Mirror-Neuron Synesthesia

Warning: technical jargon ahead


“I feel that!”

Do you “feel” what you see when you watch contact sports? How does your body “know” what the other person might be thinking?

Lois’ mirror neurons demonstrate an unexpected phenomenon. (1:11)

Mirror neurons are in the news for people with intractable pain. Could virtual-reality googles with a program just for you let you go to a “world” where you don’t feel your pain? Would the relief last after you remove the goggles?

Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran invented a “mirror” therapy that could trick the brain into thinking that a missing hand wasn’t missing. The mirror therapy stimulated neuroplasticity to rewire the brain maps with repeated exposures to the illusion created by the mirror.

Lois wasn’t missing her limb. Could the same trick work for her? No, the geometry wouldn’t work. The input was provided by watching another human being. Her brain did the rest. No one knew what might happen, but her reversed sensing was pretty cool by itself.

+ Read More - Background

PhotoMed’s algorithm

PhotoMed’s team welcomed people without expectation of improving their functions. The studies aimed to find disorders that might respond to its new therapy and algorithm. Some people arrived with what seemed to be layers of pain at an injury site.

PhotoMed’s Instant Verification System™ recorded physiological responses, or not, to each treatment. For example, over-use pain was frequently first to improve. Patients then declared that they now noticed some old pain hidden by the acute pain experience.

The algorithm had run to its end. It was time to add some steps. But what?
Could pain from phantom pain resolve while you watch?


Visual feedback, using mirrors, prompts the body to resolve phantom pain in some missing limbs. The methods use visual feedback to restore functions. Imagine un-paralyzing a missing leg frozen in one position. Other neurological disorders can yield to repeated sessions using a mirror to “reconstruct” the missing limb.(1)(2)

In his book, the Tell-Tale Brain, Dr. Ramachandran, neuroscientist, introduces cases of phantom pain and other neurologic phenomena. One case told how the person could “feel” that they were being touched in their missing limb when they observed another person touching themselves.

Called “mirror-touch synesthesia” (MTS), the phantom sensations arise in skin that IS present. The phenomenon is more likely in reconstructed skin after surgery or a burn. The nerves in the reconstructed skin may not be connected to the brain via their original pathways. More than a curiosity, MTS can be painful. (3)

Could phantom pain account for some cases found in PhotoMed’s studies?


(1) Ramachandran VS, Altschuler EL, The use of visual feedback, in particular mirror visual feedback, in restoring brain function. Brain. 2009 Jul;132(Pt 7):1693-710. doi: 10.1093/brain/awp135. Epub 2009 Jun 8. Downloaded 2019-04-02

(2) Linkovski, Omer & Katzin, Naama & Salti, Moti. (2016). Mirror Neurons and Mirror-Touch Synesthesia. The Neuroscientist. 23. DOI:10.1177/1073858416652079. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303690548_Mirror_Neurons_and_Mirror-Touch_Synesthesia

(3) CORTICAL PLASTICITY: From Synapses to Maps Dean V. Buonomano Michael M. Merzenich Annual Review of Neuroscience 1998 21:1, 149-186 https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev.neuro.21.1.149

+ Read More - Books

Books by Norman Doidge, M.D.

The Brain's Way of Healing_(2015) and The Brain that Changes Itself(2011) by Norman Doidge, MD, introduces the reader to neuroplasticity, sensory and motor maps, body images and many other facets of neuroscience. He describes cases that paved the way to a new future for people in pain and impairment.

Dr. Doidge describes cases that represent turning points for burgeoning technologies applied to age-old problems.

He illustrates how energy devices can lead to neuroplastic changes. He includes a chapter on red/IR therapy and one on an electrical stimulator on the tongue that helps re-coordinate balance and other movement/cognitive functions.

PhotoMed's findings do not seem so astounding...

Books by V.S. Ramachandran, M.D.

