Alexandra Horowitz – The mysteries of human perception. In this episode we speak with author and cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz on what it means to be attentive. In her most recent book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary. In this book, Alexandra goes on a series of eleven walks with experts on a diverse range of subjects, including an urban sociologist, the well-known artist Maira Kalman, a geologist, a physician, and a sound designer. She also walks with a child and a dog to see the world as they perceive it. What they see, how they see it, and why most of us do not see the same things reveal the startling power of human attention and the cognitive aspects of what it means to be an expert observer.
Alexandra Horowitz teaches psychology, canine cognition, and creative nonfiction writing at Barnard College, Columbia University. She earned her PhD in Cognitive Science at the University of California at San Diego, and has studied the cognition of humans, rhinoceros, bonobos, and dogs. For seventeen years she shared her home with an unwitting research subject, Pumpernickel, a wonderful mixed breed. Now her Dog Cognition Lab studies the behavior of owned dogs to keep discovering what they see, smell, and know.
“The problem is we are not focusing that well anymore on the things we deem important. There is too much distraction at once.”
– Alexandra Horowitz
Quotes from Alexandra:
“I view humans as a high performing animal, but in some ways we are not. In attention, for example, we have let ourselves go a little bit. We have forgotten how to be aware of all the things which our brain and senses could be aware of.”
“Everybody has an entirely different impression of what is happening right now in their environment, as well as the ability to see the different layers of what is happening.”
“It’s easier to not have to worry about everybody else’s different experiences, and impressions, and motivations.”
What we learn in this episode:
- What is attention? What does it mean to be attentive?
- How individuals view the world and their environment differently.
- Why do we feel so disconnected from strangers?
- How does the human animal respond to cognitive overload?