Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's a Dog's World

Today I read a nice review of a book on how dogs see the world. Personally, I've always a dog person, although I currently don't have a dog. In my parent's house, to my great joy, I have been through some generations of boxers and rottweilers. I haven't read the book, but I surely will during my next vacation.

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know is written by Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist at Columbia with a PhD in Cognitive Sciences.

Here is a small excerpt of the book:
"We humans tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about smelling. Smells are minor blips in our sensory day compared to the reams of visual information that we take in and obsess over in every moment. The room I'm in right now is a phantasmagoric mix of colors and surfaces and densities, of small movements and shadows and lights. Oh, and if I really call my attention to it I can smell the coffee on the table next to me, and maybe the fresh scent of the book cracked open--but only if I dig my nose into its pages.

Not only are we not always smelling, but when we do notice a smell it is usually because it is a good smell, or a bad one: it's rarely just a source of information. We find most odors either alluring or repulsive; few have the neutral character that visual perceptions do. We savor or avoid them. My current world seems relatively odorless. But it is most decidedly not free of smell. Our own weak olfactory sense has, no doubt, limited our curiosity about what the world smells like. A growing coalition of scientists is working to change that--and what they have found about olfactory animals, dogs included, is enough to make us envy those nose-creatures. As we see the world, the dog smells it. The dog's universe is a stratum of complex odors. The world of scents is at least as rich as the world of sight.

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