wording. Nor do I get the personification of graphemes or other sensory input, which disappoints me in much the same way.

I do get the one where words will be ineffably connected to some other sensation, usually something tactile like slipperiness or pointiness, or volumetric like roundness or expansiveness. I haven't the foggiest clue whether this is connected to the graphic shape or the phonemic one -- although the fact that I think phonemes have a shape is probably itself unusual, I haven't checked -- but it is connected to the word itself and not what the word describes, as the evokations are different for words describing the same thing in different languages.

Whole languages also have a quality that I can only really describe as 'color', although that's not really great because depending on the thing I'm talking about at the time, I can map the language 'colors' to arbitrary hues, much like you assign colors on a map on the basis of printing and aesthetic convenience rather than the notion of Russia actually physically being bright orange. If the Germanic languages are 'blue' and the Romance languages are 'red', then I find French to be much more profoundly 'purple' than anyone else will ever admit.

I'm also pretty heavily cross-wired between the numbery-bits of my brain and the spatial-orientation-bits. I have both number form synaesthesia, where sequences of numbers appear to be connected up by some sort of path on a plane, and a much stronger case of spatial-sequence synaesthesia, where numerical relationships are experienced as being embedded in space, with a sense of motion through volume involved in getting from one point to another. When I had a regular Monday-Friday school week, I used to drive people bonkers by using 'yesterday' for Friday when it was Monday, and 'tomorrow' for Monday when it was Friday, because school days were mapped onto a sort of continuous cyclical loop in my brain, and the non-school-days were just sort of cut out and dumped into an unsorted pile off to the right.

The combination of number-form and spatial-sequence is insanely helpful when it comes to comprehending mathematical stuff that's graphed in more than three dimensions; dimensions exceeding the three visible ordinary spatial dimension come across as senses of volume or distance instead. Stuff can be embedded in more than one separate spatial volume simultaneously with different senses of motion in each -- I can't put it on paper and it's really confusing to explain, but try to imagine swinging a baseball bat while simultaneously being on a roller coaster. You have the sense of moving yourself in relation to the space you're in at the same time as the coaster car is moving the bounds of the space you occupy through a larger volume around you. The graph kind of does that. Only a lot.

I also have a couple of others that I don't know that there are any technical names for. One is sort of tonal-kinesthetic; musical tones for me have a spatial position, specifically a sense of extremity movement that ranges higher (i.e., closer to my face/off the floor) for high pitches and lower (i.e., away from my face/closer to the floor) for low pitches. That one is extraordinarily strong and effectively prevented me from figuring out guitar, which is exactly backwards, and makes the piano rather difficult, as my brain just goes 'WTF is this left to right shit? this makes no inherent sense'. Apparently I wave my hands around to follow it when I sing -- a roommate had to tell me that, I'm mostly unaware of it.

Others are more ideaesthesiae than strictly synaesthesiae, which is when things are cross-connected conceptually, semantically or semiotically instead of at the strictly sensory level. I have a very strong inherent sense of 'that is a noun' and 'that is a verb' and 'that is an elliptical indexical' and other sorts of language-y categories and functions that extends to stuff like music and mathematical equations. (Variables are in the 'pronoun' category. No, seriously, this makes perfect sense, I promise.) It kicks me staggeringly hard right in the brain when I see things that are communicative language in disguise. Things like decorative borders in letter-like shapes are immediately either 'language-colored' or 'not language-colored'. I am very, very rarely wrong. (I'll often look at it and ask someone casually "What's it say?" assuming they're amusing themselves with something cryptologic, and that they'll either tell me or say 'I dunno, haven't solved it yet.' A lot of the time what I actually get is a boggle-eyed stare, because they had no idea that it was anything but a decoration to begin with.)

A great deal of the everything is extensively, almost appallingly cross-wired in my head, which makes me have interesting but extremely lengthy and probably confusing conversations where I try to get across to someone in the hard sciences how social survey work is sort of math-colored in many ways, but not strictly mathematical in nature. It's also part of what lets me learn things with a startling quickness -- the 'sense' of something will strike me as being like the 'sense' of something else I already know, which tells me that the two things are similar at a lot of important points. I liken it to realizing that two objects, in the correct orientations, cast the same shadow. Things that have the same shadow are, from some particular points of view, conceptually mapped out in the same configuration of relationships and connections.

It results in a lot of explanations that are either stunningly brilliant or indistinguishable from rampant unmedicated schizophrenia, depending on how much you know about either of the subjects I'm trying to compare. Some part of the logic must come across to people who aren't me, or I would have long since gotten a visit from a lot of nice men in white coats trying to get me to put on the fancy huggy-jacket, but for the most part I've learned to not try it on people who don't ask for it.

I have no idea why there are so many short-circuits in my head. Given some of the childhood plasticity-in-contextual-learning I also seem to have failed to lose, I think I just missed a lot of those mandatory neural-pruning sessions you're supposed to go through while you're growing up. I probably had my nose in a book.


  1. Variables being in the pronoun category makes /perfect/ sense. I'd never thought of it that way myself, but once you pointed it out it's obvious. I'd love to meet you someday just to hear more of this kind of thing, seriously.

    I suck at learning languages mostly because I have just about the opposite of a photographic memory - it's not /bad/ so much as heavily symbolic and narrative-oriented, so learning enough words to be able to say anything useful is painful. Given a dictionary and some grammar charts I could read and write German and Spanish passably, but conversations were a lost cause.

    1. The photographic memory doesn't actually help so much there, at least with me. The phonographic memory is what does it. I subvocalize a lot when I'm learning new vocabulary in a foreign language -- sometimes I just give in and straight up talk to myself, if I think I can get away with it -- and the phonemic shape more than the graphic shape is what makes the eideticker stuff kick in.

      I also have some sort of odd gestalt memory for the meaning of specific roots and related word-parts. It's difficult to explain, but the less conscious attention I pay to what I'm reading the more information I can pull out of it. It's very much like the linguistic equivalent of the patterns lifting themselves out of industrial carpet if I stare at it long enough. If you ask me what information the piece contained, I can tell you; if you ask me to translate it, it falls completely apart. I can read Spanish reasonably well as long as I remember to do it in a very Zen fashion.

  2. I don't know about other people, but for me, phonemes and phomemes combined at the sub-syllable level definitely have a feeling in my mouth. Most of the time, that's what sticks for me rather than the actual phonemes, and not all of them feel distinct. My close friends have learned that if I say "Hey, do you remember that book we read last year? I think its name started with a 'ha'?" there's a 50-50 chance that it actually did start with 'ha' and a 50-50 chance it actually started with 'si' or 'gr', because all three feel like old skee-ball balls in my mouth. Or, uh, the feel in my mouth the way those balls feel in my hands because I have never actually, you know, put one in my mouth.

    It also makes playing the "What's that word that sounds kind of like [word] but not really and means this other thing?" game really funny, because nine times out of ten the word I am looking for does not actually even remotely resemble the word I used as an example to anyone but me.

    (Related: that feeling is one of the reasons why I like learning Irish because so far, 90% of the phonemes are said the way they feel.)

  3. Wow. You just explained why the harp makes sense to me where the piano never did. Also, my intuitive understanding of the guitar is also exactly backwards and I had never realized that, probably because I never actually played around with one. Piano was something my mother had me take lessons in for way too long, and I remember staring at the keys, wanting to be elsewhere because I just couldn't seem to make everything work right.


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