200 episodes

Surprising stories from unusual places. With ideas too big for a single episode, The Compass presents mini-series about the environment and politics, culture and society.

The Compass BBC

    • News
    • 4.6 • 72 Ratings

Surprising stories from unusual places. With ideas too big for a single episode, The Compass presents mini-series about the environment and politics, culture and society.

    The senses: Synaesthesia: When senses merge

    The senses: Synaesthesia: When senses merge

    Neurologist Dr Guy Leschziner explores the extraordinary sensory experiences of individuals with synaesthesia - a mash-up of senses where one sense automatically triggers another. Some synaesthetes hear colours, others feel sound.

    We meet James who perceives the world differently from most people, due to his brain’s unusual wiring. Whenever he hears a word he immediately gets a taste and texture in his mouth. As a child, he’d go by train to school with his mum, reading out loud the stations they passed through. His favourite was Tottenham Court Road because the word sounds taste of sausage, crispy fried egg and toast.

    Whilst James tastes words, 23 year-old synaesthete Valeria sees colours and feels textures when she hears music. She assumes everyone has that sensory experience until, at aged 14, she sees her dad’s astonished reaction! For Valeria, some music is so utterly exquisite it causes her intense, physical pain.

    Such variations in perception can also affect our internal world as Sheri, a painter from Canada, illustrates. After a stroke in her twenties she can no longer picture images in her mind. The condition, aphantasia (meaning ‘without a mind’s eye’) is so devastating Sheri calls it “internal blindness”.

    Our understanding of reality comes from how we perceive the world around us. But as we discover in this programme and throughout this series, each of us experiences a unique reality constructed by our brain and our sensory system. Leading us to question what is real and what is an illusion.

    (Valeria in the garden.Image taken by her brother Simone Perboni)
    .

    • 27 min
    The senses: Smell and taste

    The senses: Smell and taste

    Imagine spraying yourself with a flowery fragrance but all you can smell is rotting flesh? Our senses can be surprisingly strange, especially when they malfunction due to injury, disease or genetic abnormalities. In this episode, neurologist Dr Guy Leschziner, explores two senses, smell and taste - separate yet inextricably linked.

    We meet Joanne, whose sense of smell is so distorted after a heavy cold, even freshly-cut grass smells repulsive. We also hear from Walter who loves to cook and eat German cuisine but finds that pleasure is ruined when everything, even fine wine, tastes of metal.

    By contrast, 15 year-old Abi’s sense of taste is working properly. She can tell if her food is sweet or salty. But Abi was born without a sense of smell (anosmia), which also means anything she eats has no flavour – because that’s created by smell and taste working together.

    Loss of smell, an early symptom of coronavirus, has raised awareness of this important, yet neglected sense, often only appreciated when it’s gone. Yet so vital it’s wired directly to parts of the brain responsible for memories and emotion.

    Produced by Sally Abrahams for the BBC World Service.


    Photo: Abi in a field of yellow flowers. Credit BBC

    • 27 min
    The senses: Hearing

    The senses: Hearing

    From a whisper to the roar of thunder, every sound creates vibrations in our ears which the brain decodes, to tell us what we’re hearing. But as neurologist, Dr Guy Leschziner explains, when disruptions occur along the way, extraordinary things can happen, changing how we perceive the world.

    We meet Mark, who can’t hear his friends in a noisy pub but can hear the sound of every bodily function amplified in his head.

    Kelly gets spinning attacks that send her falling to the floor. The sensation lasts for hours and with every attack she loses hearing. She’s been told it’s Ménière's disease - an inner ear disorder that affects balance.

    Keen bird-watcher Bill recognises his hearing loss when he can no longer pick out the call of the smallest birds, but can hear elaborate musical tunes when there’s nothing playing.

    These astonishing cases show how tiny changes in our bodies can turn our understanding of the world upside down, leading us to question our own version of reality.

    Produced by Sally Abrahams for the BBC World Service.


