Hi Reddit! I’m Joel Salinas, a neurologist that specializes in cognitive and behavioral neurology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the memoir Mirror Touch.

Proof photo: imgur.com/GUstmJn

Short Description: I have synesthesia, which is a neurobiologically-based perceptual phenomenon that means that, whenever I experience something with one of my senses, I involuntary experience it through other senses, too. Among several forms of synesthesia, one form of synesthesia I have is mirror-touch synesthesia ("mirror touch" for short). The easiest way to understand mirror touch is for me to say that whatever I see someone else feel -- physically, emotionally -- my brain makes me literally feel, too. If you’re slapped on your right wrist, I feel like I’m slapped on your left wrist. If you’re gasping for air, I feel like I’m gasping for air. If you have morning sickness, I feel like I have morning sickness. Because of mirror touch, my brain categorizes you and me as the same person and tries to recreate your experience based on the situation and my own past experiences. In other words, “Mirror touch” is the experience of physically feeling my brain’s take on the physical sensations of whoever I see. Mirror touch is a mindblowing aspect of the brain that people hardly know about and -- whether you have mirror touch or not -- the more you learn about it, the more it’ll make you rethink every interaction you have.

If you’re slapped on your right wrist, I feel like I’m slapped on your left wrist. If you’re gasping for air, I feel like I’m gasping for air. If you have morning sickness, I feel like I have morning sickness. The mirrored sensations can range anywhere from pleasure to pain based on the situation and my brain’s past experiences. If anything, mirror touch is like an automatic, conscious, very physical super empathy.

TL;DR Description: Synesthesia is a family of unique perceptual phenomena (i.e., sensory experiences) that involves one type of sensory information triggering another (apparently unrelated) type of sensory information. This can involve experiencing colors with letters, shapes with sounds, taste with smells, and many many more exotic combinations.

Mirror touch can thus be considered the synesthetic mixing of sight (and often other senses) with touch. Specifically, the sight of other people triggers a mirrored touch-experience. For example, if I were to see someone in front of me stroking their right cheek, I would feel a simultaneous physical sensation of a phantom finger stroking my left cheek.

In seeing that touch, in a way, my brain automatically assumes that they are my reflection or that I am their reflection. In doing so, my brain uses whatever past experiences and predictions it can muster to conjure up the physical experience of touch on my skin, even though most of the time I know that it’s in my brain and not actually on my skin or in my body.

The feeling is literal, mechanical, and pretty vivid. It's a measurable, falsifiable (therefore, not pseudoscientific) experience that I think highlights all the different ways that our brains can take shape due to genetic differences and much more.

If we were to slow down the mirror-touch experience and zoom in on what’s going on, it’s not like a psychic link with the other person where their mental experience is channeled into me through some kind of pixie dust. Mirror touch occurs completely through my brain and my senses, not through anything supernatural.

So, if I were hypothetically thrown into a silent, dark sensory deprivation tank -- like Eleven on Stranger Things -- and I'm completely unaware that there's anyone else outside the tank, my brain would have no information to trigger the mirror touch experience.

The mirrored sensations can be anywhere from pleasurable to painful depending on how my brain categorizes the information, which is based on context and my past experiences. And there's really no limit to what my brain will try to recreate -- as close as possible -- regardless of what it sees, and regardless of whether I've physically experienced it before, like childbirth or death.

If anything, mirror touch works more like a kind of automatic, conscious, very physical super empathy.

That said: While mirror touch is a very natural part of my day-to-day life given that I’ve had it since I can remember, being a neurologist that works with patients on a daily basis and having mirror touch makes for an... interesting experience.

In my recent memoir, Mirror Touch, I share my story and what I’ve learned from my experience living with a brain that blurs that boundaries between myself and other people: mirrortouchbook.com

I think my uncommon personal experience with mirror touch drew me toward medicine since childhood, and has continued to shape me as a doctor. It means that I’m more likely to share a deeper connection with patients, their suffering, and ultimately their care. The decision to pursue medicine really solidified while I was in the Amazon rainforest studying the interaction of biological health--physical and mental--with how we relate with one another.

Having a little more insight into what my patients are feeling than most, I've always placed a lot of importance on my patients' needs as a person. Our thoughts, our feelings, and how we perceive and predict the world around us is precious. It helps shape who we are as a person, and other people in kind. This is why, in medical school, I was spellbound by the beauty and marvel of the brain and the emergence of human behavior, moment-to-moment. Thus, to be a neurologist, caring for people and their whole nervous system -- the motherboard of our reality -- represented a special opportunity to have a profound impact on a person's life.

Reach out to talk about synesthesia, mirror touch, neurodiversity, brain health, or anything really (I'm chatty--and when I say “anything” I really mean ANYTHING)!

If you need more convincing I’m real--

You can check out some of my interviews here:




You can check out peer-reviewed studies about mirror touch in reputable scientific journals here.

More info here:



Connect and/or stalk me here:




Really looking forward to chatting with you!

UPDATE: Going to step away, but I'll be back at 5pm EST to answer more of your questions!

UPDATE: I'm back and ready for more questions! Bring 'em on!

UPDATE: Thank you so much for all your questions! This was a lot of fun! I might pop back in later tonight to answer more questions, so please feel free to keep askin' away!

UPDATE: I'm back to answer a few more questions before callin' it a night!

UPDATE: Time for this neurologist to practice what he preaches and head to bed! Thank you, thank you, thank you all for asking so many awesome questions!!

Comments: 217 • Responses: 79  • Date: 

Kamrn_37 karma

Is watching porn an odd experience?

joelsalinas31 karma

Depends on what you mean by “odd”... BUT... my optic nerves aren’t selective based on the subject matter... so mirror touch works for that, too!

Kamrn_10 karma

“Odd” as in it’s weird to watch? Do you feel like you’re apart of it, or is it the usual (not usual but ya know) viewing experience?

joelsalinas9 karma

It can be weird, but mostly can feel pretty great, feeling as though I’m a part of it. While I can’t say for certain what it’s like for non-synesthetes in comparison, for me it’s like... beyond 3-D... it’s 4-D+++++.................+.

DAN9911997 karma

I came here to ask that, also when you see people suffering is it a devastating experience?

joelsalinas10 karma

It can be overwhelming at times. For example, the first time I saw someone die was incredibly intense and is actually the story I use to open mah book. It was this experience where I realized how overwhelming something like death can be for me, and also what made me so resolved to figure out a way so I could be there for patients when they needed no matter how much they were suffering.

The_Script_Kiddie12 karma

As a result of this, do you refrain from watching horror movies ( Saw, etc)?

joelsalinas17 karma

This may seem odd... but I actually watch as many as I can.... Certainly, it’s not like I’m the doctor from Black Mirror. Though the more I expose myself to gruesome images, the less distressing they can be. There is the case where violence in movies that is not very convincing because of make-up etc where it feels just kinda like that... plastic and make-up, so it’s not so bad. If I’m caught off-guard or the imagery is VERY graphic and VERY authentic, those images can be kinda horrifying... but it can also be fascinating, too. I think I'm in a unique situation where I'm a doctor, whereas other people are really distressed or avoid that sort of thing (e.g., some people can't stand even the sight of needles).

biznizexecwat6 karma

Have you tried VR yet? I would think that mirror touch synesthesia would make VR like 5 levels of awesome.

joelsalinas9 karma

Heck yeah! I love VR, AR, and mixed reality experiences. It’s extra-immersive to the point where I can quickly forget about real reality altogether.

folxify6 karma

How do the people you associate with feel a out your superhuman level of empathy? Does it change how they interact with you?

joelsalinas4 karma

I don’t talk about it openly very much unless it’s relevant, though the people that are aware can respond many different ways. For example, some people may simply be fascinated and just want to know more and will ask all sorts of great questions. Other people may actually be rather intimidated and kind of try to avoid or almost hide themselves. Other people really really really want me to feel their pain deliberately, so that they feel a little less alone in that experience. Overall, though, I think people, as they spend more time around me, they become pretty comfortable and enjoy the company of someone who can be attentive and considerate with them as if we’re the same person.

