Joel Salinas, MD

Mirror Touch:

A memoir of synesthesia and the secret life of the brain

Dr. Joel Salinas is a Harvard-trained brain doctor with extraordinary gifts that provide him unique access to his patients and enable him to experience life in a remarkable way. He has mirror-touch synesthesia, a neurological trait that allows him to feel others’ emotions and physical sensations. Susceptible to the pain and discomfort of his patients—Salinas uses his heightened empathic ability—what he calls “compulsory mindfulness”—to help understand and better treat their conditions. Using his own experiences as a brain doctor and synesthete, Salinas also shares the remarkable stories of equally remarkable people who similarly live in a heightened state of awareness, whether because of ecstatic seizures from epilepsy, a congenital condition like autism, or after a seemingly debilitating stroke. Written with intelligence and compassion, and anchored by the latest of what we know and what we have yet to decipher in neurology, psychology, psychiatry, and the neurosciences, Mirror Touch is an enthralling investigation into the power of the brain—one that proves that the mind, in wondrous and mysterious fashion, continues to promise exciting and inexhaustible ways to think, to see, and to be.

Praise for Mirror Touch

“Vicarious and enthralling…. A rich, fascinating portrait of extraordinary sensory awareness.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“[Salinas] writes with depth and candor and immediacy, as well as a great deal of compassion in the Oliver Sacks tradition…. I laughed, I cried, and I found myself nodding in recognition of the truth of his synesthetic experiences more than once. I predict this book will be a classic not only in the synesthesia literature, but in all of neuroscience.”

– Psychology Today

“In his moving and thoughtful memoir, Joel Salinas takes his reader into the harrowing, tender, and sometimes brutal realities of living with mirror touch synesthesia. As a researcher and physician, Salinas is perfectly situated to provide possible neurobiological explanations for the heightened sensations that characterize the condition and to recount the stories of patients whose suffering is also his. As a fellow mirror-touch synesthete, I loved reading this book, but its reach is wide and deep. It is nothing less than a reflection on human empathy itself, a book for everyone.”

– Siri Hustvedt, author of What I Love, The Blazing World, and The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves

“A brilliant book that elegantly combines personal narrative with insights into the underlying science.”

– V.S. Ramachandran, author of Phantoms in the Brain, The Tell-Tale Brain, and A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness

Mirror-touch synaesthesia: Feeling other people's pain

Filmmaker Aurore Dupont-Sagorin takes us on a personal journey to uncover the science behind the rare condition mirror-touch synaesthesia, where a person can experience empathy to the extreme and can be overwhelmed by the pain of others.

International Orders

United Kingdom