Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winner in Physics once said, “When I see equations, I see the letters in colors – I don’t know why. As I’m talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde’s book, with light-tan j’s, slightly violet-bluish n’s, and dark brown x’s flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students.”
Sometimes, it is difficult for synaesthetes to understand what other people can see or can’t see. Some of them assume everyone else sees what they see, and until one day, they get a shock that other people don’t see colours, numbers or images around them.
Even amongst synaesthetes, what they see vary considerably. For example, four of us in the family have Number Form synaesthesia, but how we see numbers around us are very different. I will talk about this in my future blogs.
Thomas projects real images of calculators. I am not sure if there is a name for this synaesthesia type. He has tried a few times to explain to me what he sees, but it is almost impossible to describe. As many as 100 or more calculators with different colours are all around him, lining up on his face, on his right, on his left, further away from him. In fact, everywhere he goes and whenever he needs to do a mental calculation, his “calculator friends” are with him. All calculators have wheels so that they can move.
When a calculation process starts, he ‘picks up’ the next calculator that he uses to do the calculation. The calculator then appears in front of him and the answer appears on the calculator as if his hands were holding the calculator while he read out the answer. Once the process ends, the calculator leaves him and makes room for the next calculator. The calculators seem to always move around. They can swap around for different calculations or perhaps for different levels of difficulties.
He used to rely heavily on his synaesthetic calculators to work out sums. However, the images of calculators cannot be projected properly when the room temperature is either too hot or too cold, or when he is outdoor. He has learnt not to completely rely on his “calculator friends”.
I would like to dedicate this blog to Australian Mathematics Trust (AMT), an organisation which has been responsible of discovering many Maths and Informatics talents within Australia and abroad.
Each year, on the first Thursday of August, AMT holds a global Maths competition for children from Year 3 to Year 12. The AMC (Australian Mathematics Competition) now attracts approximately 400,000 to 500,000 students from more than 40 countries. Canadian Maths Kangaroo was established under the influence of AMC, hence, the name Kangaroo.
Thomas is looking forward to entering the competition first time next year. Skye will participate in tomorrow’s competition. Fingers crossed for Skye!