Rosiehamster4 karma

How do you see the music of Billy Joel ?

joelsalinas3 karma

Depends on which one! For example, We Didn’t Start the Fire is a mix of up-and-down bar shapes that oranges and yellows which sharp corners and points along its ridges. Also, Billy Joel has synesthesia. True story!

Also true story, before I was born my parents were going to name me Tech.... Then they vetoed this (thank goodness) and then they were dead set on naming me Bon Jovi.

No, really.

And in the end, my parents vetoed this again (I think my life may have been very different had I been named Bon Jovi Salinas....) and ultimately went with the Joel from Billy Joel... though with a Spanish-flare... so it’s pronounced “joh-EHL”. It was only later that I found out that the pronunciation of my name is closer to the actual pronunciation of the origin of the name, which is the Hebrew “Yoel”, who is a prophet and the name means “God’s will”.

The Book of Joel.

Also, the Book of Joel.

Mariyam824 karma

Dear Mr.Salinas, How do you experience fatherhood? And like to know more about your diet,please

joelsalinas8 karma

Experiencing fatherhood through other people (since I don’t have my own children... yet!), it’s generally lovely... though it really depends on the situation. You may be referring to the process of childbirth, which I have seen so my brain has definitely recreated that experience. It feels like my pelvic diaphragm is stretching as something is coming out. It can actually be pretty surreal - a la Jerry giving birth. My body will still perceive the sensations regardless of whether I’ve felt it before on my body--even if the parts don’t exactly match up.

In terms of diet, I generally try eat just about everything. I usually say I have the OPPOSITE of food allergies. I try to keep pretty healthy based off of existing evidence specifically as it relates to brain health (gotta practice what I preach!). The most evidence currently is for the MIND diet.

alicedeejayismymom3 karma

Have you ever experimented with psychadelics?

joelsalinas7 karma

Not yet! But... part of me wonders whether if I did I would just suddenly explode in a fiery ball of confetti.

alicedeejayismymom2 karma

Dude, what if you have actuallly have latent super power potential that something like a LSD trip could unlock. A lot of people report synaesthesia/ESP on LSD, so Im not sure I can even begin to imagine what it would be like for you.

I reaaalllyy hope you post an update one day after a trip. Could be a huge insight for psychedelic research.

Also, how sensitive is your condition? Can you ever feel people breathing/blinking?

joelsalinas3 karma

I’ll keep you posted!

The threshold for reflecting other people’s experiences through mirror touch is quite sensitive in that it can be one of the unexpected bonuses of synesthesia, where I might be faster at diagnosing or empathizing because of the really subtle cues that being perceived, processed, and predicted through my brain. I sometimes call it a sort heightened anomaly detection. This can include blinking and breathing and even subtle muscle twitching.

ThetaAlcyoneus3 karma

Does the physical touch sensation occur even in response to things happening within your field of view but outside your immediate focus of attention? (So that you feel something on your body and then have to look around to see what the cause was.)

joelsalinas18 karma

Yes! And it can be so weird. For example, just the other day, I was working on my computer at a coffee shop and I kept feeling the sensation of phantom fingers going into my mouth, just fiddling around in there and I was like "WTH IS THIS?!" and just to my left there was a guy who had just devoured a spinach feta wrap and was trying to harvest all the spinach between his teeth.

ThetaAlcyoneus3 karma

Greetings, Dr. Salinas. Thank you for offering this AMA! Have you (or other mirror touch synesthetes) been analyzed via PET or fMRI scans? What is known about the neurophysiology of this kind of synesthesia?

joelsalinas4 karma

We have! A summary of those studies can be found on pubmed.gov here. Much of this work has been done by cognitive neuroscientists like Drs. Jamie Ward and Michael Banissy. They’ve found that parts of the brain related to “social processing” are more active (and larger) and parts of the brain related to distinguishing the self from another person are less active (and smaller).

ThetaAlcyoneus3 karma

That sounds similar to what people sometimes subjectively experience with some psychoactive drugs (entheogens) -- that the self/other distinction diminishes or disappears. Do you think mirror touch synesthesia is related to that effect neurologically, or do you see them as different phenomena?

joelsalinas4 karma

They may actually be related. The running theories for synesthesia revolve around differences in brain maturation, connective, and cross-activation, which can assume with the use of some psychoactive drugs - especially, hallucinogens. In fact, when people describe their experiences with psychedelics like (micro-dosed) LSD, I can relate with some of their experiences. This may be due to the increase of activity in serotonin systems (specifically, serotonin type 2A receptors which believe may be upregulated in some people with synesthesia). I think the effect of a one-ness with the universe, may also be related to activity in the right temporoparietal junction, which is involved in our mental body map of ourselves and visuospatial functioning. Interestingly, I was found to have a (benign) tumor in this same region... which later was discovered to be involved heavily in the mirror touch experience. Also, the temporoparietal junction sits at the confluence of many neural networks for the senses.

ThetaAlcyoneus2 karma

Wow! Really fascinating.
I'm glad the tumor was benign!

joelsalinas2 karma

Me, too! It was what's called an angiofibroma and the vascular component of it is probably what affected my brain development (and perhaps functioning) over that area of my brain.

Lightness9873 karma

If you’re ill and you see somebody who is in perfect health and doing healthy stuff do you feel better as a result?

joelsalinas2 karma

Yes! It’s similar to when I’m feeling down, I will pay more attention to people who are smiling or laughing so that the mirrored sensations feel like my own and as a result I tend to feel a bit better. Also, these types of hug-videos are great.

Didsota3 karma

Does it work with pictures and movies or just in the real world?

What if somebody touches something you have no idea what it feels like?

joelsalinas4 karma

It works with any sensory information (in cognitive neuroscience, some have actually begun to refer to mirror-touch synesthesia as “mirror-sensory synesthesia”). So, yes, pictures and movies are interpreted by my brain as well. The more “real” the sensory experience, the more vivid the mirror touch sensations are. My brain automatically uses information based off of context and my own past experiences to extrapolate the sensation feels like - so it may not be 100% accurate to the other person’s experience, though can still be extremely vivid.

civilbored2 karma

Dr. Salinas, thank you for doing this ama. My question is, Has having someone describe a sensation that you've never personally experienced change how your mirror touch approximates it?

joelsalinas3 karma

You’re welcome! This is a lot of fun for me, too, so thanks for your questions! I think the most accurate thing to say would be that it probably has, though it’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact moment because my brain is constantly using past experience to inform the recreation of these experiences. I would imagine, though, if someone is describing an experience that I have never seen at all then it would be more likely to be the case. However, as a doctor and someone who has watched A LOT of TV/movies since childhood, that doesn’t happen very often.

Shentall2 karma

What are the best and worst experiences you’ve had due to mirror touch?

joelsalinas15 karma

Best experiences are usually seeing someone hug when I need it and there’s no one around to give it. I also love seeing cute babies - the mirrored sensations always just makes me giggle and put a smile on my face.

Worst experiences are usually seeing someone die.

ClearMyInbox3 karma

I would think an emergency medical rotation would have been unpleasant.

joelsalinas6 karma

Definitely at the start, but I was committed to exposing myself as many of these really intense experiences as possible so that I would be more prepared, and less distressed, the next time I saw a patient like this and needed to be on my A game for them.

