Saturday, September 12, 2009

Smell-O-Vision

Book Review - 'Inside of a Dog - What Dogs See, Smell, and Know,' by Alexandra Horowitz - Review - NYTimes.com:
Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing “gaze” also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog’s sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, “smell tells time,” she writes. “Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. . . . Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you’re headed.” While we mainly look at the present, the dog’s “olfactory window” onto the present is wider than our visual window, “including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it.” Now that’s umwelt.
Sounds like an interesting book. As a dog lover, I'd like to read it. And, I like the title -- "inside of a dog it's too dark to read." But the problem I have with the passage above is the idea that because dogs smell things on the breeze, they have this totally different perception of time that includes "the up-ahead." Sounds kind of cool and mind-blowing at first glance, but don't we see things up ahead as well as what's right in front of us when we're walking? And we can smell the peanut roasting wagon that's around the street corner that we can't see yet, too. So, maybe not as much as dogs do, our perceptions would seem to give us the now and the up-ahead in the same way. This reminded me of the whole "eskimos have twenty words for snow" thing, like it's supposed to blow my mind there's more than one way to refer to snow. I'm no eskimo, but I have lots of words for snow myself: flurries, flakes, blizzard, white-out, drifts, slush, powder, sleet, etc.

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