Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grrr, Sniff, Arf

This book reviewed in the Times gives a neuroscience perspective on the umwelt [life-world] of dogs. Aside from the inherent fascination with what the experience of sniffing reveals to a dog, it also reminded me of how difficult it is to think of people in terms of their differing umwelt's. The act of diagnosing, with its essentially reductive method, runs counter, for me at any rate, to efforts to get into the experience of others. The more remote a person's life-world is from our own, it seems, the easier it is to imagine. Hallucinating people, like dogs, are clearly living in another world. But when people resemble us, it is very difficult not to assume that their world is like our own. Perhaps neuroscience as an alienating way of talking about human experience will actually make this easier. A patient recently said to me that she felt something limbically. Will it be easier to understand human experience when we stop using words that we assume are common to all human experience?