The man who tasted words A neurologist explores the strange and startling world of our senses

Guy Leschziner

Book - 2022

"Vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch are what we rely on to perceive the reality of our world. Our five senses are the conduits that bring us the scent of a freshly brewed cup of coffee or the notes of a favorite song suddenly playing on the radio. But are they really that reliable? The Man Who Tasted Words shows that what we perceive to be absolute truths of the world around us is actually a complex internal reconstruction by our minds and nervous systems. The translation into experiences with conscious meaning-the pattern of light and dark on the retina that is transformed into the face of a loved one, for instance-is a process that is invisible, undetected by ourselves and, in most cases, completely out of our control... Guy Le...schziner explores how our nervous systems define our worlds and how we can, in fact, be victims of falsehoods perpetrated by our own brains. In his moving and lyrical chronicles of lives turned upside down by a disruption in one or more of their five senses, he introduces readers to extraordinary individuals he's worked with in his practice, like one man who actually "tasted" words, and shows us how sensory disruptions like that have played havoc, not only with their view of the world, but with their relationships as well."--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2022.
Main Author
Guy Leschziner (author)
First U.S. edition
Physical Description
328 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Stuff of Superheroes
  • 2. Zombie Faces
  • 3. The Stench of a Rose
  • 4. All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor
  • 5. In the Kingdom of the Blind
  • 6. Coffee and Cardamom
  • 7. On the Merry-Go-Round
  • 8. The Burning Tracks of My Tears
  • 9. The Pain of Sheer Happiness
  • Epilogue: The Truth About the Truth
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Acknowledgements
  • Further Reading
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

In this stimulating investigation of the human senses, neurologist Leschziner explains the various ways that senses deliver and the brain interprets an astounding amount of sensory data. Not surprisingly, the process can be prone to errors. By necessity, the brain must function as a sort of "prediction machine" filling in the gaps. Brief stories of people affected by altered senses (due to injury, seizure, genetic abnormality, or chance) are presented. Patients include a man who doesn't feel pain (and has incurred hundreds of broken bones), a female sommelier who loses her taste, a fellow whose hearing becomes mysteriously amplified, a woman with vision loss who "sees" hallucinations, and an individual who senses cold as hot and vice versa. Leschziner discussed synesthesia, a fusion of two or more senses, profiling, for example, a woman who perceives colors when listening to music. He also explores the connection between olfaction and emotional memory, everyday illusions, phantom-limb phenomenon, and even life's randomness. Leschziner's neuroscience inquiry raises the question of how we can know what is real when our senses are not always trustworthy.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Neurologist Leschziner (The Nocturnal Brain) takes a fascinating deep dive into the functions and malfunctions of the five senses in this sharp account. The human brain doesn't have the capacity to "recreate our environment from scratch at every single moment," he writes; instead, it attempts to come up with the most rational explanation for the inputs it receives from the senses. When any component of this intricate system is altered or stops working, a person can experience the disruption in several ways, including illusions, delusions, and hallucinations. Those effects are brilliantly illustrated with eye-opening case studies: some people never feel pain because of a genetic condition; others lose their visual memory after a stroke; and one woman experienced vivid hallucinations shortly after losing her vision ("I began to see zombie faces; still cartoonish, but scary all the same--blood dripping from their eyes, and gnarly teeth"). Leschziner makes a solid case that each sense is worthy of awe in its own way, but he tends to get bogged down in neurological terminology that lay readers may find hard to parse. Still, those who stick around will find this packed with insight. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell Management. (Feb.)

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