Valerie's Reviews > A Natural History of the Senses

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
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Aug 28, 2011

I really couldn't make my way through this. I may have another go some day, but it's one of the things I keep putting off.

For one thing, I've never really accepted the canonical notion of 'five senses'. I kept waiting for discussion of the other senses. Where are the discussions of (for example) the barometric sense?

For that matter, what about people with sensitivity outside the norm in the 'standard' five senses? Whenever I see people on news shows saying they can't assess the damage in storms until after sunrise, I respond "Why not?" I can see perfectly well even on cloudy nights, and I have all my other senses, as well. I can tell the difference between open and closed windows by the sound, I can tell when somebody's been outdoors in cold weather by the smell, I can tell whether a telvision is turned on (even with the sound turned down and from another room); and because of these and other sensory peculiarities, I always wonder why people assume that there's nobody who has senses outside the 'normal' range.

It reminds me of my sister-in-law describing walking into a store with another of my brothers. Both of them flinched terribly at the very loud high-pitched sound in the store--but they weren't able to get anybody else to even hear it.

I suppose there's a sort of intriguing interest in how other people perceive the world--but that's spoiled, in my opinion, by the assumption that it's the same for everybody. You DO have to explain what the common experience is--if it's not common to everybody. Riffing off what you assume is universal isn't much use--if you're speaking Greek to Sanskrit speakers.
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