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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