How far away is 2050? No, this is not a math test – we mean it literally. Could you reach out and touch 2050 or would you have to walk there? Is it in front of you or at some corners? Or is this all just nonsense?
For maybe a person in their 50s, though, it makes perfect sense. This is because they have a secret, albeit very limited, superpower: they can see time. Really.
What is “calendar synaesthesia”?
Imagine if your calendar wasn’t an app on your phone or a decorative holiday gift from your grandmother, but somehow… all around you. This is the case with people with calendar synesthesia, also known as time-space synesthesia: for them, time is not just a philosophical headache – it’s a collection of points in space. interconnected areas around the body. a huge hula hoop. or any other strange and unique visual manifestation.
“The past is to my right, but it curves so that between 1996 and 2000, it completes a U-turn and runs back to the left,” author and time empath Emma Yeomans explained in a Buzzfeed article from a few inches. behind your right elbow – sorry, we mean 2016.
“[It] it means the diaries feel faintly odd, as they read from left to right,” he admitted. “Although this bothered me a bit as a kid, I don’t notice the difference anymore.”
Not everyone with the condition experiences such moments – similar, in Yeomans’ words, to the Rainbow Road track in Mario Kart. For a synesthete, the year can stretch out in the shape of a large petal. For others, the months could evolve clockwise along a circle or V shape, with their body acting as an anchor.
We’re not being metaphorical here. “We found that (1) [study participant] ML could “read” months of her calendar – or alternate months – backwards, unlike controls. (2) her eyes and index finger unconsciously “watched” her reading. (3) her diary moved with her gaze and tilted her head. (4) after looking at a shrinking spiral, its log expanded,” explained a 2016 paper on the phenomenon. Meanwhile, another participant – one whose diary was rooted in her body rather than her head – reported that memories could be partially “blocked” if she looked away from the moment they happened.
“December [was] to her right [and] July was 3 feet [0.9 meters] in front of her,” the researchers wrote in a second paper. Curiously, when she “turned her head to the right, the left part of her diary became ‘fuzzy’ and the memories of February and March became less accessible.”
How common is calendar synaesthesia?
One or 2 percent of the population may not sound like much, but they add up to more than 3 million time-space synesthetics in the US alone. And while it’s not as well known as other forms of the altered state of the senses, such as the ability to “see music” or “taste words,” some reports suggest it may be more common than we think. It might even be one of the most common types of synesthesia out there.
But why would this particular mess be so obvious? If you’ve been reading this far and wondering if you’ve been a little calendar synesthetic this whole time, you may have already figured out why.
“If I put a number on a computer screen and ask you to press a key with your left hand if it’s less than five, or with your right hand if it’s greater than five, you’ll respond faster than if it’s the other way around” , Professor Anina Rich, who leads the Synaesthesia Research Group at Macquarie University in Australia, told ABC News in 2021.
This is true whether you have synesthesia or not – it’s just a product of our environment. That numbers run from left to right is an idea we’re taught and reinforced almost every day of our lives, so it’s no surprise that we’d have this association in our brains—a kind of super-mild version of calendar synesthesia, if you like it
“And then as you go along, there might be people who have a sense of where the week is around them,” Rich said. “And then you get someone who says, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been doing this for weeks, but I’ve also been doing this for years and decades.’
But does that really count? And if not, when does “proper” time-space synaesthesia begin?
What causes calendar synaesthesia?
Perhaps knowing what’s behind the phenomenon might provide some clues – though that’s a big enough question in itself.
“Most theories of synaesthesia talk about rewiring or extra-connections in the brain,” wrote Professors Julia Simner and Jamie Ward from the Synesthesia Research Group at the University of Sussex.
“The white matter, which connects different areas together, in the brains of people with synesthesia is organized differently,” they explained, “and there is more gray matter in certain areas of the brain associated with perception and attention.”
Meanwhile, there is long-standing evidence that for people with chromaesthesia, or sound-to-color synesthesia, the brain will fire up areas normally used to process color rather than sound when they hear spoken words. Obviously, there are specific physical differences at the neurological level that separate synesthetics from non-synesthetics.
But how big these differences are is still up for debate. On the one hand, Rich explained to ABC News, there’s the school of thought that synesthesia is the result of neural connections that most of us simply don’t have.
“This is categorical,” he said. “This means that synesthetics are physically different from non-synesthetics.”
But other experts take “[a] more dimensional approach,” placing synesthetes at one end of a continuum that we all sit somewhere together. According to this model, Rich said, “we all have connections between the senses… but it may be that synesthetics have more co-activation [of those regions]» from the rest of us.
In other words, this idea goes, we may all be technically capable of seeing next Wednesday in the corner lamp – but, like almost anything outside of our immediate gaze or the past in general, our brains are constantly replacing and ignoring it in favor of . an easy life.
Are there benefits to calendar synesthesia?
So here’s the million dollar question: if you’re just now realizing you have this condition – what should you do about it?
Well, the answer may lie in the fact that – to put it bluntly – you’ve just discovered that you’re different. “We often talk about [synesthesia] like you have an unusual gift,” Rich told ABC News. “But for most people, it’s just their way of perceiving the world.”
It’s very rare for diary synesthesia to cause problems in the daily lives of those who experience it, Rich explained — and in fact, it may well bring benefits that the rest of us have to train for years to enjoy. Think of Sherlock Holmes’ “mind palace” memory technique and it starts to become clear why: studies have shown that time-space synaesthetics are extremely good at visual recall of times and dates and on a simpler level, much less likely than you or Accidentally I double booked an appointment.
“All these advantages make sense,” Simner told Buzzfeed. “If you take two people, one carrying a diary and one not, the same advantages of carrying a diary were also experienced by people who have time-space synesthesia.”
At the end of the day, time-space synesthesia is a fun perceptual quirk – and one that can give you an edge in the admin game – but not something to worry about. Chances are, if you’re one of the millions of people who experience the phenomenon, you’ve never known you were anything other than normal.
“The vast majority of people with synesthesia never realize that others don’t experience the world this way,” Simner confirmed. “It’s a challenge to reality – you have your reality, I have mine, and who would have thought they would be different?”