This Is Your Brain: The Guided Tour – Do You Hear What I See?

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Narrator: There’s a classic kid’s joke – Why was six afraid of seven? … Because seven ate nine!

If your numbers have distinct personalities, you have something in common with the famous Russian synesthete Solomon Shereshevesky.

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Described in a classic study entitled “The Mind of a Mnemonist” by Alexander Luria, Shereshevsky was discovered in the 1920’s to have a synesthetic connection across all five senses!

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When Dr. Luria rang a small bell, for instance, the sound would evoke in Shereshevsky’s mind “a small round object . . . Sfx: tennis ball bounce … something rough like а rope . . . sfx: sandpaper … the taste of salt water . . . sfx: water glass … and something like a white cloud.” sfx: wind

Not only did Shereshevsky see numbers in the same colors that he first saw them as a child; he said that “all the numbers had knick-names and distinct personalities.”

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The number one “is a slender man with ramrod posture and a long face;

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The number ‘two’ is a plump lady with a complicated hairdo atop her head, clad in a velvet or silk dress with a train that trails behind her.

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Seven is always twirling his handlebar moustache, perhaps leering at Eight, a woman of formidable girth.

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Shereshevsky lived in a world where almost every word was accompanied by sensual details.

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When he heard “restaurant,” for example, he could not help but picture an entrance, customers, a Romanian orchestra tuning up to play for them, the clink of the tableware, the aromas from the kitchen. These connections were powerful and unavoidable. Shereshevsky had to refrain from reading a newspaper over breakfast because the flavors evoked by the printed words would clash with the taste of his meal.

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His five-fold synesthetic connections could also affect his body. He could alter the skin temperature of his hands by visualizing himself touching a hot stove or a block of ice…

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…or raise his heart rate to over a hundred beats per minute by picturing himself racing after a train that had just left the station.

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As is common with many synesthetes, Shereshevsky also had a prodigious memory, which he turned into a life-long career of performing seemingly impossible memory tricks for audiences throughout Soviet Russia.

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So, if you have nicknames for your numbers, you too may have a future in Vaudeville!

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