    Photo: Kelly, who has been diagnosed with Ménière's disease Credit: BBC

    • 27 min
    The senses: Vision

    The senses: Vision

    Vision is a complex process involving light rays, special nerve cells and electrical signals sent to the brain, which processes the information and tells us what we’re seeing. But even tiny disruptions to any part of this system can result in remarkable visual problems.

    Neurologist, Dr Guy Leschziner, meets 25-year-old filmmaker Oli, who’s only recently discovered something alarming: he’s missing half his vision in one eye - probably caused by a stroke he never knew he had.

    We hear from Dawn, whose eyes are working properly and yet she’s almost completely blind. Her visual problems are caused by damage to a vital nerve connecting her eyeballs and her brain.

    Susan describes how her epilepsy is causing visual distortions that mean she can see through a person as if they were transparent.

    And we meet Nina who’s been robbed of her sight after two separate accidents. And yet, she sees colours and terrifying images of zombie faces. She discovers she has Charles Bonnet Syndrome – visual hallucinations caused by loss of sight

    Through the extraordinary experiences of these individuals, we learn how vision is not like a video camera, a straightforward process of turning light into a picture.

    Produced by Sally Abrahams for the BBC World Service.


    Photo: Dawn with her dog in the garden.Credit: BBC

    • 27 min
    The senses: Touch

    The senses: Touch

    Our skin contains millions of nerve endings and touch sensors that collect information about different sensations like temperature, pressure, vibration, pain and send it to the brain for processing and reaction. But it’s when our sensory system goes wrong that we learn most about how our senses help us understand the world around us.

    Neurologist Dr Guy Leschziner talks to Alison, whose delicious seafood dinner sends her nervous system haywire. Poisoned by fish contaminated with ciguatera toxin, her sense of temperature is turned upside down – so hot feels cold and the cold floor tiles burn the soles of her feet.

    We hear from Dawn, whose damaged nerve triggers excruciating pain down the side of her face – illustrating how our senses can trick us about the source of our agony.

    We meet Paul, who has broken every bone in his body, yet never feels a jot of pain. His rare genetic condition, congenital insensitivity to pain, means his brain never receives signals warning of damage to his flesh and bones. And whilst a pain-free life might sound appealing, we find out it has serious physical and psychological consequences.

    And through Rahel we learn about a lesser-known touch sensation, called proprioception. When it is not working, it affects our co-ordination. And for Rahel, that means she struggles to stay upright when it is dark.

    Produced by Sally Abrahams for the BBC World Service.


    Photo: Vicki and Paul Waters Courtesy of the Waters family

    • 27 min
    Rethinking: The Pandemic that changed the world

    Rethinking: The Pandemic that changed the world

    What will the world look like post-Covid? In an age of increasingly inward focus can a spirit of multilateralism prevail to meet the challenges posed by the reconstruction of national economies as well as the needs of poorer countries and the international organisations? And does the post-Coronavirus moment provide an opportunity to think differently about other global challenges, the foremost being climate change? Will we be able to “build back better”? Ian Goldin, Oxford University’s professor of globalisation and development draws on his experience as economic advisor to Nelson Mandela and vice president at the World Bank to argue that the gravest threat to humanity in a generation could be turned into an opportunity. But the challenges are many. He discusses them with - among others - pandemic expert Larry Brilliant; Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; the editor of The Economist, Zanny Minton Beddoes; and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the chair of GAVI, the vaccine alliance.

    • 27 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
72 Ratings

72 Ratings

avm1406 ,

Robin Lustig’s new series

On freedom of speech is well written, presented and so topical.

S_Hermes_G ,

Love it!

Very impressive scope of stories researched for each episode. I’ve learned more from these multi-episode series than any other news/educational podcast I’ve found. None of the topics under discussion cover commonly known content - as so many other programs do. Rather, each features insider interviews that expose angles of contemporary issues I’ve never encountered despite being a news junkie. I can’t imagine the expense of bringing interviewers to so many distant (from one another) locations, organizing the many layers of translation that are typically needed for each story - If the story is in Cambodia, the interviewees include Mandarin, Vietnamese, English and Khmer speakers.

Jim Sack ,

Editing fails

Excellent program! Pathetic editing between programming and inserted commercials/promos. Sheesh.

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