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human_(2010), by V.S Ramachandran, describes cases of malfunctioning areas of the brain that illustrate how the mind and brain process and act on sensory information. He eloquently introduces topics from his own practice, such as mirror therapy for phantom pain, that shaped his own thinking and ability to care for his patients.

The process of mirror therapy and examples from this book form the basis for the methods for correcting some forms of mirror-neuron synesthesia.

Could mirror therapy be addressing a different problem than for the other-vs.-self methods presented here?

Books by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.

The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force_(2003), by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley, describes cases that changed the course of medical research. They introduce the reader to many quantum aspects of the brain and mind. One effect, called the quantum Zeno effect, describes how a quantum state can be frozen by measuring it frequently enough. Could this phenomenon "explain" how a chronic state ccould continue 75 years then vanish?

Readers who thought we were kidding about quantum entanglement might have even more questions after reading this book. Speculation is fun.

Books by Sharon Begley

Train your MIND Change your BRAIN,_(2007) by Sharon Begley, introduces the power of the mind over the brain and body.

This book provides a basic understanding of neuroplasticit. Today, many of the ideas Ms. Begley describes are central to neuroscience.

For this discussion:

  • neuroplasticity typically builds over many attempts with concentrated attention by the patient

  • mirror therapy uses self-vs.-self imagination to prompt the reconstructing of the maps of a missing or painful limb

  • mirror-neuron synesthesia uses an other-vs.-self imagination to prompt reconstruction of touch perception maps along with associated feelings

  • mirror-neuron synesthesia lets the patient become aware of activities that remain sub-perceptual for most people

  • these phenomena may form an “explanation” for post-surgical pain or pain at weird times, such as watching others at a gym move their body through a range-of-motion painful to the viewer

Could "mirror neuron" and brain body image mapping errors account for a subset array of painful conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS or RSD) and chronic post-surgical pain?

What might mapping errors look like?

Lois provided significant information in a study by William Conard, M.D., in Sacramento. PhotoMed’s team had the privilege of working with Lois to explore a variety of interesting phenomena. The following clips demonstrate mirror neuron touch perception mapping errors.

Lois picked up garbage with a grabber as she walked each day around a high school track. She repeatedly came to the study for relief for pain at the base of her left thumb from using a “grabber” tool. Her relief was quick and lasted until she used her hand that way again.

One day, Lois watched intently as PhotoMed’s founder touched his hand to model where her pain was most intense. Lois exclaimed that she “felt” like someone was touching her. He touched his thumb and she said that she felt the touch in her little finger. It was time to roll the cameras.

Could this be a reason that her thumb pain never completely went away? It didn’t take long to find out.

Longer version of the clip above: 05:41

75 years of pain vanish

For 75 years, Lois experienced pain in a scar at her knee. PhotoMed’s therapy helped relieve pain in her knee from swimming and walking. One day, Lois showed our founder a place on her knee that made her flinch. Worse, the touch brought back PTSD-like memories of the inciting event. Her older brother pushed her of her tricycle at age 3. The metal edge of the peddle gouged her knee. A small scar still marked the spot.

This clip shows the method for ending this type of pain. The ability to “feel” the touch disappears as the perceived touch location realigns with the viewed location. Lois provides a 2-month followup interview. (07:05)

This clip demonstrates the basic steps to identify and correct mirror-neuron synesthesia. The methods were developed by Allan Gardiner in collaboration with pain specialist Dr. Conard and neurosurgeon Robert Florin.

How many are affected?

We don’t know. Our small sample of Dr. Conard’s patients provide tantalizing clues for further exploration.

We estimate that about 10% of the volunteers with treatment-resistant pain associated with scars, surgery, or trauma exhibited some level of mirror-neuron synesthesia. Remarks after relief from the light therapy suggested to our team that “layers” of pain might interact. Upon relief from one layer, the person becomes aware of another pain having a different character and typically from an older injury.

Additional cases

PhotoMed’s real-time recordings include cases that we can share with medical practitioners and researchers via Skype:

  • Phantom pain in reconstructed skin after a double breast amputation

  • Phantom pain and the return of sensation after back surgery

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