Gullinkambe2 karma

If you are watching a fight and one person ends of being cut with a knife, do you feel the anger of the person cutting, the sensation of being cut, the emotional aspect of being cut or all three at once?

joelsalinas5 karma

The easiest way to put it would be to say that it’s all three at once. However, the experience that is most vivid be the one that hogs most of my brain’s “attention” bandwidth. So, if my brain identifies the most with the person being stabbed, I would feel being stabbed more times per second than the hand of the person being stabbed. This is actually similar to when watch or perform a lumbar puncture, where I’m performing/feeling the process of doing the spinal tap while also feeling the experience of having the needle placed into my back.

modernparadigm2 karma

Without a doubt, you've likely been compared to a "medical intuitive" -- when I say this term, I mean the ability to find the cause of a physical condition through clairvoyance.

Do you think there is a tie to mirror touch underlying this area?

Aside from MTS/synesthesia in general, I noticed that I have a really hyper-recognization/noticing of people's faces--as in, I seem to look at the shape of faces kind of intensely, I don't forget them easily. And so, I kind of have a "database" of people's faces/bodies in my head.

This is a different trait altogether, but it seems that "super recognizers" score higher on empathy levels, which leads them to look at faces/bodies more in general.

I think "empaths" too or people with high empathy, (very unfortunately) often come from a place of trauma (particularly childhood), which elevates empathy/recognition levels very high because it's important to read the body/facial cues of a possible abuser... and so they are often extreme emotional facial recognizers in and of themselves.

This has become odd for me in the fact that... although I don't believe in the psychic aspect of "medical intuitiveness", I feel like I actually can pick up on a lot of conditions or personalities that I've been exposed to many times, or have myself. People share a lot of facial continuities with hormones, and expression lines, brow and chin width, masculine or feminine traits etc etc.

I have no tangible proof of this "blending of traits"--only a lot of personal experience, and noticing that this "ailment recognition" went waaaay up after spending the last few years making a lot of clinic/hospital visits.

I'd love to find out though, and sort of wonder that if this kind of "database" of facial/body recognization continuity is the very underlying factor to things like medical intuitiveness.

joelsalinas2 karma

I think it’s possible that someone who identifies at being a medical intuitive may self-report or be identified as someone who knows a diagnosis or condition. This likely implies a 100% accuracy from not-guessing, but knowing. Though, given that the only thing any of us will ever know is the state of our own nervous system, it is more likely that they are more accurate at guessing. Which is to say, there is nothing wrong with guessing, depending on the stakes and what the person is actually claiming that they’re able to do.

A key point here is the Theory of Constructed Emotion where, opposite to what we’ve all been traditionally taught in school or by others, there is no underlying universal set of emotions common to everyone with the exception of the primordial “emotion” dimensions of arousal (calm<-->aroused) and pleasantness (pain<---->pleasure). Most of the “emotion” experiences that we have and recognize are some mix of these two dimensions, but what we label as an emotion depends a lot on the situation and the past experience and what the individual is physically feeling and what “emotion” they’ve learned to call that whole collection. In other words, even if we identify as being very accurate in perceiving the emotional, or (vicariously) even the physical state, of another person, it’s ultimately guessing. However, if we are very familiar with the context and the past experiences of the person we are looking at or interacting with we are statistically better off. Thus, accuracy goes up. The bigger the database, the more sensitive the perceiver, the relatable the experience, the more likely (probabilistically) that the guess will be accurate. Though, 100% accuracy all the time is unlikely.

Candy_Acid2 karma

My mentor in grad school studied Synesthesia. I found it very fascinating. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Do you know if there are any cases of mirror touch existing in a para/quadriplegic individual?

joelsalinas5 karma

Hmm.... I actually know of any specific cases of people with paralysis that have mirror touch, but I believe there is something to be said for the neuroplasticity changes that can occur in the setting of recovery after paralysis or amputation. Some of this has been described by people like VS Ramachandran. I wouldn’t be surprised that someone who is paralyzed would continue to experience the mirrored sensations regardless of actually being paralyzed since it’s more of a top-down brain process. It’s even possible that the mirror touch sensations may be EXTRA vivid because there is no bottom-up sensory information “veto-ing” the top-down sensory information.

flabslabrymr1 karma

Recently I've noticed while watching people fall on shows like Ridiculousness that I can feel my stomach rise and fall as some type of sympathetic reaction. Is this a mild form of synesthesia? Can or does it develop into more reactions?

joelsalinas2 karma

The mirroring system that is implicated in mirror touch is actually present in most people. So whenever we see anyone move, or get touched, or experience pain or anything else, our brain is running a 3-D virtual reality-like simulation without us knowing (i.e., below the level of consiousness). However, every once in a while, this system’s activity can cross the threshold into consciousness. For example, if you were to see someone suddenly get punched or hyper-extend their knee. That cringe feeling you get is that mirroring system being so active that you physically feel as though it happened to you. We all exist somewhere along this spectrum, and it’s certainly not a static designation. We can all move along that spectrum depending on the combination of your brain biology, your past experiences, and the specific situation. It just so happens that 1.6% of us typically lie on the extreme end of this spectrum where we can be classified as having mirror touch.

Mariyam821 karma

Do you experience some kind of special, clear realistic Dreams or any kinds of dream experiences then others?

joelsalinas3 karma

My dreams are usually very very very vivid. In fact, I often experience what some people call lucid dreaming, which is THE BEST. I’m also fascinated by how I’m rarely my actual, physical self in my dreams. I’m most often switching between the point-of-view of each person in the dream, kinda like a hyperactive quantum leaping. All sensations are extremely vivid, including very crisp colors and is often very tactile.

Machazzo1 karma

What if you see someone else getting killed? Sorry for the stupid question lmao

joelsalinas2 karma

Someone asked me a similar question the other day which was to the effect of, “What have you never seen?” I think the two things I haven’t seen yet live and in-person are someone being killed or someone committing suicide. I feel that would probably be rather devastating, and hope it never happens. And if it is about to occur, you can bet I wouldn’t think twice to jump in and stop it from happening.

todayIact1 karma

Does anyone else in your extended family have synesthesia?

joelsalinas3 karma

My younger sister has some colored-letters and my brother and mother have some mirror touch-like experiences. There’s also a lot of magical realism and mystical experiences in my family (and much of the Nicaraguan culture, really). My thought with this is that some of those experiences may be actually related to synesthesia, or some similar phenomenon, and they just happen to be described using the language of magical realism and mysticism. This reminds me of one study that was done in Spain where they found people who reported seeing auras and when they brought them into the lab, they discovered that most of them actually had synesthesia.

todayIact1 karma

You are an empath?

joelsalinas1 karma

If “empath” is defined as a person with extra-sensory empathic ability, capable of sensing the emotions of others (where “emotions” are defined by the Theory of Constructed Emotion) around them in a way unexplained by conventional science and psychology, then -- because mirror touch is explained through non-extra-sensory perception and through science and psychology -- a person with mirror touch such as myself wouldn’t constitute an empath by this definition. That said, if “empath” is defined as someone with an exceptionally high level of empathy, far above typical/average levels found in humans, then someone with mirror touch, myself included, could be considered an empath. Specifically, research looking at mirror touch and empathy has found that people with mirror touch have exceptionally have levels of a form of empathy known as affective empathy (or emotional empathy).

todayIact1 karma

The Yucatan is quite distant from Nicaragua. I am interested in your Nicaraguan heritage.

joelsalinas1 karma

That's right--both of my parents are originally from Nicaragua. There's likely ancestral Mesoamerican influences there, which would include Mayan. There's also some ancestry that is from Asia (crossing the Bering strait during the Ice Age) as well as some European (Spanish/Iberian and Scandanavian). Of course, there's also the African that we all have. Shout out to our Big Mama Lucy)!

SpongeJim1 karma

Thank you for doing this Dr. Salinas.

