Friday, January 11, 2008

Animal intelligence

When I went to the post office this afternoon I found myself following a man walking his little dog -- a perky little, energetic hound-ish dog that was sniffing the sidewalk so avidly it was clear he was living in a world neither his owner nor I, nor any other human being could comprehend. "He's like a bloodhound," his owner said to me. I'm sure he could have tracked lost persons. I thought, gee, I might get a serious inferiority complex if that were my dog.

The other evening I went to a talk at the Rubin Museum which is beginning a series of events exploring the mind. This one was about animal intelligence. The speaker has obviously done a lot of work with animals but was not articulate and the evening was not particularly interesting -- although he was interviewed by a woman with a wonderful name: Bokara Legendre! Wow! Anyway the only thing the speaker mentioned that was worth pondering on the way home was to emphasize that animals have an olfactory intelligence we don't begin to comprehend -- obviously that dog owner, and most dog owners, know that.

The speaker mentioned that we humans have perhaps more olfactory intelligence than we usually are aware of. He spoke of camping in a game area in Africa and waking at night certain that a lion was walking past his tent, although it was utterly quiet. There were the footprints in the morning. He was sure it was the lion's small that awoke him and I am willing to believe that could be true. In that kind of unusual situation when you know it could happen, your deeper knowledge could be aroused -- the danger signal from very far back in evolution.

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