Joel Salinas M.D.
Joel Salinas is a Harvard neurologist and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General, where he specializes in brain health, social epidemiology, neuropsychiatry, and cognitive behavioral neurology. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Every few years, a medical memoir is published that is eye‐opening, compelling and brilliantly revealing. Mirror Touch fits that category, a medical mystery that challenges our understanding of what it means to be human. Dr. Joel Salinas, a doctor with a rare—seemingly superhuman—neurological trait takes us on a tour deep into the human brain in Mirror Touch, published April 18. In this blend of true story and scientific exploration, we are reminded of the compassionate wisdom of Oliver Sacks and the personal revelations of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight. A Harvard‐trained researcher and neurologist, Salinas has mirror‐touch synesthesia, a rare and only recently identified neurological trait that causes him to feel the emotional and physical experiences of other people.
Susceptible to the pain and discomfort of his patients—most of whom suffer from strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and a host of other painful disorders and extreme injuries—Salinas uses his heightened empathetic ability—what he calls “compulsory mindfulness”—to help understand and better treat their conditions. At the same time, in his personal life, his mirror touch blurs the boundaries between him and people close to him until he ends up inextricably entangled, no longer able to differentiate where he ends and someone else begins. Through his experiences, both in his neurological practice and his personal life, Salinas offers readers insights about mirror‐touch synesthesia and how the brain, in its endless wonder, can sometimes perform in a nearly superhuman, extrasensory way. In the process, he reveals the full power and potential of his trait, as well as its thorny complications and often debilitating limitations. Written with intelligence and compassion, and anchored by the latest developments in neurology, psychology and psychiatry, Mirror Touch is an enthralling investigation into the unexplored corners of the brain, where the foundation of human experience and relationships take root—everything it means to think, to feel, and to be.
"Vicarious and enthralling…. A rich, fascinating portrait of extraordinary sensory awareness."
— Kirkus Reviews
"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