A Wild Interview With a Girl Who Feels the Feelings of Machines

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Photo: Corbis

 Psychology Today spoke to a Houston teenager with synesthesia, the sensory condition whose name means "to perceive together." Some synesthetes taste colors or feel music; this teen's condition fits the "mirror-touch" variety of synesthesia, which involves experiencing the sensations felt by other entities. In most cases, those entities are people, but she feels the experiences of machines.

She describes the experience of physically being in a machine like sitting in a car or on a boat:

Then, I am the machine, in a traditional mirror-touch experience. I feel accelerating as a shift of balance (the more rapid the acceleration, the more severe the shift) in my lower body/feet, as if I am standing and leaning forward, about to fall. When the car begins to brake, I feel as if my arms are extended in front of me, and my hands and wrist and flexing up.

And riding escalators! It's like an internal roller coaster:

When on an escalator, I feel the movement of the steps on the conveyor as if they're the notches up my spine, and the arm rest as the skin at the top of my upper arm and shoulder. Clocks are so delicate and minute in their design and visible movement I barely feel them tickle the hair on my arms.

Robots that have the typical rectangular drive train feel like cars, just smaller. Ironically, robots that have been designed to look like/mimic human bodies are stranger to connect to, because their similarity to my already-existing limbs is confusing.

Synthesia researchers have wondered how the condition would evolve in conjunction with technology. One such scientist, Dr. Anton Sidoroff-Dorso, told Psychology Today that if this teen's experience can be verified, he "will rank it most revealing about human nature"!

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