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The Man Who Tasted Shapes

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3.87  ·  Rating details ·  823 ratings  ·  56 reviews
In this medical detective adventure, Cytowic shows how synesthesia, or "joined sensation," illuminates a wide swath of mental life and leads to a new view of what it means to be human.

Richard Cytowic's dinner host apologized, "There aren't enough points on the chicken!" He felt flavor also as a physical shape in his hands, and the chicken had come out "too round." This
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Paperback, 296 pages
Published August 11th 2003 by Bradford Book (first published 1993)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Dave
Dec 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
When I read the summary on the back cover I thought "This is me!" I picked it up immediately. Up until then I had assumed that everyone saw colors with numbers, and feeling different physical sensations attached to tastes was just the way people tasted things. It was interesting seeing the phenomenon from another person's perspective, and validating my own.

There are times when I feel more alive - my senses are wide open and they blend together into an overwhelming experience. It's similar to
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Holly Mays
Nov 01, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: someone who wants to learn about synesthesia
The = tastes like dry chicken
Man = tastes like chipped beef gravy on toast
Who = tastes like turkey
Tasted = orange kool aid
Shapes = swiss cheese

It's somewhat dry, but gives you decent insight on a little thing I have called "synesthesia."
Linda
Dec 03, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who hear colors
this book changed my self-perception...until i read it i had no idea that there was a name for the condition (gift, oddity...) i have wherein i hear colors and why i always questioned how the makers of certain items (like toys when i was little) could color them - let's say green - when the word sounded so obviously blue!
Or why a siren in the distance was painfully red and the locomotive down the line had such a soothing, velvety feel to it.
Anyway - good read for curious minds who want to know
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Stefanie
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-fiction-whoa
Cytowic spends way too much time talking about himself (the hero who dares to study synesthesia) and his convinction that "people" think medicine and science are all about machines. And he goes on about this... Synesthesia was what I was interested in, and there's not enough of it in this book.
Rickeclectic
Dec 14, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone, cognitive psychology folks
Shelves: psychology
Very interesting book about synesthesia (the mixing of sense, like tasting shapes or sensing numbers as having colors). Though it is not as well written, folks who like Oliver Sacks books will find this interesting. Synesthesia is a true phenomenon though relatively rare and this book if a non-fiction book about a variety of interesting synesthetes.
Ana-Maria Petre
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When I was thirteen, I remember asking my mother: “Mom, what color is the number 3?” She looked at me, not understanding the question: “What do you mean, what color is number 3?” I repeated it to my father and my younger sister, but they didn’t understand either. “Does it have to be of any particular color?” “Why, it’s yellow, of course.” At that age, I dismissed the whole incident as an oddity of sorts.

Years later, I was browsing the mighty internet when I came across the word synesthesia , and
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Laura
Jul 12, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is about synesthesia, a condition where certain people link senses together in an unexpected way. For example, one of the two main cases in this book tastes shapes, the other has colored hearing. This book is part textbook, part autobiography, and part editorial. It is divided into two sections. The first, larger section concentrates on synesthesia itself and Cytowic's interest in it, and the second part is a series of essays on the importance of emotion over reason.
Cytowic alternates
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Clayton Littlewood
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit, this is not the type of book I would normally be drawn to. 'The Man Who Tasted Shapes' is a good title - because if I had seen this book on a shelf with the title 'Synaesthesia: An Introduction,' or 'Understanding Synaesthesia,' I would probably have lightly fingered the book and then my dainty little fingers would've found something else to finger.

But...it was a really interesting book, an introduction to a condition that I didn't even know existed. I can't admit to
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Maria Elmvang
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Half interesting, half very dry and occasionally boring. Richard Cytowic is obviously very interested in synaesthesia - what causes it, how it is manifested in different people, whether or not you can track it by scanning the brain etc. - but his book isn't really meant for non-medical readers. I was fascinated by the experiments and the discoveries, but there was a LOT of medical babble that I had no interest in at all, and ended up just skimming.

