The Observation of Trifles: Seeing What’s Hidden in Plain Sight
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes…”, observed Arthur Conan Doyle (via Sherlock Holmes). Perception is mediated by sensory organs, to be sure, but attention is surprisingly important in allowing ourselves to perceive the information that our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin provide to us. We will use research into the perceptual abilities of other animals — especially very familiar animals whose sensory experience is nonetheless radically foreign — to reflect back on how to flex our attention/perceptual muscle in ordinary life.
Alexandra Horowitz teaches psychology, animal behavior, and canine cognition at Barnard College, where she also runs the Dog Cognition Lab. Her book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know was a best-seller, and her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere. Most recently, she published On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.