The Woman Who "Sees" Time

Space time continuum may be the stuff of Star Trek, but it's not mere fiction to Holly Branigan. The Edinburgh University psychologist can actually "see" time:

"I thought everyone thought like I did, says Holly Branigan, also a scientist at Edinburgh University, and someone with time-space synaesthesia.

"I found out when I attended a talk in the department that Julia was giving. She said that some synaesthetes can see time. And I thought, 'Oh my god, that means I've got synaesthesia'."

So what exactly does she see?

"For me it's a bit like a running track," she says.

"The track is organised around the academic year. The short ends are the summer and Christmas holidays - the summer holiday is slightly longer.

"It's as if I'm in the centre and I'm turning around slowly as the year goes by. If I think ahead to the future, my perspective will shift."

BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill has the story: Link


Totally amazing, I experience the same but the (month) sections have the same size and the shape's more like a racetrack. Morover, I associate the days of the week with colours to. Knowing it's not everybody's case is freaking :P
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I work at Sussex University in the UK, in the synaesthesia research group allied to Julia Simner's, and we are always looking for people who have this or any other kind of synaesthesia. If you'd like to take part in our research, or just want to know more, please have a look at our website: www.syn.sussex.ac.uk
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Woah. I thought everyone "viewed" time. I do. That's so weird.
I see weeks as blocks split by week and weekend. And months are blocks to that tend to get smaller around christmas but get longer in january/feb.
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I too have always seen it as a racetrack, except it's divided by seasons. Summer and winter are orange, long & straight, fall and spring are each a yellow curve.
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Wow. From early, early childhood I have seen time in this way. Like a flat, multi-colored band. Does anyone also habitually sculpt towers in their mashed potatoes?
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I'll have to start an informal quiz among my friends and family about this topic. I also thought that everyone saw the year as a rounded shape (but without the colors). Since this post quickly got a bunch of posts from other people who see the year as a shape, my guess is it's 10+% of the population. For me, the summer (June - August) is the flat to of the year with a gradual downward slope starting in September. December is on bottom and there is a sharp turn upward again in early January.
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I saw this in my reader and completely freaked out. Before I even read the title I saw the image and thought, "How did my mental image of the year get on the internet?"

At one point I drew it out because it's fairly complex, but not unlike this. Depending on the time of year, the "camera angle" is different, the same shift they were talking about.

Awesome.
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The first synaesthesia I remember is 3 and 4 being green and blue. According to one at work I am salt and pepper on licorice; I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.
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I see time, too! Small pieces of time are on a round thing on my wall. My kids can't see that at all, or at least they can't figure it out. Bigger pieces are blocks on another part of my wall. But only holidays are colored.
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Yes, I too see the calendar the same way, though mine goes counter clockwise. January is up at the top and that's where the track does it's largest bend, and the months are colored like the seasons, though Jan/Feb are desolate brown.

I also shape my week the same way. Monday-Friday is an uphill counter clockwise walk, then I bend at the end of Friday and drop down vertical Saturday until late Sunday Afternoon when it starts to bend back to Monday.

I have Synaesthesia? Cool!

