Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses

Atria. Feb. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781982156558. $28. SCI
Higgins (a filmmaker for Oxford Scientific Films) explores the senses in this fascinating, well-documented work. Going beyond the five widely accepted senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, she also investigates the senses of dark vision, pleasure/pain, desire, balance, time, direction, and body. Each chapter highlights an animal that epitomizes the sense (e.g., the owl for hearing; the star-nosed mole for touch; the bloodhound for smell) and discusses in great detail the anatomy involved and how animals use the sense. Higgins then discusses the range of human abilities for each sense. For example, some people can distinguish a far greater range of colors than most, while others lack the ability to see color at all. Throughout the work, she interviews scientists and shares the results of the experiments they conducted to learn more about how sensory perception works in animals and humans, covering anatomy, physiology, behavior, and neuroscience. Occasional black-and-white illustrations enhance the narrative.
VERDICT An engaging, thoroughly researched work for thoughtful readers that will appeal to those who wish to explore the senses, neuroscience, and the extraordinary abilities of animals. Higgins is a patient guide, and her writing is accessible throughout.
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