See What I’m Saying:

The Extraordinary Powers of our Five Senses


An in-depth look at the science that explains the hidden powers of the five senses and how to harness their potential.

“An eye-opening look at the mechanics of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Rosenblum’s enthusiasm is contagious and his prose accessible.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Rosenblum provides hundreds of fascinating examples of the ways in which our sensory entanglements influence our daily lives and make us, well, us.”

—Scientific American (Mind)

“After reading Rosenblum's captivating book, you will be surprised at how much your senses are capable of.”

—New Scientist Magazine

“Until now, the popular science of sensation and perception has been less sexy than neuroscience, but See What I’m Saying will change that.”

—Rachel Herz, Brown University Medical School, author of The Scent of Desire

“Combining extraordinary cases, classic studies and the latest reports from the laboratory, See What I'm Saying exposes the psychological dynamics of perception . . . in a deft and appealing way.”

—Robert Remez, Professor of Psychology, Barnard College and Columbia University, American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow

“[An] appealing and compelling look at new findings about the powers of our less-conscious brain, the realm of the senses.”


“Fans of Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works will find a cousin in this science book for nonscientists. Followers with an interest in parapsychology and/or human potential movement ideas may also want to try out the you-can-do-these-at-home experiments. Bright teens might also get hooked—hint, hint, teachers and parents!”

—Library Journal

“See What I’m Saying will open your eyes and ears and nose to the true power of human senses”

—Scientific American Book Club

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        What are you perceiving right now? Your eyes see the words printed on this page. Your hands feel the textures of the paper and cover of this book. Your ears hear nearby and more distant sounds. Your nose might detect food, or the laundry detergent on your shirt or the soap on your skin. Your tongue might taste the salt, sugar, or other remnants left over from your last meal. As you introspect further, you’ll notice less prominent things: the visual background adjacent to this book, the feeling of the clothes on your skin, the sound of your own breathing.

        But at this very moment, you are accomplishing a number of perceptual feats that are more difficult to experience —and more difficult to believe.  You are hearing things that don’t make noise. You are feeling things that don’t touch your skin. You are smelling things that have no discernible odor. You are seeing things that have no form. And, you do these things all the time. In fact, these exotic perceptual skills are critical to your connection to the world and to your survival.

        These more exotic skills are all based on the physical information available to your senses along with the physiology that allows your senses to take in this information. These perceptual skills are not clairvoyance or mind-reading, or supernatural in any way. They are real, replicable, and scientifically knowable. Understanding and appreciating these skills are the goals of this book.

        New research in perceptual psychology and brain science is revealing that our senses pick up information about the world that we thought was only available to other species. But, as science is learning, we can use sound like bats, smells like dogs, and touch like bugs, and we do so constantly. As our more-conscious brains are busy with the trivialities of our day, our less-conscious brains are engaged in much more interesting endeavors. Our less-conscious brains are absorbing a profusion of sights, sounds and smells using processes that seem superhuman. While psychologists have long known that our sensory systems can take in information without our awareness, new research is showing that entire perceptual skills are occurring in this way. These implicit perceptual abilities are allowing our less-conscious brains to have all the fun. A goal of this book is to bring some of that fun to our more-conscious selves.

        To help you understand your sensory superpowers, this book will introduce you to individuals with highly developed perceptual skills. You will meet a blind man who uses his inborn sonar system to lead mountain bike expeditions and others who use the sounds of a beeping baseball to hit and field with astonishing accuracy. You’ll learn how an expert lip-reader is able to perceive speech as well as, and from a greater distance than, a hearing person, and how a deaf-blind individual can perceive speech by touching the face of a talker. You’ll observe how wine connoisseurs taste the vintage of an obscure French wine, and how a fragrance designer can expertly match an aroma to the visible décor and clientele of a hotel. You’ll hear how a champion a cappella group maintains perfect pitch, and how a blind surveillance expert can recognize phone numbers by listening to the complex pitches produced by telephone touch tones. You’ll learn how an expert fisherman can feel the type, sex, and age of a fish on his line, and how a professional food taster can discern how long it will be before a cookie’s ingredients will begin to turn. Importantly, these examples will not be used to argue that only some individuals are perceptually gifted but rather to highlight the potential of everyone’s perceptual powers. We all have an onboard sonar system and a type of absolute pitch; and we all can perceive speech from seeing and even touching faces. What’s more, we engage many of these skills all day long. What largely distinguishes the expert perceiver from the rest of us is the same thing that gets us from here to Carnegie Hall: practice. By understanding the expertise of others, you’ll get ideas on how to improve your own implicit perceptual abilities.

Excerpt from the Preface

Chapter Excerpts

    In this revealing romp through the mysteries of human perception, University of California psychologist and researcher Lawrence Rosenblum explores the astonishing abilities of the five senses—skills of which most of us are remarkably unaware. Drawing on groundbreaking insights into the brain’s plasticity and integrative powers, including findings from his own research, Rosenblum examines how our brains use the subtlest information to perceive the world.  A blind person, for example, can “see” through batlike echolocation; a Master Sommelier can actually taste the grape variety, region, and vintage of an obscure wine; and pheromones can subliminally signal a lover’s compatibility.

    To illustrate these implicit perceptual skills, Rosenblum takes us from the “beep” baseball fields where blind players swing at  beeping balls, to a pitch-black restaurant where diners experience taste without the aid of sight.   We accompany him on a visit to an Oscar-winning animator  who explains how the public’s expertise in perceiving faces has made his job so difficult; and a visit with a supermodel to discuss why beautiful faces are irresistible.

    New studies have shed light on the surprising power and reach of our senses. It turns out that our brains use entire forms of perceptual information of which we are largely unaware. We can hear things that don’t make sounds, feel things without touching them, see things with no form, and smell things that have no discernible odor. Throughout the book, Rosenblum not only illuminates the fascinating science behind our hidden perceptual powers, but demonstrates how increased awareness of these abilities can actually lead us to enhance how we use them.

Hardcover: 350 pages

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0393067602

ISBN-13: 978-0393067606