A non-fiction that reads too much like a
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Tani
Apr 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Another one bites the dust! I've had this book on my to-read list basically since I joined Goodreads, so it feels so nice to get it off of there!

So, the first 2/3rds of this book focuses on synesthesia, an interesting phenomenon where a person's senses are intertwined. Each person is individual, so one person might taste shapes, as in the title of the book, whereas another may see colors in connection to sounds, or taste different colors. Which is interesting, but maybe not enough to carry a
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Judy
Jan 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Synesthesia is a fascinating condition wherein the senses are seemingly confused. You can hear colors and see sounds and all kinds of odd combinations of smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch. I have to say, I'm a little jealous of people with this condition. It's not something I can relate to at all but it sounds kind of amazing.
If you're at all interested in this condition by all means read this book. Just keep in mind a few things. While there are moments when Cytowic clearly want to be a
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Maryka
Nov 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Maryka by: Google
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't have synesthesia, but was drawn to read about it because it made sense to me. As an artist, I often relate colors to certain words, and shapes to tastes or sensations. In my
case, this is a conscious conceptual choice. For people with synesthesia, it's inescapable
reality. A cross-connection in the five senses causes them to see or taste a song, feel the shape of a flavor, hear the sound of a table.

I'm fascinated by this multi-dimensional sense perception and wish I had it for real -
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Meg
May 02, 2015 rated it liked it
While the author tends to pontificate on several of his own opinions throughout the presentation of his research, this book was incredibly interesting. Maybe, though, there could have been less constant harping on how medicine relies too strongly on machines than on doctor-patient interactions; I will agree that this is true, but once he established this view with examples, it kept cropping up, nearly once per chapter if not more frequently. Back to the actual topic, synesthesia is an incredibly ...more
Clare
Apr 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This non-fiction book delves mostly into the condition known as synesthesia where two senses are intertwined. Someone who has this fascinating condition may see colors when music is played or have smell and sight combined. The book gets its title from the fact that the author had been invited to someone's home for dinner. When the host went to check on the chicken, he came back and said it wasn't done because there were not enough points on the chicken. He could literally "see" when the meal was ...more
Roberta
An easy book to read, with all the scientific language explained without being over-simplified, this presents one of the first studies on the condition of synesthesia. Cytowic writes it as a contextualised story, including his life at the time of the studies and his conversations with his colleagues and mentors. At the end there are 11 short essays on topics connected to the way we perceive the brain, the mind and consciousness, and the relationship between science and the arts, both culturally ...more
Sam
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book to learn more about synesthesia as I have it myself. I did learn more about it, but through this book I also learnt more about perception as a whole. I personally like that the author puts an importance over people's individual experience more than just what machines say or tests indicate. It wasn't until recently that I even realised that not everyone put colours with words as well as other things that are normal to me. There's too many people out there that believe they have ...more
Kathy
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Good, but very technical

I thought this would be a good book to understand synethesia for other people. The amount of the book spent describing the synethethe's experience was miniscule in comparison to the incredibly technical information that is really only of interest to neurologists. Without a strong background in science I wouldn't have made it through this book at all. I'm very glad to know the biological underpinnings of my synethesia...but I would have preferred to read how other people
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Laura
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
fantastic non-fiction that describes the neurological disorder synasthesia, remarkably undocumented until 1980, by the author. through a personal account of his studies and research of historical occurrences of synasthesia, you can learn how this remarkable disorder has such poetic symptoms. also contains the philosophical and artistic implications of the disorder. chomsky needed no machine to create his "green ideas", a synasthete could've done so on a regular basis, "this chicken doesn't have ...more
Happimoo
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Brilliant book about the condition that is synesthesia, but you additionally end up learning a lot about how the mind works in general. The writing gets a bit more scientific than story sometimes but if you're ok with that, I'd recommend it, even if just for the fascinating knowledge contained within.
Dylan
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
"If you want to learn new things, you should try reading new books."