I myself have at least two forms of synesthesia, number form (I see numbers on a plane/following a specific path as I count in my head) and personification (numbers have a distinct anthropomorphized personality to me). However, I didn't realize this was in any way different from other people (or even think about it at all, really) until I saw a documentary about synesthesia about 10 years ago, which led me to the Wikipedia page on the subject. It was a little mind-blowing to say the least!

Anyway, I first want to ask - when/at what age did you realize your experience wasn't common? I could imagine yours being so directly coupled with the experience of others it could have you making the distinction sooner. I'd also like to ask if you have a "visual" memory and way of thinking? I am pretty much completely a visual thinker and I wonder if that contributes to or is at all correlated with having synesthesia? And lastly, I also have what I've read is called "super recognition", i.e. I don't forget people's faces, and I can usually recognize someone from almost any age, i.e. if I see a picture of someone from say the age of 1-2 or older I can usually recognize and immediately "transform" that face into the adult one I've seen. Is that also in any way related to this family of uncommon sensory experiences?

Thanks again!

joelsalinas3 karma

Yes, it is mindblowing! And I love it!

I always had a sense there was something different or odd about me, but always chalked it up to being a weird kid. I have memories of insisting that As are colored red and Bs are orange and 1s are yellow, and all my numbers having personalities (like you do!). I also remember feeling the same physical experiences as cartoons (e.g., if Roadrunner sticks out his tongue, I feel like my tongue is sticking out) and shows (e.g., when Goku does a kamehameha, I am, too! It was even really interesting to feel like Dorothy patting her perm and throwing eyebrow shade at Blanche on the Golden Girls) It was only until my first year of medical school that I learned that synesthesia was a thing, let alone that my sensory world was so different compared to others. Coincidentally, this was about 2005, which is also the same year that the first case of mirror touch was reported.

My thinking is incredibly “visual”, which is actually consistent with many people that have synesthesia where they perform high on scales of mental imagery (as well creative thinking... and memory... and even the ability to differentiate between senses, like in people who are expert sommeliers a la Ratatouille or who have absolute pitch). People who are on the autism spectrum often can relate with higher levels of mental imagery as well, famously Temple Grandin being of these people.

I would relate a “super recognition” of faces likely to this as well, similar to how people with synesthesia can differentiate better between very subtle shades of color. Of note, one of the brain regions heavily implicated in synesthesia (notably grapheme-color synesthesia) is what’s called the fusiform face area which (per its namesake) plays an important role in face recognition (or recognizing specific visual patterns more generally).

modernparadigm1 karma

Hi, thanks for doing for doing this AMA~!

I know throughout your memoir, there are bits about “ego dissolution / ego-loss”—as in, when sense-perception and empathetic perspective-taking becomes too large and wide-ranging, that actually, self-representation and desires can be repressed from being too pliable. I feel like constant sensory overload (particularly touch/proprioception) can also cause a detachment from your physical body—something akin to dissociation.

Q: I was curious if there was a conscious process or practice for you throughout life that occurred for “reconciling” the expansive ego (identity) into a more contained, tangible form, and for connecting directly with your physical body?

I have mirror touch, and for me, the issue of “too expansive ego/personality” from mirror-touch sensory issues caused an extra sensitivity to existential awareness, and required so much (constant) soul-searching on my end—including some intense withdrawing/boundary forming to disentangle from others, and from the automatic “code-switching” personality that occurs in response to others. Yet, it’s still hard to condense or understand even today.

joelsalinas2 karma

I think I can summarize my response in 3 parts:

1. Firm yet thoughtful boundaries. Understanding my own reserves and what the context/situation is and what I can allow and provide -- giving that much and not more than what I estimate that I can give in a ‘healthy’ way. I’m deliberate also when I use the term “thoughtful” since you also don’t want to cause harm to others when the expense is relatively low or when the gain will more than make up for the expense.

2. Resilience. This means making sure that there’s an ounce or more of resilience/reserve for every ounce of empathy and (including this concept of ego-dissolution). That means usually doing a lot of self care. If the self care guardrails are not there, then the amount of empathy that can be safely provided is going to be limited.

For #1 and #2, finding the right “goldilocks zone” moment to moment is important and then...

3. Practice, practice, practice. Practicing especially navigating the extremes of empathy and all these sensory experiences. In turn, it’s a matter of building the neural systems up like muscles that allow for adequate regulation of attention and self-regulation (meaning regularly of affect, bodily responses, relaxation response, behavior, allowing delays for processing, etc). This can also include practices like the “body scan” meditation where attention is deliberately placed on different aspects of your body (in Chapter 7, I give the example of Rosie and her mother helping her with what they “brain gym”), meditations that are specific to keeping your attention on one or more senses (e.g., the sounds around you), and even the metta (AKA loving-kindness) meditation that more specifically address switching perspectives from your own physical body and that of people who you are more willing to identify with and slowly moving outward from there.

I’d say #3 is a critical one - and one that has a lot of buddhist elements tied to it. The buddhist nun Jeong Kwon it nicely when she described it as mastering the ability to navigate between being within the self and being in the other.

Keep in mind, I’m still mastering all this stuff on my own. I think I’ve made great advances personally but by no means am I beyond being a flawed and often silly human organism.

Oh, and if it helps, another way I think about #1, 2, and 3 actually is in the mental framework of MMORPGs:

1) HP/MP Heal Budgeting

2) Building up Max HP and Actual Max HP (e.g., +DEF, +Stoneskin, +Regen)

3) Leveling Up!

Rosiehamster1 karma

How do see the music of bob Dylan ?

joelsalinas1 karma

Depends on the song and the section, but for Mr. Tambourine Man, many of the colors are actually quite similar to the colors that you would see during the early part of a sunset. There’s also a few licks of black in there, too!

Rosiehamster1 karma

How do you see the music of phantom of opera?

joelsalinas1 karma

Depends on the song and the section of the music, but the opening of this has a lot of steely blues, lavenders, pinks, and greys lots of shades with fun ridges kind of like the ridges of a thin comb.

xzouv1 karma

Hi Doctor! Thank you for providing your experience-- My question is, how do you think your synesthesia has influenced your choice of actions when they have an affect on others/your interactions with other people? For instance, would you find yourself to be less likely to commit acts such as cheating on a significant other or lying to someone due to knowing you would experience their hurt/pain after having done so?

joelsalinas2 karma


I think synesthesia and specifically, mirror touch, play a significant role in my behavior and what’s known as moral decision-making. Many of these processes are working at the conscious level, but especially below the level of consciousness to predict how good or not-good the consequences of an action will be. Therefore, because I have such a reflexive and vivid mirrored sensation linked to others, my brain is extra aware of how not-good an action will be so, such as cheating on a significant other or lying on that significant other. This can be problematic though, when the action may be moral (on my part) but actually is likely to disappoint the other. Really, saying no and setting the right boundaries with the people I love and care for is a bit of a life struggle and something that I deliberately continue to work on.

xzouv1 karma

How did you know I was from Texas?? 😉

joelsalinas1 karma

ClearMyInbox1 karma

I realize you're mostly here to talk about tire experiences, but since you're here...I've been diagnosed with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, and it's hard to find much info about it on Google. Know of other places I could look? I've just started PT, and I'm taking Vitamin B, but I'd sure like to find out more about causes and any other stuff I could be doing to help myself and my arm.

joelsalinas3 karma

I’m open to any and all questions, so your question is definitely welcome!

Sorry to hear about your Parsonage-Turner Syndrome and I’m glad to hear that you are working with a team that’s helping you out. Generally, the treatment depends on the most likely cause. For example, if it’s determined to be due to an autoimmune process, then working with your neurologist to develop a medication regimen for immunosuppressants and/or anti-inflammatories will be key. In terms of recovery, working with an occupational therapist who can help you recover as much strength as possible will help the nerves to grow back and bring the strength back as close to baseline as possible. I think taking Vitamin B12 and/or B6 are great ideas as they can be helpful for nerve health in general, though the data is limited for specific conditions, like Parsonage-Turner. Theoretically, it would likely help.

