Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s not just the five senses that help you understand the world


Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch – you know them as the traditional five senses.

They are used to protect us from danger. They help us find food and maybe even a mate. They create order in the happenings of the world around us, and if we tune in properly, they reveal some of the natural beauty and wonder around us.

What all the senses have in common is that they are processed through the brain. In fact, everything we see, hear, feel, smell and taste is felt – and many even argue create by – our brain.

That’s right: Our brains can translate small, invisible molecules in the air into the smell of toast or a stinky sock. Our brains can turn pressure waves or vibrations into the sound of a loved one’s whisper or a distant thunderclap. Our brains can also weave the visible light portion of electromagnetic radiation into a beautiful mountain or the bright light on our mother’s face. And our brains can perceive the infrared portion of electromagnetic radiation similar to the warmth we feel when sitting by a bright fireplace. It is pretty awesome.

In the latest installment of the “Chasing Life” podcast, which kicks off this week, we’ll explore the many mysteries of the senses.

I’m a practicing neurosurgeon and my first love has always been the brain, but this season’s retelling of stories is an opportunity to combine that with another love: telling press story. And what I heard, saw, smelled, tasted and felt was all remarkable.

Our traditional five senses seem simple, but they are not. Each species is multifaceted and nuanced, with many variations among humans.

Take for example communication. Some people need to be touched and others much less. And more than just a sense, touch can be further broken down into pressure, temperature, tactile sensation, and pain sensation. And we’re still in the process of figuring out how it all works.

Just last year, in 2021, two scientists, working separately, shared Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work in identifying a sensor in the nerve endings of our skin that responds to heat and other sensors that respond to pressure. And just this year, researchers publish an article describe several possible neuronal underpinnings of pleasurable sensations such as cuddling and caressing.

Furthermore, the five traditions are not the only senses we have. You might be surprised to learn that we have at least seven, maybe eight. You will learn more about the other secret senses most humans possess in this “Chasing Life” section.

In addition, we will consider what happens when people do not have consciousness or a component of sensation. We have an episode on pigment hysteria, commonly known as face blindness, a condition where people can see faces but can’t recognize them – sometimes not even family members. surname. And we’ll learn how people in the deaf community have created a language to help them communicate better.

We will also study anaesthesia, when two senses come together to create a unique “sense of association”, such as color hearing, where certain sounds elicit color . You will learn why anesthesia occurs and how the experience is so inherent to the individual that many people with this condition do not realize (for a long time) that others do not perceive the world. in the same way.

Additionally, we’ll also dive into the promise of hallucinogens, which distort the senses and separate us from our familiar lifestyles and can be used to treat health conditions. psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

We kick off the season with an interview with award-winning science journalist Ed Yong. He’s the author of a new book, “A Vast World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Worlds Around Us.”

Ed explains how all creatures, not just humans, live in their own “sensory bubble” through which they experience a part of reality – a very specific part of reality that will be important to them. with their existence and happiness. This phenomenon is known as umwelt, a concept pioneered in 1934 by the German Baltic biologist Jakob von Uexküll.

Ed takes us on a fascinating journey through the many mysterious senses of the animal kingdom that exists outside of our bodies, beyond the reach of what we humans can know for sure. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to socialize by scent like a dog, use echolocation to move like a bat, feel the pull of the earth’s magnetic field to move right direction like a bird or distinguish the environment through electric current like an eel. , you won’t want to miss this conversation.

Ed told me, “I started the book with this thought experiment, to imagine that you were 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 completely different experiences of that space. The rattlesnake will be able to sense the temperature of the animals around it; elephants can make low-pitched rumblings that other creatures cannot hear. A dog in that space would be able to get a lot of scents…that his fellow humans could not. So each of us is trapped in our own bubble of sensations and is only aware of this small fragment of the fullness of reality. ”

What’s really amazing, Ed says, is that each of those living things, including us, think we’re getting the full picture of what reality is.

“I’m sitting here in this room, and I don’t feel as though my perception of the world is incomplete. I’m not sitting here marveling at the gaps in what I’m perceiving. But the feeling of getting it all is an illusion, and it’s an illusion that all animals share,” he said. “It tells us that even the most familiar places in our world are filled with the unknown and the extraordinary.”

Ed delves into these mysteries – into different animals – and brings them to life for us. You can hear me Full conversation with Ed Yong here.

Join us every Tuesday on “Chasing life“As we began to explore the senses and how they bring the world to life for us, so that we can live the best life in this world.

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