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Senses

Senses

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Published by Holmes Adler

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Published by: Holmes Adler on Jun 24, 2011
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SENSES
Secrets of the
How the brain deciphers the world around us
COPYRIGHT 2006 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
 
Page Intentionally Blank
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Digital
 
www.sciam.comSCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
 
1
Established 1845
®
imagine
what it must be like. In acondition called synesthesia, sensesblend, with exotic effects. Each num-ber may evoke its own color, and fla-vors can mingle with shapes
in oneinstance letting a man tell that aroasted chicken was done, because ittasted “pointy.” In their article,“Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes,”starting on page 76, Vilayanur S. Ra-machandran and Edward M. Hub-bard describe how synesthesia hasyielded insights into how the brainprocesses complex sensory inputs.We take our conventional set of senses for granted, but their capa-bilities are no less astounding fortheir everyday qualities. The con-stant stream of data they provide helps the brain interpret our surroundings,giving us vital tools to survive and thrive. As Nobel Prize winner Richard Axelwrites in “The Molecular Logic of Smell,” beginning on page 68, humans “canrecognize approximately 10,000 scents, ranging from the pleasurable scent of freshly cut flowers to the aversive smell of an angry skunk.” Other senses leapinto action to protect us from such foul-smelling danger. Interpreting acousticsignals from our two ears, the brain locates the rustling of an animal on theforest floor. At the same time, our visual systems near-instantly assemble intoa coherent whole the scattered patches of black and white peeking through theleaves: “Skunk!”When bereft of sensory feedback, the brain hastens to compensate, withrevealing results. “Phantom Limbs,” by Ronald Melzack, on page 52, de-scribes the enduring mental presence of missing appendages, whereas “Howthe Blind Draw,” by John M. Kennedy, on page 44, discusses a surprising con-nection between vision and touch.As scientists try to make sense of our senses, they also seek to imitate oreven improve on them to serve us in new ways. “Neuromorphic Microchips,by Kwabena Boahen, starting on page 20, describes work to etch visual sys-tems in silicon for better artificial-recognition technologies. Kathryn S.Brown’s story, which asks “Are You Ready for a New Sensation?”, exploreshow biology is combining with engineering to design the sensory experiencesof tomorrow; turn to page 60. These thought-provoking pieces, and the othersin the issue, offer what we hope will be a sensational experience.
letter from the editor
Everyday Miracles
Mariette DiChristinaExecutive Editor
 Scientific American
EDITOR IN CHIEF:
 
 John Rennie
EXECUTIVE EDITOR:
 
Mariette DiChristina
 
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EDITORIAL ADMINISTRATOR:
 Jacob Lasky
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Maya Harty
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Secrets of the Senses
is publishedby the staff of 
Scientific American,
with project management by:
 
Established 1845
®
    J    E    A    N  -    F    R    A    N    C    O    I    S    P    O    D    E    V    I    N
COPYRIGHT 2006 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.

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