Further Reflections on MTS

October looks to be mirror-touch month for me. I was recently interviewed by filmmaker Aurore Dupont-Sagorin for a documentary she is creating for BBC Reels. Later this month, I will present a paper on mirror-sensory pain at the VII Fundación Internacional Artecittà (FIAC) Congress in Alcala La Real, Spain. And, I’ve just met a PhD student from Goldsmith’s at the University of London who is working on “physical empathy and embodied intercorporeal perception, using experiences of sculpture-making (of the body) and mirror-touch synaesthesia as case studies”. I’m really excited to meet Mary in person at the Spanish symposium; I think we are working with similar ideas about physical representations of pain.

I’ve also sent an essay I wrote about mirror-sensory pain to an accomplished editor, Caitlin Kelly, who has been helping me polish my writing. I very much hope I can find a home for my essay “Mirror”, as it explores a particularly complicated time in my career and personal life. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say I am a terrible friend when the people around me are injured, even when their wounds are caused by a life-saving surgery. I will talk with Caitlin on Friday morning, and hopefully, start submitting “Mirror” to prospective publications early next week.

I take my writing quite seriously, and I recognize I am in an unusual position, where I am both the subject of my own essays, and also the subject of other people’s news articles, essays, videos etc. I am always grateful for the media opportunities I receive, as advocacy for neurodiversity is one of my life’s missions. For this reason, I’m a little disappointed that the author of a web post published earlier this year didn’t reach out when writing her piece. 

Mirror-Touch Synesthesia, The Condition That (Literally) Makes You Feel Others’ Pain” appears on the website IFL Science. Written by Dr. Katie Spalding, the article is essentially a pastiche of previously available content about me, Dr. Joel Salinas, and our experiences with MTS. My frustration with this article is the sensational and unfortunately inaccurate title. Yes, I do experience pain when other people are in pain, but I do not “literally” feel another person’s pain. Instead, what I feel is my brain’s interpretation of the injuries and wounds I witness. This is true for everyone with MTS. We don’t feel your exact pain; we feel the pain our synaesthetic perception maps onto our bodies.

I also wish the author had contacted me and/or Joel, or Michael Banissy, who researches synaesthetic phenomena, to address changes in terminology. There is a shift in academic circles toward using the term mirror-sensory synaesthesia over mirror-touch. Mirror-sensory is a more accurate way of describing these types of phenomena, as not all synesthetic experiences of this nature include the sensation of touch. I am using mirror-sensory synaesthesia in both my essay “Mirror” and in my paper for the upcoming FIAC symposium.

Despite the inaccuracies, I’m glad IFL Science approached the topic of synesthesia. I’m all for greater acceptance of variations in human neurocognition. I believe that when contemporary media gives voice to synaesthesia and other neurocognitive outliers, the more likely we are to create cultures that accept the neurodiversity movement and those of us with divergent minds.