Interesting book, but I didn't finish it (I got to page 60). I would have liked it better if it had focused more on people with synesthesia, and maybe the book did, but I just didn't get to that part.
Kirk
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is well written and it's got a great story to tell. I read it as an assignment for my Communications research class and did not dread reading it, unlike most books I am assigned to read. I finished it in two days and I'd say it's a great book for us people in the modern day. It follows a researcher (actually, I'm pretty sure he's like a doctor or something, but I don't remember the specifics) who comes into contact with a guy with synesthesia, and gets frustrated when no one believes ...more
Alex
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it

This was a fairly interesting book about synesthesia - I had read the author's more recent work on the neurological difference called Wednesday is Indigo Blue and was fascinated, so this book soon made its way onto my "to-read" list, as I wanted to know more about Michael Watson and his ability to "taste shapes". I found the author's case studies to be interesting, and was intrigued by his methodical research and attempts to "get to the bottom of" synesthesia. Part 2 of the book gave me a lot to

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Lindsey Duncan
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved the wide range of this book, from the prevailing attitudes of medicine and neuroscience to the well-described details of how to hypothesize and conduct experiments on synesthesia. However, this is not a book about synesthesia, at least not in its entirety. For that, try Cytowic's "Wednesday Is Indigo Blue." This is a much broader book about the functions of the brain, perception, and in the final sections, consciousness, metaphor, and even spirituality. It's an interesting exploration of ...more
Ed
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very engaging book about not only synesthesia, but about the structure and function of the bran, the scientific process, medical research, and the roles of emotion and reason. Informative and accessible, and I'd compare it (positively) to Oliver Sack's books.
DJ Williams
Dec 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library
This book is all over the place in content and absolutely unbearable in form.
Marcia
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I think my fascination with synesthesia is just that it exists! Beyond that I was not fascinated with all the research behind it. For me this was more of a research paper. Not my kind of book.
Katrina Null
Feb 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Intensely interesting subject matter, but simplistically explained (to appeal to a larger audience?) Would have liked more depth. Quick read and quite interesting, definitely read it if it sounds at all interesting to you. I did enjoy it.
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
What appealed to me in this book:

* The Introduction
* The essays at the end, about the nature of consciousness, the emotion/rationality balance of the human mind, gnostic knowledge, direct experience, and how the medical field now puts too much faith in the output of machine-driven tests, and not enough in patients' direct experience

What didn't appeal to me as much:

* The weirdly rapid manner in which Cytowic gave a not-exactly-exhaustive overview of his career studying synesthesia
* The lack of
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Julie Davis
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this back in 2004 after my daughter told me that she has synesthesia. While we now regard it as a fun parlor trick, her description (before we knew there was a word for it) literally made me wonder if I needed to commit her for mental illness.

So I was quite relieved to read Richard Cytowic's informative and enjoyable book about the condition. I say enjoyable based on reading every other chapter. Those were the ones with anecdotes, aimed at the regular reader. The other chapters were
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Nina
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book. The author is in the most poetic physician on the planet. The subject matter - synesthesia - is fascinating and the essays at the end of the book are thought provoking. A quote that seems pertinent for this book lover's journal: "Every book has its own rhythm and a physical intimacy that e-mail and similar instant information can never achieve. Media glut often confuses information with understanding. Just when you seem to be most pressed, books miraculously expand time for ...more
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Richard E. Cytowic, MD, MFA is a neurologist best know for bringing synesthesia back into the scientific mainstream in 1980. The trait of crossed senses is now seen as important to understanding how brains perceive.

Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia (with David Eagleman) won the 2011 Montaigne Medal.

Cytowic also writes non-fiction and fiction, and received his MFA in
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“There is a strong link between synesthesia and photographic memory (technically called eidetic memory) or at least heightened memory (hypermnesis). Many synesthetes used their synesthesia as a mnemonic aid.” 2 likes
“Michael was silent. "Too often," I said, "technology evokes a sense of wonder instead of understanding, and I think this makes it a corrosive force which sometimes requires opposition.” 0 likes
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