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The Man Who Tasted Shapes [Paperback]

Richard E. Cytowic
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

29 Sep 2003
The ten people in one million who are synaesthetes are born into a world where one sensation (e.g. sound) conjures up one or more others (e.g. taste or colour). Although scientists have known about synaesthesia for two hundred years, until recently the condition has remained a mystery. Extensive experiments with more than forty synaesthetes led Richard Cytowic to an explanation of synaesthesia that emphasized the primacy of emotion over reason. In this medical detective adventure he reveals the brain to be an active explorer and offers a new view of what it means to be human that turns upside down conventional ideas about reason, emotion, and who we are.

This new edition contains a Foreword by Jonathan Cole and an Afterword from the author.

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The Man Who Tasted Shapes + The Frog Who Croaked Blue: Synesthesia and the Mixing of the Senses + The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
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Product details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Imprint Academic; Updated ed edition (29 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0907845436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0907845430
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 14.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,171,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Space constraints prevent me from giving more than a mere flavour of the richness of Cytowic's thinking. With broad sweeps, he outlines a new landscape. . . . Read this book--and the more objective you think you are, the more open-minded you will need to be to appreciate it."--"The New Scientist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jonathan Cole, D.M., F.R.C.P., is Consultant in Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, and at Salisbury Hospital (with its Spinal Centre), a Professor at Bournemouth University and a visiting Senior Lecturer, Southampton University. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Grey Areas 8 Dec 2004
I first read this book about a decade ago, when renewed interest in synaesthesia brought it back into the light of day.
It was great to reacquaint myself it.
Cytowic has quite a disarming style of writing that keeps you thirsting for more information - and he rarely disappoints.
As you read the free flowing prose you naturally find yourself asking more and more questions. Unusually for this type of study, the author manages to oblige you with the answers more often than not; then, infuriatingly, pose some others that you hadn't thought of in the first place!
More than just a good book about synaesthesia, this is simply just a good book.
I would recommend this title to anyone with or without an experience of the condition. It is informative and uniformly fascinating. You will care far more about Cytowic's 'characters' than you ever would about John Grisham's or Jilly Cooper's.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastically interesting 3 Dec 2001
By A Customer
He starts small - describing an interesting phenomenon and slowly builds up to challenging the method of science and so called objectivism. I was very impressed by his reasoning, which is clevery revealing foundations of scientific conventions and our culture of beliving anything that appears "proven". Remarkable. Well-written, unputdownable.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasticly interesting read 8 Sep 2001
By A Customer
This book is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. It is an insight in to not only a remarkable condition but also the very make up of the human brain as well. The book is a story of one mans curiousity and determinism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy This Book 16 Dec 2000
By R. Williams - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Man Who Tasted Shapes is an extraordinary work of research into the human mind that was, to me, only superficially about synesthesia. The information and perspective shared are much bigger than the title would imply. I believe that you'll find it to be fabulously interesting, even if you have zero interest in synesthesia.
Most doctors are afraid to write what they truly believe in their hearts lest it be challenged and scorned by their peers. Rarely do scientists allow you to "see the man behind the curtain," preferring to hide instead behind that mysterious veil we called "objective data." In this, Dr. Cytowic is far braver than most, and certainly more honest.
Here is just such an example from the book: "My innate analytic personality had been reinforced by twenty years of training in science and medicine. I reflexively analyzed whatever passed my way and firmly believed that the intellect could conquer everything through reason. 'You need an antidote to your incessant intellectualizing,' Clark suggested, 'something to put you in touch with the irrational side of your mind.'... I had never considered that there might be more to the human mind than the rational part that I was familiar with. It had never once occurred to me that a force to balance rationality existed, let alone that it might be a normal part of the human psyche."
In another chapter, Cytowic asserts, "Not everything we are capable of knowing and doing is accessible to or expressible in language. This means that some of our personal knowledge is off limits even to our own inner thoughts. Perhaps this is why humans are so often at odds with themselves, because there is more going on in our minds than we can ever consciously know."
If you read a lot of medical texts, as I do, you will find Dr. Cytowic to be far more broadminded and much less linear in his thinking than his peers. This makes Cytowic interesting, instead of boring like the others.
One final quote: "Neuroscientists have just lately come to realize how important emotion is. Placing reason and the (intellectual) cortex first and foremost is like the Wizard of Oz shouting, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Reason, and an accomplice called self-awareness have deluded us into believing that they have been pulling the strings, but emotion and mentation not normally accessible to self-awareness have been in charge all along."
The Man Who Tasted Shapes is a delightful bridge between the hard science of neurology and the mystery that is man.
Buy the book. You won't regret it.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the "Close-minded"! 1 Feb 2000
By Health Enhancement Enter - Published on
While Dr. Cytowic's book mainly deals with his investigation of the rare neurological phenomena called "synesthesia", his resulting insights on emotions, reasoning and consciousness are really what make this book worth reading. He presents "The New View of How the Brain Works". A view that helps us understand the critical interaction of emotions and reasoning. If you are open-minded and ready to give an alternate point of view a chance, you will find this book to be truly enlightening, absorbing, thought provoking and enjoyable. If you are close-minded and think that science already has all the right answers - don't waste your time - try science fiction instead!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously intelligent, smooth and funny 5 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This book helped clear up alot of things I've been wondering about, AND help me prove to those who doubted me that Synesthesia is a real thing. I've given up trying to explain what my Synesthesia's like, so I've opted to let them borrow the book. It explaines so many things, and has examples to help 'flesh' out the story. My psychology kids absolutely loved it!
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended 18 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Originally published in 1993, this book is a popularization of Dr. Cytowic's more detailed 1989 book Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses. At the time it was published, it was of some value in bringing the topic of synesthesia to greater attention among both scholars and the general public. Dr. Cytowic thus gets an A for public education efforts, but a failing grade for accomplishment.

The book suffers from an unwarrantedly grandiose and revelatory style, and an amateurish presentation of the psychological side of the topic. Now, ten years later, many articles and books on synesthesia have come out. None of them corroborate the limbic theory of synesthesia Dr. Cytowic presents, nor do they echo his interpretation of synesthesia as an example of emotion taking precedence over reason. For the most part, this new literature offers a much better place to start understanding synesthesia than this book.
In the revised (2002) edition of Cytowic's other book Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses, he goes some way towards taking account of these new developments; this new edition is worthwhile, but should definitely be balanced with other books on synesthesia. The Man Who Tasted Shapes, however, is no longer worth much attention.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Tasted a Hint of Soap Box... 8 April 1997
By A Customer - Published on
I eagerly snatched this book off the shelf when I learned of it -- synesthesia is a fascinating subject with too few works devoted to it -- but Dr. Cytowic's tendency to climb onto his soap box took much of the potential pleasure out of "The Man Who Tasted Shapes". We are given details about only two people with the condition, and one of those only glancingly. The rest of the book is either written in coy dialogue form (taking scores of pages to relate an incident easily expressed in a paragraph -- padding, anyone?) or else denouncing other scientists' viewpoints. This is no "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" [by Oliver Sacks], as the title seems to imply. I was left hungering to know more about the actual subject: synesthesia. I did not necessarily disagree with Dr. Cytowic's views, but they seemed to have pre-empted another book already in progress.

Janet Coleman Sides
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