Monday, September 14, 2009

Alexandra Horowitz's "Inside of a Dog"

Alexandra Horowitz holds degrees in philosophy and cognitive science. She teaches in the Department of Psychology at Barnard.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, and reported the following:
By the time you get to page 99 of my book, if proceeding linearly, you'll already have been through a guided tour of the dogs' olfactory system, and here you find yourself in the middle of a chapter about dogs' hearing abilities and the sounds they make. Even if you start reading on page 99, it's still chock-full of information and tales--something I hope is true of nearly any page of the book.

This chapter is titled "Mute" because of some writers' reference to the "muteness" of non-human animals--or to literally "dumb" animals. These characterizations seem to me wrong in a couple of ways. First, animals, are not, in fact, mute or dumb: dogs, for instance, whimper, growl, squeak, yelp, loudly yawn, bark, howl, and make many other utterances. They also communicate with eyes, ears, scent, whiskers, body, and tails. Second, it is not they who desire to talk, but cannot; it is that we desire them to talk and cannot make out (or cannot be bothered to make out) what they are actually saying.

Page ninety-nine, and this chapter, are quite representative of much of the book insofar as I'm trying to get inside the dog's experience, using research about the animals and a bit of imaginative liberty. The tone of the page would probably be considered characteristic, too. The phrases "the way they wield these noises"; "sultry whisper"; "wagging merrily"; and "seeming non sequitur" all appear. On the other hand, this page contains no anecdotes of the behavior of my own dog and no dog sketches: both things you'll find on many other pages.

Finally, a frequency count of words on the page finds that the most common content words include "meaning", "sound", "discovery", "social", and "sexual". Is the book generally about discoveries of meaning in sound and about social and sexual behavior? Yes. Among other things.
Read an excerpt from Inside of a Dog and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Watch the Inside of a Dog video.

Visit Alexandra Horowitz's dog cognition website and her quasi-academic website.

--Marshal Zeringue