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The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind

by David J Linden

(London Times)

TOUCH, argues the neuroscientist David J Linden in this short but illuminating overview of the biology behind it, is the most important of all the senses to successful human development. Children who are deaf or blind from birth readily grow up to live fruitful lives. But deprive a baby of touch, as in the understaffed Romanian orphanages in the 1980s and 1990s, and disaster occurs. Behavioural and cognitive problems arise that last a lifetime. As Linden says: 'Touch is not optional for human development.'

The tactile is also entangled with the emotional: we are “touched”; people 'rub us up the wrong way'; situations are 'sticky' and problems are 'hairy'. Such metaphors exist in languages around the world, from Basque to Chinese.

Linden isn’t always as straightforward in his explanations as nonscientists might wish, but his book asks and answers some intriguing questions. Why is the inability to feel pain a burden rather than a blessing? Why can’t we tickle ourselves? What are fingerprints for? (We’re still not entirely sure.) And what exactly happens during orgasm?

Drawing on a wide range of cutting-edge scientific research, Linden (the author of The Accidental Mind, his bestselling introduction to the evolution of the brain) provides plenty of insights into how our sense of touch shapes our experience of the world and our idea of self.

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