I had Music Synaesthesia once on July 17, 1989 while the Grateful Dead played "The Music Never Stopped" and I saw colors and shapes instead of music, but I was on acid at the time.
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My map of the year starts with January and travels up or out from there, at May it turns left and the summer months go straight across until September when the months again go straight ahead. My perspective depends where we are in the year or what part of the year I'm thinking about. I first realized I saw the time this way in high school when another student brought up the topic in class. He said that he assigned gender to numbers. Now that's something to think about!
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Thanks for sharing. I never gave any thought about other people "seeing" time this way. Now I realize it is not a pervasive experience.
My experience seems most similar to the descriptions given above by Elle and CapnMarrrrk.
I also see time as a colored ring divided into seasonal segments/month sections/weekly block-lines. The overall ring I see differs from Holly Branigan's illustration in at least six ways.
Monthly segments are part of seasonal sections. The months go counter-clockwise. January is in the lower left position. Seasons have overall colors with the Monthly colors within being different. Each month is subdivided into weekly block-lines, beginning with Monday. Each day has yet a different color, repeating every week. The distorted shape of my yearly ring is different.
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I have the most common one - Grapheme-color. Letters, numbers, sometimes whole words have color. I don't see in actually, just my mind's eye. My name (Robin) looks like a piece of peppermint candy (red and white stripes). My BF's name, Karl, is green and gold.
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Wait, everyone DOESN'T see time like this?? My version isn't exactly the same, but pretty much. September is at the top right, and it goes counter-clockwise. I find this hardly unusual.
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What an odd ability. I dont have this. Sitting and trying to "view" just gives me a headache.
I'm really good with judging the time it will take to travel a distance but what you guys are talking about sounds neat to an outsider.
I wonder if all/most of you are good with math?
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I never wear a watch because I always know the time- always. I am never late for court, meetings, appointments or anything. I don't see colors, but time (hours and minutes) is like a fog with a diamond in it that suddenly shines when I need the time. Kind of.

Days weeks and months are more like a pegboard with lines.
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same for me with months and weeks... never thought it's unusual. in fact, reading the comments i wonder how many people DON'T see time like this , haha
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I've certainly never seen time this way and I can barely visualize what you guys are talking about. But I'm probably not alone in wishing that I did!
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That's pretty much how I've always visualized it, but never thought that it would need to be described as a "condition". I thought (and it seems a good number of people on this thread also think) that everyone saw it that way.

For me, January is sort of in the 1 o'clock position, and if you were running on it like a track, it would go downhill until May (around 6 o'clock), and starts going uphill at June. The summer months are sort of a long, slow straightaway, with Start of the Academic Year being where things kick into gear and get steeper, until you get to December, which is around the 11/12 o'clock spot, and also at the top of the hill... with the holidays being just over the crest into the downhill.

In my mind, I can look back at previous months, since it's a big open "track".
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I found out I had Synaesthesia a few years ago. I was thumbing through an old Life magazine on my break and saw something that said "The word whatever tastes like pickles". I finally knew what it was called! I see numbers as colored shapes, words in color, letters in color and see pain in shapes in color.

I'm the only one in my family, and the only person I know that has this. I think it helps my excellent memory!
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Apparently Synaesthesia is very common among people who comment on Neatorama posts! I don't "see time" in this manner at all, so I guess I'm the rare exception! :)
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This clearly seems like one of those things that everyone thinks they have but really don't, like having a photographic memory.

I "see" time too, with days in boxes and different shaped ones for the weekend, but I don't think that's close to what this woman is experiencing.
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I have something very similar and I have known about the condition for a long time. I have drawn my timelines: the weekly one, the yearly one, daily, etc. But I also have it for regular numbers. Counting 1-100 has a very specific shape for me. I never realized that my annual one went counter-clockwise until someone commented here about it, and I saw that this lady's went clockwise. I personally think its awesome that some people have it and others dont.
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Why is it that all the synaesthetes view time as revolving around a calendar year? why do they see time broken into chunks revolving around calendar days, weeks and months? it seems to me like this is just programmed into synaesthetes at a young age through use of the roman calendar. if you could truly SEE time then you wouldnt be seeing it as a calendar, especially not revolving around a singular year. time rotates around a fantastically massive center that is far larger than a day month or year, and i cant help but feel like these people simply have excellent memory and are great at visualizing calendars. nothing wrong with that, but "seeing time" seems to be a bit blown out of proportion here.

i travel through time. no joke. sometimes i jump forward and sometimes i slip backwards. if you could truly see time you wouldnt be seeing anything at all like a calendar or anything at all like the world as most of us see it.
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I SEE TIME TOO!

...on the calender app on my phone... in fact if I do not have my phone on me there is a good chance that I have no idea what month it is.

