October 7, 2022

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s not only your five senses helping you make sense of the world

5 min read


They are there to protect us from danger. They help us find food and possibly mates. They create order in the events of the world around us, and if we look properly, they reveal some of the natural beauty and wonder that surrounds us.

What all the senses have in common is that they are operated by the mind. In fact, everything we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste is perceived — and many would argue. created By — our brains.

That’s right: it’s our brain that can translate tiny, invisible airborne molecules into the smell of baking bread or a smelly sock. Our brain can transform pressure waves or vibrations into the whisper of a loved one or the sound of distant thunder. Our mind can make the visible light portion of electromagnetic radiation into a beautiful mountain or even the glow of our mother’s face. And our brains can recognize the infrared part of the same electromagnetic radiation as the warmth we feel when we sit by a burning fireplace. It is quite amazing.

In the latest season of the “Chasing Life” podcast, which begins this week, we explore the many mysteries of the senses.

I’m a practicing neurosurgeon, and my first love has always been the brain, but reporting on this season’s stories was an opportunity to combine that with another love: journalistic storytelling. And what I heard, saw, smelled, tasted and felt was quite remarkable.

Our five traditional senses may seem straightforward, but they really aren’t. Each is multidimensional and proportional, with many variations between humans.

Take Touch for example. Some people need to be touched and others very little. And far from being just a sensation, touch can be further broken down into pressure, temperature, tactile sensations and pain. And we’re still in the process of learning how it all works.

It was only last year, in 2021, that two scientists, working separately, collaborated Nobel Prize in Medicine The nerve endings in our skin function in detecting a sensor that responds to heat and other sensors that respond to pressure. And just this year, researchers Published a paper Describing some possible neuronal underpinnings of pleasant feelings such as hugging and being loved.
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Moreover, the traditional five are not the only senses we have. It might surprise you to know that we have at least seven, maybe eight. In this season of “Chasing Life,” you’ll learn more about these other secret senses that most humans possess.

In addition, we will examine what happens when people do not have a sense or sense component. We have an episode on prosopagnosia, commonly called face blindness, a condition in which people can see faces but not recognize them — sometimes not even their own family members. And we will learn how people in the deaf community have created a language to help them communicate better.

We’ll also dig into synesthesia, when two senses blend together to create a unique “sum sense,” such as color hearing, where certain sounds emit color. You’ll learn why synesthesia happens and how the experience is so inherent to the individual that many people don’t realize (for a long time) that other people don’t perceive the world the same way.

We’ll also dive deeper into the promise of psychedelics, which distort the senses and detach us from our familiar ways, and are used to treat mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. can be done

Animals and their food

We kick off the season with an interview with award-winning science journalist Ed Yong. He is the author of a new book, “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us.”

Ed explains how all creatures, not just humans, live in their own “sensory bubble” through which they experience a sliver of reality — that particular sliver of reality critical to their survival and well-being. happens. This phenomenon is called umwelt, a concept pioneered in 1934 by the Baltic German biologist Jakob von Uexküll.

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Ed takes us on a fascinating journey through the many mysterious senses of the animal kingdom that exist beyond our own realm, beyond the reach of what we humans can know for sure. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to match by scent like a dog, use echolocation to navigate like a bat, feel the Earth’s magnetic pull to move in the right direction like a bird. Or, like an eel, perceive the environment through electricity. , you won’t want to miss this conversation.

Ed told me, “I start the book with this thought experiment, to imagine that you’re sharing a room with an elephant and a bee and a rattlesnake, a spider, a bat. . . . .. you may all be in the same physical space., but you will have radically different experiences of that space. A dog may be able to pick up scents that other creatures cannot hear. In this space, a dog may be able to pick up scents that his fellow animals cannot. So, each of us is trapped in our own sensory bubble. has happened and feels only this thin sliver of the fullness of reality.”

What’s really incredible, Ed said, is that every one of these living things, including us, thinks we’re getting the full picture of what reality is.

“I’m sitting here in this room, and I don’t feel like my perception of the world is incomplete. I’m not sitting here wondering about the gaps that I’m feeling. But it’s a sense of having everything. … such an illusion, and it’s an illusion that every animal shares,” he said. “It tells us that even the most familiar parts of our world are full of the unknown and unusual.”

Ed finds these secrets — in a variety of animals — and brings them to life for us. You can hear me. Full conversation with Ed Yong here.
Join us this and every Tuesday”Chasing life.“As we set out to explore the senses and how they bring the world to life for us, we can live our best lives in the world.

CNN Health’s Andrea Kane contributed to this report.



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