My Number Map

Oct 2017

My story begins last Saturday night.

I was at a family function. I don't see some members of my family often, as we live in different states.

Well, I was having a chat with my sister, and she says that about 3 years ago she discovered that she has "Spatial Sequence Synaesthesia".

"What's that?" I ask. And she proceeds to describe how she "sees" numbers, months, days of the week. My immediate reaction was "doesn't everybody?". Apparently not.

So, in my early fifties, I've just discovered that I (apparently) mix up sequences with spatial awareness.

After a quick survey of the people around us, I realised that we were the only ones in the room that "see" numbers.

After talking extensively to my sister, I note that we see them completely differently to each other, but the mechanism is the same.

My first reaction to all the people that don't see numbers like this is "How do you people do maths?" I cannot fathom how I'd do mathematics without my map.

From now on, I'll call it "my map". As that's really how I see numbers, years and letters (and to a lesser extent, months. Days of the week - not at all).

Things I know about my map.

My map has never varied. The numbers are always in the same position. Since the beginning of my memory. They were in that position when I was a child, and they're still in the same place.

The same basic pattern is repeated whether it's 10s, 100s, 1000s etc. 


 

Overall View


 

Hundreds


 

I normally view my map from a bit above the 6. But, I can "zoom" to anywhere. For example, I can visualise the number 30, but if I want to see 35, I'd "see" a zoomed version of the 30s. Also I (now) note that when zoomed in, 30 and 40 are level with each other, whereas the "distant" view often has the ends of a group not level. 

Zoom in of a set of 10 


 

Zero and negative numbers go the other way (to the right), in a similar, but not identical pattern. I really don't "see" beyond about -10, but I "know" where the others should be.

 Negative Numbers


 

Years are similar, but not the same. I view from about where we are (2017), and the year 2000 onwards are basically the same as my number pattern for 0 onward. As I look back in time, it's the same oscillating pattern but going back to the right. The years loop around like my clockface with the year 1000 basically lining up with 2000. (I'll try and draw a picture at some stage)

Months are less "defined". They're just in a big sag with a crest either end. Summer is at the top


 

My letter map is very clear to me.

Letter Map

My number lines are all curved (note there are no "lines", just positions, and they're all in order). My sister's maps are linear. All straight lines and changes in direction. Like me, numbers increase in size to the left. Sounds counter intuitive. Here are sketches of her number and year maps.

I can certainly view from any position.


 

My Sister's Number Map

sister numbers     

My Sister's Year Map

Sister year map

It's peculiar that my sister has a very artistic bent and her map is all straight lines, and I'm into engineering and "numbers" yet my lines are curved.


 

On Saturday morning, this all seemed pretty normal to me.

Now it sounds a bit whacko. I've never thought of discussing my map with anyone, as I always figured everyone had this or something similar.

By now you think I have a mental issue.

The easiest way I can find to explain it, is with a spatial example.

A map.

Do you know where England is (or any country you're familiar with)? Can you picture in your head where it is? Did you have to think about it? Did you see its position on a globe, or a map?

I've asked a few people. Some see the position on a globe, some on a map of the world. Now, do you know where London is? Did you mentally see a bigger map? Did you zoom in?

How about a particular place in London? Could you zoom in again? I think it works for everyone because it's a spatial representation, of a spatial thing.

That's how I see numbers. They don't manifest as actual matter, like a table or a tree. They're like a number map - in my head.

The position of London never changes, and neither does 27, or 65987 or M.

 

In the past few days I've done quite a bit of reading on synaesthesia. One thing that really surprised me is that a map drawn in 1881  has an amazing number of similarities to my map. Lots of examples I found googling start with a clock face.

Why is that? Is that because we form our maps when we're learning numbers? Or did the bloke that designed the clock have SSS?

Synaesthesia is the mixing of stuff in the mind. I mix sequences with spatial awareness. As does my sister. I've tested all my family and my kids by asking them where they see 25, or July, or 1997. None of them have a map.

Most stuff written on synaesthesia is about the colour/sound/taste types. Obviously it's a lot more interesting that Wednesday is blue or the letter C is a trumpet blast or 12 tastes like banana.

Also, the literature I've read says things like synaesthetes are generally very artistic types, poor spatial awareness, great memory (but not photographic).

That's wrong and right (for me).

I am into engineering. I like an answer. Don't like flaky concepts.

I have no artistic ability whatsoever. Don't really like art unless it's realism. I can't play an instrument. I don't understand poetry. I think it's stupid.

I have good spatial awareness and a good sense of direction.

I have good memory. I recall easily into early childhood.


 

Anyway, at this stage, I don't think I'll shout it from the rooftops, as the few people I've told, parents, wife, a few close friends - clearly think I'm a nutjob.

This wikipedia page sums it up nicely.

This site is basically anonymous, but you can contact me here Contact