John Henshaw is chair of the Department of Engineering at the University of Tulsa, but clearly he is more interested than the average engineer in the workings of his own sensory systems. And in “A Tour of the Senses” he takes us on a pleasant journey through the various types and flavors of stimulus, sensation and perception: the three necessary parts of every bit of our experience of life.
I kept thinking as I read this book “He had to do a lot of work outside of his field to write this!” (this is pure conjecture on my part and a reflection of my own bias after working and socializing with so many engineers over the years)! But the subject of this book is something of deep interest to me, and, I believe, of deep value to any of my fellow humans that has the least interest in seeing the world (and themselves) as clearly as possible.
The book is organized into three sections (the above-referenced Stimulus, Sensation and Perception), which are further broken down into their component (and related) parts. The book gives a very workable overview of just how our parts have evolved to do the remarkable job they do of taking everything that comes our way and turning it into electrical signals that the brain then makes sense of. It was reading about this last part the process that made the biggest impression on me: namely the insights into the plasticity of the brain (as revealed by stories from those that have suffered damage to vital areas of the brain, for example, only to recover lost function when other areas of the brain then took up the task).
I’d call this a pleasant and informative read. The writing is congenial, the author personable (and clearly fascinated by his subject), and there is a lot of truly fascinating information here. I’m curious how a mechanical engineer from Tulsa gets a book on neurobiology published by The Johns Hopkins University Press (seeing that imprint is what gave me the nudge to give the book a shot), but I’m rather glad he did.
If you would like to get better acquainted with your own eyes and brain and nerves and sensors (and learn why our eyeballs perceive only the visible light spectrum) give this book a read.