Rosiehamster1 karma

Do you see people personalitys as shapes and Colors ?

joelsalinas2 karma

Kind of! It’s similar to what’s known as Ordinal Linguistic Personification (or OLP for short), where particularly numbers for me not only have specific colors (grapheme-color synesthesia) but also personality traits. For example, the number 3 is purple-indigo color and is a number that consistently hides it’s true potential. In a way it’s humble, but also doesn’t really put itself out there. When I see people, the process happens in reverse very quickly, where I experience a color, which is tied to a number, which is then tied to the personality traits. In a way, it’s like implicit bias, but color-number-coded. A friend of mine in medical school was a great big turquoise 7 (awkwardly endearing) with a few 4s (steely gray blue, pacific and friendly) and a few chartreuse 6s (just plain weird). Altogether, over time, more numbers populated his mosaic leading into the image of a turquoise blue lake sitting in a pale gray crater (the center was specifically Pantone 3245).

Rosiehamster1 karma

What upsides to have mirror touch and downsides to have mirror touch ?

joelsalinas1 karma

Being a brain doctor with mirror touch means that I’m more likely share a deeper connection with my patients, their suffering, and their care. It also has allowed me to experience some beautiful moments in seeing people come together, and physically feeling it vicariously. In my personal life, this is where some of the downsides may really come up where I can sometimes lose myself in the mirrored sensations of someone else, no matter how dark those experiences may be. The more time I spend with a person and the more willing I am to engage in the mirrored sensations, the more it’s as if my mental body map extends to include the other person. So, when they’re gone, it’s like a limb has gone missing. And having to separate myself from them, even when it’s desperately needed, can be incredibly painful -- almost like an amputation.

Rosiehamster1 karma

How do you test to see if have mirror touch or not ?

joelsalinas2 karma

More commonly, the experimental testing relies on what’s called the visual-tactile stroop or the visual-tactile congruity task. There is a recent publication of an online test that seems to have a high agreement with the in-lab task, which may make it easier for people to find out if they can be classified as someone with mirror touch without having to physically go into a cognitive neuroscience psychology lab.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What color is word Synesthesia for you ?

joelsalinas1 karma


Rosiehamster1 karma

What color is the word mirror touch for you ?

joelsalinas1 karma

This one is mostly a billowy cloud of white and light blue with puffs of orange and tawny and yellow with tufts of jet black.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What color is word Music -Color Synesthesia ?

joelsalinas1 karma

It's a cloud of oranges and blacks with hints of yellow, and puffs of white.

Rosiehamster1 karma

Who Is your favorite singer to listen to ?

joelsalinas1 karma

I really enjoy Adele, but really any singer who has really worked hard to train their voice can create a degree of resonance that is nice and sharp and often runs right across my maxillary bones in my face like a sharp line or wire being pressed against it.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What is your favorite time period ?

joelsalinas2 karma

I love the wee hours of the night, particularly the twilight hours leading up to dawn. Part of this is because the whole world seems a little quieter, a little more peaceful. I can get a lot of work done during these hours, but it has a similar feeling to being out in nature. Even the sounds are predominated by geophony and biophony and less anthrophony.

LilyoftheRally1 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA!

What do you know about the relationship between empathy, autism, and synesthesia? I’m autistic and experience empathy differently than I’ve been told most (non-autistic) people do. I’ve read that this has to do with atypical expression of mirror neurons in autistic people, and have also read that autistic people are more likely to have synesthesia than non-autistic people.

Who is your role model in the medical world?

joelsalinas2 karma

There’s some really fascinating research in this area where those 3 concepts overlap. You’re correct that people on the autism spectrum are more likely to have a form of synesthesia than the general population, and it’s also notable that people on the autism spectrum are also more likely to report sensory experiences that are reported by people with mirror touch. Now, why this is may have to do fundamentally with brain maturation and brain connectivity that’s present across people with autism and people with synesthesia. The specifics will likely vary based on the individual as both autism and synesthesia are what you might call highly variable phenotypes. There are several genetic studies, including an one that was recently published, that demonstrate that there is some overlap as well in genes that play a role in brain development that are found both in synesthesia and in autism.

The experience of “empathy” is thus likely highly variable but may have overlaps with how someone with mirror touch experiences empathy, where it is a more physical process or one that requires some significant reasoning through to get to recognizing the likely experience that the person in front of them is experiencing. Empathy for the emotions of another person is another deep layer down the rabbit hole, particularly because emotion is a concept which is highly variable and depends on the situation and the individual person and their past experiences. There’s a lot more to say and I actually delve into it a bit in mah book.

In terms of role model in the medical world, it would have to be the late, great Dr. Oliver Sacks. Miss him so much!

LilyoftheRally2 karma

I am definitely planning to read your book - Sacks’s books were where I first learned of synesthesia as a teenager, and he mentored the author of the book Neurotribes, which chronicles the history of the diagnosis and treatment of autism and the beginnings of the autism rights movement.

joelsalinas3 karma

Thank you so much, LilyoftheRally!

Rosiehamster1 karma

What was weaker subject in school?

joelsalinas2 karma

Arithmetic! 2 + 2 does not equal 4 when 2 + 2 is two red, feminine, maternal numbers hanging out together.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What is your favorite letter in the Alphabet ?

joelsalinas1 karma

I, C, R, X, and Z are my favorites. "I" because it's got a really mix of white and light blue hues. C, R, X, and Z I really enjoy because of how rich their black is and how they have hidden shades of other colors in them (e.g., "Z" is black but also has some dark purple whisps in it... it kind of reminds of Ursula).

Rosiehamster1 karma

What's is your favorite number ?

joelsalinas2 karma

4... omg... 4 ... I aspire to be more 4 in my life. It's so beautifully blue and friendly and pacific. Next to it is the number 0, which is white and has some iridescent colors tied to it, almost like light refracting off of a prism.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What's is your favorite shape?

joelsalinas2 karma

It's a tie between a circle (because of how it feels on my face) and many-pointed star shapes because of how they feel on my tongue. That said, mathematically there is just something so stunning about triangles.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What's favorite song of all time ?

joelsalinas1 karma

It varies a lot from time to time, but one of my favorites is [Vivaldi's The Four Seasons - 'Summer' III. Presto]. More recently, I've been listening a lot to Skyrim Atmospheres by Jeremy Soule. I am obsessed. The shades of gray and blue and dark browns are intoxicating and incredibly soothing.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What Charcterizes SSS or number form Synesthesia ? What some signs that a person might have SSS or number Form?

joelsalinas1 karma

Many people experience a numberline that runs from left to right, though the more unique forms of spatial-sequence synesthesia, include numberlines that might wrap around a person. You probably know someone who has spatial-sequence synesthesia and just haven't asked them a question like, "Where is Thursday?" or "Is December above or below your head?"

Rosiehamster1 karma

What parts of Mirror touch make you more creative than other types of synesthesia or people who do not have Synesthesia ?

joelsalinas1 karma

The definition of creativity, at least when it's studied, relies heavily on there not just being an original or innovative idea but also some degree of actual creation or a product. People with synesthesia in general, probably because of their highly associative thinking, do score higher on tests of creative thinking, though they are not necessarily more productive at creating. That said, people with mirror touch may be more attuned to specific body positioning for choreography or have a stockpile of vivid physical experiences related to body positioning that can maybe make them exceptional at performance and acting, where their acting can be vivid or authentic.

