Imagine that whenever you hear violins, you taste cheesecake. Or that your dad’s voice is a pale green. Or that whenever you see the letter “B”, you feel a tickle in your right hand. Sounds crazy right? Actually, this can be the way that a small percentage of the population experiences things. The condition they have is called synesthesia. It’s a rare neurological condition, affecting approximately four (4) percent of the population, in which one sense is joined with another. Synesthesia combines objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or words with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. Every synesthete (someone with synesthesia) has their own unique perceptions. Natalia Feldman is someone who has synesthesia. For her, numbers have colors as well as personalities. Feldman graciously agreed to an interview so that we can get a personal look at just what living with this condition is like.
When did you first find out that you had synesthesia?
My synesthesia is so innate to me that I never really thought to question it. However, I guess you could say that I realized I was different in my first year of middle school, when my teacher mentioned synesthesia. She said that certain people see colors when they hear music. It was then that I realized that numbers don’t have colors and personalities for everyone. It has made things like math and physics a bit challenging because when I have numbers and colors that I like more, sometimes I’ll want to use answers that aren’t necessarily correct because my brain prefers their colors.
Can you please tell me a bit about your synesthesia?
The number one is red. For me, one is powerful and confident, a leader.
The number two is yellow. It’s bubbly and cute, kind of like that dorky friend you have that trips on air, super sweet and friendly. However, it can also be a little aloof at times.
The number three is a burnt orange. It’s more serious. Three can be happy and outgoing, but also has some darker aspects to it.
The number four is a nice fuchsia. I feel like I associate myself the most with the number four.
Four is bright, bubbly and excited to meet people. Four is also sassy and outgoing, and knows what it wants.
The number five is green. It’s kind of quirky and pretty calm by nature, because it’s always between 1 and 10. So, as the middle point, it has to be pretty neutral. It’s very humble and reserved (like a teacher who’s trying to be as objective as possible).
The number six is a lovely lilac-lavender color. Very soft-natured and sweet, like a little old lady.
The number seven is more of a spunky teal or turquoise, very bright and vibrant. It really wants to be something else, like an eight or a nine. When I think of tests I’m never really happy with a seventy- I’d prefer an eighty or ninety. As a result, I see seven as trying to compensate for that.
The number eight is this beautiful royal blue, sometimes a soft blue. Eight is the kind of person that you don’t fully understand, but you enjoy their presence nonetheless. It’s cool, neutral, and
noble. Whenever I think of royalty, I think of blue.
The number nine can be fuchsia. I feel like it takes elements of four a lot, but it’s more of a darker purple. In terms of personality, think Ursula from The Little Mermaid. She’s very clever, but only has her own interests in mind. A bit like number four’s evil twin.
Zero’s color really depends on what it’s next to. It tends to take on the color of other numbers. On its own, however, it’s a white or peach.
Some numbers look nice together, but some don’t.
Do you have any favorite numbers?
I like the number four, number one, number five and number eight. Six too, sometimes.
Do you find that this affects your interactions with other people in any way?
No, not really. Sometimes I’ll think things like “Oh, that’s major number one energy”, a little like what people do with the zodiac signs, but I never say it out loud.
How do you “see” the color? Do you actually see it in front of you or is it just in your head?
A bit of both, I would say. Sometimes when I look at the numbers, I’ll see them in a very
cartoonish way (with a black outline all around). However, most of the time, it’s in my head.
Does your synesthesia make things difficult in any way?
Sometimes! Which is due to the number favoritism that I described earlier. For example, on a
multiple-choice test, if I don’t really know what the answer is, I’ll be inclined to pick the one that
has the colors I like better.
Does anyone else in your family have synesthesia?
I don’t think so, however, I’ve never really asked.
What are some misconceptions you’ve encountered about your condition?
Some people assume how I experience the conditions of synesthesia based on an article that they’ve read, so I have to explain to them that every synesthete has their own unique perceptions. With that said, what they read won’t necessarily match up with the way that I experience things.
How does your synesthesia affect you on a day-to-day basis, like when buying groceries or doing the laundry?
When I go shopping, sometimes I won’t mind paying more for something if I like the colors or the numbers, so I may not be buying the cheapest option! The washer and dryer that I use have a number two (2) on them, and so whenever I do laundry I always get really happy. But it’s funny because the number is actually written in green.
Does that bother you?
No, I just feel like they did things wrong, and they should have hired me to do it! (Laughs)