Numbers with Personality

Alice Major
Proceedings of Bridges 2017: Mathematics, Art, Music, Architecture, Education, Culture
Pages 1–8 Regular Papers


Numbers are not simply dry and abstract symbols for arithmetic quantities. Human minds also endow them with rich and complicated personalities. Such personalities can be created and used at a broad cultural level, like the Mayan portrait glyphs used for the numbers 1 through 20. Or they can be found at a highly idiosyncratic level in the form of synaesthesia known as Ordinal Linguistic Personification. Imagining personalities for numbers involves cognitive systems that are linguistic as well as mathematical. Our brains create a space where personal associations and broader social experience can mingle. The paper concludes with three of the author’s poems in which numbers take on personalities that reflect contemporary urban experience.