Rosiehamster1 karma

What best Synesthesia experience you ever had ?

joelsalinas1 karma

I've had many, but one of the experiences I had that was really fascinating was when I was being studied by VS Ramachandran where he overlaid the number 2 and a the letter W so that they sat and an intersection of each other. For me, 2 is red and W is green. Though, the point of intersection was this very bizarre experience... Sometimes it was red, sometimes it was green and sometimes it was neither and both at the same time. It was like staring at an abyss of paradoxes. From a neuroscientific standpoint, this has a lot to do with prediction coding. For example, in this image, when I focus my attention on the C and the T, the middle letter is red, as in my letter A. When I focus on the T and the E, the middle letter is cobalt, as in my letter E. In other words, my brain is "predicting" what the middle symbol is based off of the context and my past experiences (including my synesthetic color associations for graphemes).

Rosiehamster1 karma

Can you see time do you SSS or not ?

joelsalinas2 karma

I do have spatial-sequence synesthesia! For example, October is in front of my chest, while December is a little bit lower. May is typically behind my head and January is up and toward the left just slightly out of my field of vision.

modernparadigm1 karma

I was curious what your thoughts on existentialism were?

I've noticed there is a proclivity among synesthetes for mysticism. I have too many forms of syn to count, and so everything ever is just bursting with meaning and association.

However, at the end of the day, I'm inclined to lean on the neuroscience behind synesthesia (and mirror touch). I know that just because I "feel" it doesn't necessarily mean it's there (metaphysically).

For the most part, I'm content with the significance I give to things (internally generated meaning), vs. from something beyond us (externally generated meaning)--that I think it's worthy on its own.

However, I think existential issues are pretty hard for people anyway... and maybe even harder to have with such an (outrageously) vivid internal sensory experience. For me, it often feels like two dualing dragons (mysticism and scientific explanation).

For example, stripped of even (a small) amount of sensitivity to sense info, I actually start to feel quite distressed. When I was hypothyroid and severely migrainal, I remember feeling less like people were "there" simply because I couldn't see them (or think of them well enough) to feel them heavily on my own body map (mirror touch response).

All this time I was carrying around a landscape of people on my body that suddenly died down quite a bit, and I realized how much that made me feel like spirits, or benign forces were with me (and that I wanted them to stay--real or not).

I think the feeling of somehow being interconnected is important to me, and a little bit disturbing if all human consciousness is truly separate. I often "feel" like it's not--yet know it probably is.

It seems a lot of other mirror touch synesthetes feel interconnected with "the universe" and other people/things simply because they feel everything on their bodies--and this feels intrinsically mystical.

joelsalinas2 karma

I can relate with the feeling of everything bursting with meaning and association - much like a Google DeepDream. I also agree with you on how just amazing these experiences are at face value and how miraculous they are through the lens of science as well as the lens of just being a human in the world. Your image of the dueling dragons reminds me of a caduceus actually, which is a symbol associated with both for commerce/exchange and (incorrectly) health/medicine. Of relevance, the symbolism reminds me of the contrast between art and science, or the balance between being a scientist and just being a human. I think the feeling of interconnectedness can serve an important purpose, such as a feeling of greater meaning which can in turn provide a sense of calm and ease in your life. Regardless of who that sense of purpose is derived (whether more science, or more mysticism or spirituality) becomes less relevant as the feeling still serves its purpose. I think whether the sense of separateness or togetherness creates a sense of distress is something that is a personal one that needs to be thought through. That is, each of us has our own relationship to where we want to be most between being really far away and really close to other people. This can on the situation and can change from moment-to-moment, but can also relate to past experiences and accumulating present experiences which will dictate how you perceive that relationship in the future. Now, the physical feeling that is typically ascribed to a spiritual experience is something that can occur during a religious moment just as it can occur while watching a beautiful sunset or while watching the end of Kimi no Na Wa. Wherever it comes from and whatever you ascribe it to, it’s still pretty awesome.

modernparadigm1 karma


Actually, (because literally everything has a syn association and story) the image behind this is a big one -- the dual nature of existential nihilism and spiritual "feeling/hope" is EXACTLY the caduceus, though not because of its incorrect relationship to medicine or (correct relation to) commerce.

The caduceus looks like two snakes intertwined. In the wild, this intertwining occurs as two males fighting for dominance. But the snakes entwined in this way is often mistaken for mating. Actually, the caduceus itself was supposedly created by a man finding two snakes copulating, then killing the female (and transforming into a female himself).

The duality of "destructiveness" vs "creativeness" is a major underlying feeling behind this. Whether utterly spiraling downward into entropy, or spiraling upward into hope--it's a massively moving and transformative force (usually moving up and down at the same time) -- maybe the main driving force (of me).

I'll reflect on your answer, ne. I feel secure with the concept of internally generated meaning. I still find the universal "consciousness" of humans to be separate (or completely illusory to begin with) as disturbing -- simply because the mirror touch experience is completely involved in the automatic entanglement and perspective-taking of others (and things)... and yet can't actually... attain it?

A force that is naturally demanding in this way, but truly "unfulfillable". And unfulfilled desires motive everything. Hence the never-ending destroying/creating snakes.

Edit: It's like The Missing Piece, but like MTS version = "The Missing Phantom Limbs of the People I Carry with Me Inside My Brain".

joelsalinas2 karma

Big and important life questions without perfect answers (and if anyone tells you they have the answer, give them some of this). These are questions that I am still trying to sort through myself and what I’ve found helpful is trying to find a place of acceptance around the conundrum where thinking about it is at best thought-provoking and at worst lamentable about the human condition. The pain that can come from the sense of longing and/or loneliness is common and can exist at so many levels. I think for someone with mirror touch this can take on very specific meanings and has implications related to the physical manifestation of one-ness with others from the brain while knowing that it’ll be highly improbable to ever know exactly what it’s like to be one with another person. For now, I would consider this a circumstance as a part of living. A sort of tax on existing in a human body with a human brain. However, having awareness of this aspect, this motivating force, is already an incredibly valuable piece of information that not many have and can help you not only understand your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but also gives you the opportunity to learn how to prevent this from becoming overwhelming and learning how this might manifest in other people.

ThetaAlcyoneus1 karma

On an NPR "Invisibilia" program, they covered a woman with mirror touch synesthesia named Amanda. The condition caused her problems throughout her life, to the point where she was alienated from her family and finally basically became a recluse to avoid the exhaustion and confusion of the extra stimulation and try to maintain some self-boundaries. How has the condition been such a rewarding adventure for you and such a curse for her? Do you think the condition could have been problematic for you under other circumstances?

joelsalinas1 karma

I think this is interesting because they actually reached out to me and I phone call with them. They wanted to particularly highlight someone who was overwhelmed by this experience, I think possibly because they felt it might be a more compelling story. Though, the challenge here is that begins to paint a cultural picture of mirror touch as a curse/condition/disease/negative thing. How positive or negative the experience is depends a lot on the person, their past experiences (e.g., trauma), and their own ability to regulate their attention and their response to the world around them (i.e., executive functioning). I’ve spent a bit of time reflecting on why my situation is so unique and there’s several factors. Part of it may be my own neurobiology has some of the “positive” and less of the “detrimental” components. Another part of it may have been the environment that I grew up in, where I was taught to seek out uncomfortable situations to learn from them rather than avoid them. Another part of it is spending a lot of my time, almost constantly, developing what I’ve come to call a “mandatory mindfulness” which has helped. I describe more specifics as to what I’ve done to cultivate this in mah book and in this reply here.

puddleflower1 karma

I tried the cheek stroke experiment. Long story short, who would you recommend, doctor wise, I call on Monday?

