Hughes, Howard C.

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HUGHES, Howard C.


Male. Education: Ohio State University, Ph.D., 1975.


Office—Dartmouth College, Department of Psychological and Brain Science, 6207 Moore Hall, Hanover, NH 03755. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator and author. Dartmouth College, Hanover, MA, professor and chair of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.


Association of American Publishers/Professional Scholarly Publishing Award, biological sciences category, 1999, for Sensory Exotica: A World beyond Human Experience.


Sensory Exotica: A World beyond Human Experience, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

Also author of numerous articles and chapters for academic journals and books.


A psychology researcher and Dartmouth College professor, Howard C. Hughes has had a long interest in the mechanisms of sensory perceptions in humans and other animals. In Sensory Exotica: A World beyond Human Experience, Hughes delves into some of the amazing ways that animals perceive the world. These nonhuman ways of sensing, which include internal compasses and biochemical communication, are beyond the five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste that humans largely rely on. As pointed out by Marian Dawkins in the Times Literary Supplement, "Not only do some animals have a sixth sense, they have progressed to a seventh, eighth and even higher number of senses."

Hughes breaks his book into four parts focusing on biosonar, biological compasses, electroperception, and chemical communication. He discusses many of the fascinating experiments that led scientists to a better understanding of the ways in which some animals perceive the world and goes on to explain many of the anatomical and physiological principles that are the basis of how these sensory perceptions work. For example, Hughes discusses how it took scientists more than a century to figure out the purpose of an electric field produced by some African and South American fishes. Researchers eventually discovered that the fish use receptors in their skin to register anything that disturbs this electric field surrounding them, thus helping them to detect prey, avoid predators, and find mates. The author's discussion of other animal sensory wonders includes the ability of birds to navigate across great distances, the sonar capabilities of bats and dolphins, and the chemical communication systems in rats, pigs, and other animals that help them regulate sex and perform amazing feats. For example, pigs are able to find truffles in the ground because they sense a sex hormone that is in the edible and expensive fungus.

Although Sensory Exotica focuses on the highly unusual senses of many animals, Hughes does not totally ignore how humans perceive the world. In the latter part of the book, he delves into the role of pheromones, which are chemical substances produced by humans after they reach puberty. According to Hughes, signals given off by pheromones are perceived by potential mates and used on a subconscious level to determine if the other person is right for them based on the ability of one mate's genetic makeup to complement the other's. To discover this fact, scientists had women sniff dirty clothing from men and then rate the smell as being either offensive or attractive.

In her review of Sensory Exotica in the Times Literary Supplement, Dawkins noted, "It is refreshing to find a science writer who manages to combine an ability to convey the wonder and excitement of his subject, but at the same time is not seduced by the temptation to imply that everything is fully understood." Several critics did not like the author's "chatty" writing style, which Dawkins characterized as "irritating mannerisms." But the book's fascinating topic and Hughes's ability to help readers understand complex biological and physical concepts won over most reviewers. "Hughes's forays into animal [senses] require that he explain concepts from acoustics, anatomy, neurology, physiology and animal behavior; he does so cleanly and well," noted a reviewer in Scientific American. Laurence A. Marschall, writing in Sciences, called the book a "charming and informative introduction to sensory realms beyond the human experience."



Boston Globe, April 16, 2000, Ralph Jimenez, review of Sensory Exotica: A World beyond Human Experience, p. 6.

Library Journal, December 1999, Patrick J. Wall, review of Sensory Exotica, p. 179.

Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1999, review of

Sensory Exotica, p. 77. Sciences, January, 2000, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Sensory Exotica, p. 44.

Scientific American, November, 2000, review of Sensory Exotica, p. 121.

Times Literary Supplement (London, England), August 4, 2000, Marian Dawkins, review of Sensory Exotica. *