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Extreme synesthesia: Texas teenager says she can 'feel' the machines around her

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kandinsky composition x, synesthesia
kandinsky composition x, synesthesia

Wassily Kandinsky's Composition X. Kandinsky is widely believed to have been a synesthete.

Synesthesia, loosely defined as the phenomenon of a sensation creating an unnatural secondary sensation, is actually quite common; some humans perceive numbers as colors, for instance. But Psychology Today reports the story of a young Texas girl might be the only person on the planet identified to have what's known as "mirror touch" synesthesia — where an individual feels the emotions of those around her — with machines, not humans.

Is the escalator crying?

The girl (who is not named to protect her identity) describes the experience as an "extra limb," an extension of her own body, when she's near a machine that she's not touching — she cites cars, robots, escalators, locks, and levers as examples of mechanical objects that act as stimuli. "When watching cars crash in a movie, I feel them as they're ripped and crush, and I usually have to turn away and cut myself off from the stimulus," she says. Interestingly, she identifies humanoid robots as a "stranger" experience for her due to their physical similarities to her own body.

Synesthesia is poorly understood in the medical community, but dozens of types have been identified, of which the girl has several — apart from the bond with machines, she has as many as six other types like the ability to "feel" sound. She says she's interested in going into a career in science or engineering, and the affliction could help: "My synesthesia is helpful when trying to remember long streams of numbers or words, and it also gives me a better understanding of physics and mechanical designs," she notes.