joelsalinas2 karma

No need to call a doctor, friend! That is, unless you’re experiencing distress from the mirrored sensations. Mirror touch in general isn’t really a medical diagnosis, and is more a perceptual phenomenon in cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Another way to think of it is as a trait, not necessarily a condition, disease, or disorder. If you are indeed, experiencing distress from it to the degree that it gets in the way of your social or occupational functioning, then you may want to reach out first to your PCP/GP to go through your full medical history and make sure there isn’t anything else going on. A neurologist or psychiatrist may not be as helpful unless they are a behavioral neurologist or a neuropsychiatrist who has the specialty training to think in this cognitive lens. If it’s not too distressing and you just want to learn more about yourself, you may actually want to check out mah book since throughout I describe my experiences, how I navigate mirror touch, and go through a lot of the science from both a cognitive neuroscience lens and also from a medical lens. Hope this is helpful!

puddleflower1 karma

Well the issue with my puddle of fun is that I've had a brain injury. When I did the cheek test with a friend I heard musical tones as they touched their cheek and had the little orchestra in my mind play along with a riff on Beethoven 4th. I'd love to read your book but I think I may need a brain imaging study done asap! I sent a short PM if that's ok.

joelsalinas2 karma

So sorry to hear about your injury, Puddleflower. In terms of whether you may need a brain imaging study, as long as there isn’t anything urgent going on, I think checking in with your PCP would generally be a good idea to help figure that out. While I'm not able to provide specific medical advice without a formal evaluation in clinic, if you happen to be in the Massachusetts area and are interested to be seen at the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Neurology, you can always call to schedule an appointment. I’ve posted some general resources on how to reach us here, too.

SpacefaringGaloshes1 karma

Have you ever encountered others who feel the same way you do? How common is this?

Are other forms of high level empathy likely to be caused by similar brain conditions?

What made you decide to become a doctor, isn't it challenging with your brain?

joelsalinas5 karma

Yes, I have. The first person I encountered was Fiona and I describe the experience of meeting another mirror touch person for the first time in Chapter 6 of mah book - and recently I met a nurse with mirror touch for the first time. Actually, we met on live TV on the TODAY show just this past Tuesday - check it out here. Best estimates are that 1.6% of the general population has a testable form of mirror touch, though if you were to just do a simple survey of mirror touch experiences about 1 out of 10 people will identify with it.

In terms of other forms of high empathy, it depends on what is underlying the experience of empathy because empathy is a complex “concept”. But essentially it involves:

  1. Noticing the experience of the other

  2. Recognizing the experience

  3. Identifying or relating with that experience

Put simply, it’s thinking, feeling, or understanding the experience of another person (regardless of how accurate are - and mostly dependent on how vivid you allow that experience to be). This can mean that someone’s brain biology (that they’re born with or that is acquired) may influence this as well as their past experiences, their upbringing, the environment they grew up in, etc.

My decision to become a doctor was partly influence I think by mirror touch, because as I made other people feel better, I too felt better. It was this fascinating experience to partake in that. Also, just being able to share a deeper connection with others, especially people in need, is just something that I would never give up.

gilliganxr351 karma

How do you feel about Radiohead? And can you say "Irish wristwatch" at a normal talking speed?

joelsalinas7 karma

I LOVE Radiohead, especially the shape of the sound that Thom Yorke makes when he says “karma police”. I also love the effect of “Lift” and the colors of “Just” - so iridescent!

Also... re “Irish wristwatch”.... I just did!

Mariyam821 karma

I have experienced even if I read a book with violence or touching content I dive to much into it and feel all the feelings just from fantasy characters.Is this also your experience?

joelsalinas5 karma

The concept of empathy is generally measured using surveys (AKA self-reports), which includes asking questions about how much people relate with characters in stories. So, identifying as someone with high empathy and really diving into a book makes sense. I know that, for myself, I was totally absorbed by Choose Your Own Adventure books. The brain systems that are involved in mirror touch are similar to the “simulating” brain systems in all of us, so someone with mirror touch is more likely to recreate even experiences that are read to a fairly high degree.

To continue the AMA, turn to page 27.

To turn off your computer and read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, turn to page 138.

pokefluter1 karma

I’m so glad you’re doing this AMA! I have what I always thought was just extreme empathy where I feel pain when I perceive someone else to be in pain, as you have described, but I don’t get the more positive sensations like you. I am also inclined to be very reflective of emotions.

I know it’s not fair because you don’t know anything else about me other than what I’ve briefly mentioned above, but why do you think I am only inclined to feel pain and not more positive sensations?

joelsalinas3 karma

Sorry to hear that you experience mostly the painful sensations. Exactly why can depend on a lot of factors, but I could speculate that it may have to do with a combination of attention (i.e., the “spotlight” of the mind) and having very salient past experiences related to pain. I don’t think that this has to be the case permanently, because our brain is plastic that means that we can help to shape what our brain draws attention to and what it recreates most vividly.

pokefluter1 karma

Thanks very much for your response! I find it fascinating that you feel touch sensations, like a finger on the cheek as you mentioned. I definitely do not experience that at all. I’m super interested in reading more about this, so thank you for bringing it to light!

joelsalinas1 karma

You're very welcome!

TwitchyCake1 karma

if you are watching porn can you feel the sensations of the opposite gender? i think their was a black mirror episode about that

joelsalinas3 karma

Yes! The human brain is not very selective and when really engaged in something can be rather creative and hyperactive. There was a Black Mirror episode about it, though I’m not sure that they had input from someone with mirror touch. I think what they alluded to is that it feels pretty great. Though, I would say that a more accurate description of what it feels like is that it’s almost like being totally selfish and totally selfless at the exact same time.

1001plateaus1 karma

Ever experiment with psychoactive chemicals?

joelsalinas1 karma

Not yet! See here.

biznizexecwat1 karma

If you were to be shown a high speed (say 15 frames a second) video of images of people being hurt - would you overload and pass out? I don't necessarily mean torture, but if you were to exposed to individuals in pain at such a rate, would you eventually just shut down?

I've passed out due to high levels of pain twice; kidney stones and a broken sternum. It seems to me that for it to be real, I'd have to pass out.

joelsalinas3 karma

I think it’s possible, though it depends on how vivid or unexpected the images are. I think the quantity of the images may not be as significant as the vividness of the experience. There was a patient I saw who had self-mutilating tics. He pushes his knuckles up against the corner of his mouth while grinding his teeth and chewing on the inside of his cheek. While watching him do this with all his force, I felt a painful BUZZ shoot through my cheek and into my teeth with each of his tics. It was so vivid it bordered on hallucination, and in those cases it can be rather overwhelming. If I were to have several of these experiences in a train, I think there may be a possibility that it would trigger something like a vasovagal response AKA fainting.

biznizexecwat1 karma

That's interesting. I think the mirror touch synesthesia is quite amazing in itself, but I would find it to be far more material - more viscerally tangible - if it would push people to those extremes.

So, seeing terribly vivid images causes fainting. Seeing vivid erotic images triggers orgasm, such as the individual expected asked you about in regards to porn.

Dunno, I would find that visually measurable and therefore terrifying.

joelsalinas1 karma

There are definitely people with mirror touch who in seeing someone suddenly punched do pass out, which is why I consider myself one of the lucky people with mirror touch in that many others will become total shut-ins and avoid people altogether. I think I might be a bit of an exception in that I've worked hard so that sort of thing wouldn't happen to me in the case of a medical emergency. That said, the other thing you mentioned... it does happen.

edreial1 karma

Hello and thank you for this AMA! Are the sensations you feel only doing so because of mirror neurons? Have they been treated/disrupted/formed in some other way that enables you to feel this?

