Empathy in an epidemic

What do you think when you hear mental illness?

What is synesthesia?

I must admit, I felt a bit betrayed when I tested my husband by asking what color “the dress” was - and he said blue! We are supposed to be a team. How could the person closest to me perceive the world so fundamentally differently?

I’ve actually wondered about this question for a long time. I first became interested in neuroscience because I read about autistic savants: individuals who have incredible capabilities in specific areas, usually related to amazing memory, but are below average in other areas, like social interaction. The capabilities these individuals unveiled a critical truth: humans all have brains, but the way we experience the world is unique to each of us. There are extreme examples of this, like synesthesia (check out the video below), and I think these extremes hold a special value. They show us that even though it seems like we all experience the world the same way - this isn't true. And by understanding this fact, it allows us to be a little more understanding of others. If I am literally experiencing the world in a different way than those around me, then maybe I shouldn't make such quick judgment about their lives, their decisions, their preferences. Neuroscience tells us that the experiences that we have while we are developing - in the womb, as a baby, as a child, have a huge impact on who you become. And for the vast majority of people, you have no idea how those experiences interacted with genes and produced the person you see today. 

So, the next time it seems impossible to relate to someone, the next time you can't believe how stupid someone is being, the next time you assume that someone hurt you on purpose, realize that they see the world fundamentally differently. And although you will never experience things the way you do, maybe just recognizing this difference can help bridge the gap.