A nose for the past

It’s often said that dogs live in the moment… that they don’t tend to bear a grudge, that the last thing they did is their focus. However, I’m beginning to think that it’s human beings who are so focused on the “latest thing” that they completely forget about what happened in the past – even the recent past. Ever since it was brought to my attention (by Terry Pratchett, in fact) that dogs can detect the history of a location because, unlike sight, smell can last for days, I have been intrigued about the idea. In the blink of an eye, our perception of a place or an incident is replaced by a new one, so it is all too easy for us to dismiss past experience because of the overwriting of it by our present perception. Not so if you are a dog. With smell as a much more important sense, life must be lived in a world of past and present – always being aware of incidents that have gone by, but have left their signature and evidence in the olfactory world.

Spaniels’ noses are very important to them

I’d love to be able to see the past…. for example when I pick up a discarded piece of crochet, realise that I removed the hook for another project and then wonder exactly which size it was. If I could just see the project in an earlier stage, I’d know exactly what hook to use to make progress. What a lot of time that would save

But can you imagine what this sort of overlaying of events from different times would do to our interpretation of the world? No longer would politicians be able to dismiss an incident with words, if we could still see a shadow of it for days or weeks or months to come. Our memories distort the past and unscrupulous, or even well-meaning, people can seek to take advantage. History, as they say, is written – or photographed, or painted, or sculpted – by the winners. What a different world we might live in could we see more than those inevitably biased descriptions. Just a thought.

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20 Comments

  1. What an interesting idea.
    Maybe then we’d finally find out what happened to the Princes in the Tower…. πŸ˜‰

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  2. Some interesting thoughts there. You have obviously been doing a lot of mulling in this enforced downtime. The word looks strange on its own – maybe I should say ‘mulling things over’ otherwise it sounds more as if you’ve been steeping some spices in wine and heating it up which is not a bad idea come to think of it.

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    • Yes… some random thoughts when Daisy and I were out on our own the other day and I watched how intently she was sniffing… no doubt collecting huge amounts of information about what had passed that way since her las walk…

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  3. I think dogs have their own version of ‘word of mouth’. They leave ‘comments’ on every tree, blade of grass and lamp post, and I’m pretty sure a lot of them are contradictory, hasty, opinionate or just plain grumpy, depending on the dog that left them. If a dog were to write a history of the world, it might run along the lines of something I saw on Pinterest:
    Image: dog snoozing on cushions
    Text: Once we were wolves, wild and free. Then we discovered humans had sofas…..

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  4. Nice Piece of Work

     /  January 14, 2021

    I know nothing about dogs, so can’t comment on how they operate πŸ™‚ But how humans perceive the world, develop memories, understand history, process emotions, etc, is a massively complex issue, and I certainly don’t begin to truly understand it (although I try, I’m currently listening to a lot of Sam Harris, who has a really intriguing take on perception and how we understand “reality”, which is of course different for everyone). I’m also working my way through The Oxford History of Western Philosophy, and learning a great deal. History – the factual side of events – is indeed usually written by the winners, as you say, and current events are also now nicely packaged and presented to us by the media in ways that we cannot control. The human mind is a strange thing! and I’d also love to be able to remember where I left my car keys…

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  5. Oh, wowsah! I might have to borrow this notion “of overlaying of events from different times.” Someone sniffing out the past. I will not be able to let this go. πŸ˜‰

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  6. Nikki

     /  January 14, 2021

    What a beautifully philosophical piece, Mrs Snail!
    To me, your post suggests a yearning for both honesty & complexity in public debate – both sorely missing & exacerbated by the current pandemic (fact checking has never been so tricky!) There is often the lack of distinction between what is data vs information, let alone that ever elusive thing called ‘truth’.

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  7. An interesting thought. The phenomenon you describe in humans makes me wonder immediately about the political situation in America and more generally about why malevolent people seem so easily able to get away with things by just saying a new narrative.

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  8. Wow! History, stories, truth, data, evidence, memory…. There is a lot in that post Mrs S! I think I need a dog walk to sort it in my head!

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  9. After reading the comments – I wonder if there is a structure that once a dog leaves a “remark” no other dog stops to place their “reply” – like the dog has signalled there is a problem or that there is trouble at the mill or similar. I wonder if you walk a dog have they just started to bypass a structure out of the blue…

    Yesterday it was the #6 double point knit needles that weren’t in the “box of said tools” – did find them in the end…and it turned out that they wouldn’t work with the yarn I wanted to use to make a ribbon like structure…

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    • Chatting to my mum yesterday she mentioned that she had laid out all her sets of double pointed needles on the dining table and still couldn’t find the size she needed… which turned out to be metric and not have an imperial equivalent. I think there is some sort of law about not having the right size needle/hook.

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