Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 00:19 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 00:19 | SYDNEY

Smelling the future in the present


Sam Roggeveen


16 September 2009 16:34

Reading this review of a new book about the inner life of dogs, I came upon a beautiful passage describing the importance of smell for how dogs experience the world, which gives them a very different perspective to our primarily visual 'gaze'.

Reliance on sight confines us to a quite rigidly immediate perspective, whereas smell allows dogs to get hints of what has been and what is to come:

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.”

Tell me if I'm going out on a limb here, but isn't that a fairly apt description of the imaginative state that political analysts have to try to attain in order to understand the future? Don't we have to develop a kind of political-olfactory sense to overcome the relentless present?

Photo by Flickr user BrittneyBush, used under a Creative Commons license.