Thanks for making me feel uncool, guys.
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So then, does "time" ever get in the way of watching a good movie or reading a good book? Like do you ever find yourselves saying, "get out of my way September, I'm trying to watch this movie?" Or can those of you with synaesthesia just turn on and off the visualization of time when it is convenient?
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I visualize time as a set of rectangular sheets of paper with grids of numbers on them. Each grid is 7 squares wide, and can be 4 to 6 rows long. They are organized in a set of 12 grids and above each grid are pictures of sports cars. On the grid, "special" days are in red, but the rest are black.
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Okay everyone here seems to be able to see time, so as a non-synaesthesiac here's my comment:
Wow, I totally don't see time at all! Amazing.
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I'm wondering how many people here are true synaesthesiacs, and how many simply associate time with a visual. There is a big difference.

Synaesthesia is a true crossing of senses, where a sound, touch or smell will actually activate a visual response, or vice versa. Seeing a flash might actually produce a sound like a pop or a sizzle. Tasting salt might produce an actual prickly feeling in the fingertips.

Many people can relate concepts with images. I've always seen the number two as red, for example. I also visualise time like a red ribbon, for some reason. But while I can picture it in my mind's eye, it isn't true synaesthesia as it isn't an actual crossing of the senses. Just pattern making, which our brains naturally do quite well.

Whether that is the same with Ms. Branigan or not, I don't know. Need to see some good evidence, though.
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I see time demarcated in 365 little squares arranged in a grid-like pattern of four or so rows separated in 12 groups of 28 to 31 sections. I must be special or something.
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I'm also have synaesthesia. Sometimes I can smell images. Like i'll see an advertisement on tv and i'll be able to smell the food. They are like ghost smells. I first noticed it when I went to see a play in middle school. It was huckleberry finn and during the scene where they fry up catfish, I could smell it. I raved to my classmates how amazing the special effects were, but no one else could smell it.

As for time and space, i'm really bad at approximating both. I'm always forgetting the order of the months and how many days are in a year (etc.)

Having synaesthesia is like having a useless superpower. But it's still really cool.
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retards.. you're just visualising the calendars.. if calendars are arranged differently, perhaps in circles, you wouldnt be seeing blocks.. stupid.
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This is an amazing array of visualizations. I see time in a half oval, starting at January around to December. Then it starts again. No colours, but the weeks in rows. Sort of like a flat bell curse, but connecting one to the next one.
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As a child I was quite severely punished for telling that a colour could taste or smell and that a taste could have colour or sound to it. "No son- You HEAR with your EARS and you SEE with your EYES and if you do otherwise, go wash your mouth with soap and taste the colour of green soap and get grounded for the rest of the weekend. So what is soap...?"

Only in recent years I'm getting it all back and I'm accepting it as one of the greater gifts in life.
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I too, visualize a well-designed calendar! I think some people are a little anxious to have some fancy phenomenon go down in their heads
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I agree with the comments here that suggest everyone is just visualizing the calendar. I do the same. Won't bore you with the "shape". But the real question is this: How is professor Holly Branigan's self-report any different? The conclusion that she has synaesthesia was reached by her thinking "Gee wiz!" just like everyone else on this page.
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I see time as a racetrack going counter-clockwise. Similar to one of the posts above but my track starts to the left in September and moves to the right until June. My guess is this was my school year. Then it does a short turn into a summer backstretch of July and August and bends back into September. I am standing in front of the track, not in the middle.

Here is something really weird... my numbers have a gender. LOL!
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This subject attracts a lot of attention, and in "New Age" circles is regarded as something akin to aura reading, a sign of spirituality. It ain't. Proof: every synasthete has different associations to different sounds and colors.
It's just neural crosstalk... signals from one sensory channel bleeding thru to another. Fun, and occasionally useful [aids in memory consolidation] but ultimately irrelevant.
I have no visualization whatsoever, much less overlapping ones, but am no further ahead or behind than anybody else.
Synaesthesia does sound like fun tho.
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I see time this way as well! I thought I was the only one because I have asked others about this and they think I am strange. Fall and spring are thin and summer winter are long. I am standing in the middle and the the corners of my rectangle are rounded. The rectangle does not rotate, I do.
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