Congratulations on all of your hard work! I’m psychology undergrad and now going in to nursing. I hope to be where you are some day, in some respects. 😊

joelsalinas1 karma

Hi there! Congratulations on all your hard work! I’m so glad you’re doing into nursing! We definitely more nurses in the world! The mirror touch sensations can occur due to a combination of many neural systems and context, but the most precise would to refer to the mirroring system in the brain. Key to note here is that it’s not a specific class of neurons so much as it is a collection, or system, of neurons that happen to work together and are observed to create this mirroring experience that’s been seen in imaging studies. Another significant neural system involved is what some call a self-other system, which helps to differentiate your physical body from the physical body of other people. The mirroring system being more active at baseline plus the self-other system being less active leads to the overall hyperactivity (and thus conscious vividness) of the mirror touch experience as a whole. This is known as the Self-Other Theory of mirror touch, though there is likely a larger explanatory model, such as predictive coding which is an even deeper layer of the rabbit hole.

Fionn_Aodhan1 karma

Hello Dr. Salines, thank you for doing this AMA.

I'm wondering, how do you experience sex with another person?
I would imagine that the additional feedback could become quite overwhelming?

joelsalinas4 karma

You’re welcome! And may the saline be with you!

It’s similar to a mirror facing another mirror, where it can be maybe not overwhelming per se, so much as very intense. And this intensity can be... generally... pretty good! Also, the more the other person’s body looks like my own, the more vivid the experience, so it really is mirrored as much as possible.

ThetaAlcyoneus1 karma

Have you read Paul Bloom's book Against Empathy? If so, what is your reaction (as a kind of super-empathetic person)?

Would the world be a better place if everyone had mirror touch synesthesia?

joelsalinas2 karma

I have!

While I think the title is intentionally provocative, all-in-all the message is not truly “against empathy” so much as it is to experience “empathy only”. I agree with this and is one of the core messages I elaborate on in mah book - meaning that empathy is the “resonating” with the experience of another which can then motivate the desire to relieve someone else’s suffering. The actual state of being motivated to relieve someone else’s suffering is called compassion. So the goal, is not just to sit at empathy--focusing on the suffering on the other person, turning around, and running away. The goal is to experience the empathy, but then take a deep breath, and do something about it.

Could you imagine what the world would like if we didn’t just think about the experience of another person, but also allow ourselves to really feel the experience of the other person... to then reason through that experience and respond from a truer, more enduring place of compassion and kindness.

Mariyam821 karma

Do you believe in GOD or kind of spiritually?

joelsalinas3 karma

I was raised Roman Catholic so I definitely have a cultural identification to this religion. Now, in terms of spirituality, for me it really ties to experiencing a sense of awe and respect for the universe, every person, every atom, every particle. There’s sense of divinity to everything. Some might call this pantheism, but all-in-all it’s a sense of gratitude that I’m not dead yet.

sillypantstoan1 karma

What happens when you witness a person with different anatomy than you get physically stimulated in a way you can't? For instance, an amputee getting poked on what would be the inside of your leg? Or vaginal penetration?

How does it work if you have multiple people in your field of view? You said you feel the hand slap, but do you also feel like you just slapped someone's hand?

What happens when you asymetrically physically interact with another person and maintain your view of the interaction, either with your own eyes or through a mirror? Is it disorienting?

Thank you for this AMA!

joelsalinas1 karma

You’re very welcome!

If an amputee were poked at the end of their stump, my brain would still recreate the sensation in a location that is approximate to where they are being poked. This is similar to when I walked into a trauma room in the hospital and suddenly felt as though my left arm was missing below the mid-humerus and instead felt stringy, dangling fibers and a split-second after noticed that the patient in front of me had their right arm amputated traumatically (the actually had been drunk and fallen asleep on a train track and a train passed over his arm...)

If I’m walking through a crowd of people, many little sensations will come across my field of “touch”, depending on what catches my attention (usually when things are out of place or are surprising, like what’s known as a prediction error or anomaly). One way I can describe it is to say that it’s like walking through water, where there’s lots of little sensations constantly washing over me.

In watching someone being slapped, I would feel both the slap and the feeling of slapping. But the feeling that is hogging up most of my attention bandwidth will be the one that I experience most vividly.

When there are more elements thrown in, such as symmetry and mixing of laterality (i.e., left-right mixing), it can be rather disorienting. Actually, the in-lab test to be classified as someone mirror touch makes use of this. The test is called a visual-tactile congruity task, which involves lots of poking on the face with a device called tappers (left or right cheek or both) while watching a video of someone being touched by a finger (left or right cheek or both). The goal is to say where you are really, physically being touched. Sometimes you are touched on the same side. Sometimes you are touched on incongruent sides. For example, sometimes you are physically touched on one cheek while the person in the video is touched on both cheeks. Someone with mirror touch would be more likely to say that they were really, physically touched on BOTH cheeks even if you weren’t actually. It’s kind of like the stroop effect, where people with mirror touch--such as myself-- will make a lot of errors and be just terrible at it. The prompts are so fast and you have to respond so quickly that it’s almost impossible to “fake”. THIS is incredibly disorienting. In fact, most people with mirror touch hate it with a passion.

Tim5411 karma

How'll you define Consciousness as Brain State ? What part of brain actually responsible for it ?

joelsalinas3 karma

In neurology, “consciousness” specifically refers to a state of arousal (not sexual!), so someone who has a low level of consciousness is somewhere along the spectrum of being drowsy, somnolent, or comatose. Meanwhile, someone who is fully conscious is awake and alert and interactive with their environment. Now, consciousness can sometimes be used as a term to describe a state of awareness with the environment as well as used more broadly, which can make it an even more confusing term, such as “the mind”. In terms of what part of the brain is responsible for consciousness, per neurology’s definition, there’s not one single area so much as a collection of areas. This can include the reticular activating system and higher level collections of neural systems, including both thalami and both sides of the cerebral hemispheres.

Though, in terms of what creates a “mind” (if that’s what is meant with the term “consciousness”) this is much more complicated and is often called the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”. Partly, this is because there is not any one single brain cell that is this and it’s really an emergence of all these systems working together (kind of like how you can have a volleyball team be in an configuration with any number of people, while still being able to be called the same “team” and being able to get the ball over the net). Some of the most recent work in this area emphasizes the combination of higher cortical functions (the “orange rind” of the brain) linked with the nerves of the body (the “feelers” all throughout your skin and organs that run up through your spinal cord), which are bridged by a deeper part of the brain known as the interoceptive network. Basically, the fusion of all these elements PLUS your environment PLUS your memories and past experiences are part of what equals “consciousness”.

Theeeeeeeeeee END.

Mariyam821 karma

Did you ever get some illness from somebody not only feeling it in your body?

joelsalinas1 karma

Actually, just the other day I was visiting a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a long time. As soon as I walked in the door and saw her, I felt a wave of nausea. I thought it was strange, but I didn’t want to really say anything... It wasn’t very long before she confided in me that she had just found out she was pregnant.

We spent the whole weekend sharing weird cravings and looking at each other about once a day like, “Umm... nausea’s good?.... OKAY LET’S EAT!”

LilyoftheRally1 karma

I’ve heard about this happening in fathers-to-be, though I forget what it’s called in their cases - I’m guessing this may happen because of these fathers-to-be empathizing strongly with their pregnant partners?

joelsalinas2 karma

I think you’re referring to “sympathy pain”, also known as Couvade syndrome. It is similar, and actually connectivity fMRI research looking at brain activity with the experience of pain, which is identical much of the mirroring system, suggests that the mirroring system activity is the greatest when you see a video of yourself in pain. This activity, interestingly, is very very similar when you see a spouse or a close loved one experiencing pain (as if it really were you). The difference from mirror touch here being that the experience is unconscious, while with mirror touch it is consciously perceived. Another term for it is known as conscious vicarious tactile perception.

Jvlivs1 karma

Are you left-handed?

joelsalinas1 karma