Reviews from Audible: Touch
Is touch the lamest sense? No one is going to trade it off in exchange for eyesight or hearing. Taste and smell have spawned entire industries. But touch gets no respect.
Touch’s relative lack of cultural and scientific attention propels David Linden’s book. He argues that it merits more respect and study. Touch may play a larger psychic role than many of us acknowledge. Many metaphors used across the world to describe emotional states rely on the sense— they are, after all, called feelings.
My favorite chapter was his first, on the skin as a social organ. It walks through the truly astounding variety of receptors we have evolved on our fingertips and made me want to learn more about biology.
The book has plenty of fun facts. For instance, the more NBA teams touch their teammates, the more they cohere and the better they perform over time. Women can’t communicate anger to men through touch, just as men can’t show sympathy. Wrinkles in fingers when they get wet don’t happen because of osmosis but rather “function as rain treads” to improve friction. As anxiety associated with anticipating pain “feels” just as real as reactive pain, people with mood disorders to be at greater risk of developing chronic pain.
A few more sex ones: Women may get wet even when not aroused because of an evolutionary defense mechanism designed to protect against long-term vaginal damage from forced sex. The more you receive sexual stimulation, the more your amygdala shuts off and the less you feel fear. When orgasm happens even more of your brain goes quiet.
But besides the first and the sex chapter, the others don’t really cohere. You have to wade through four sort of interesting paragraphs to get one really good one. Like many pop science titles, the anecdotes sometimes entertain — once when playing with a hookup's nipple he thought he twisted it off, only to realize he was just fiddling with a foam earbud — but more frequently fall flat. Once even he uses a brutal rapist’s justification that his partner was giving him a bad hand job to introduce a particular type of pleasant sensation that only comes from measured stroking.
Touch is not a great book. Maybe the lack of studies and general scientific understanding around touch made it impossible for him to write more than two really coherent chapters. But nowadays I walk around paying way more attention to an entire sense. For a few hours of B-grade pop science, that’s not a bad payoff.