Interview: Jackie Higgins.
Jackie Higgins is a tv documentary director and author who studied zoology at Oxford College. She made wildlife movies for the BBC, Nationwide Geographic, and The Discovery Channel. She then joined the BBC’s science division, researching and writing, directing and producing packages resembling Tomorrow’s World and Horizon.
Her new e-book, Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Marvel of Our Human Senses (Amazon, Bookshop) hits cabinets as we speak. It is a completely fascinating have a look at the pure world.
I could not wait to speak to Jackie about happiness, habits, and the senses.
Gretchen: What’s a easy exercise or behavior that persistently makes you happier, more healthy, extra productive, or extra inventive?
Jackie: Getting out the entrance door for a stroll, in rain or shine, with or with out my whippet.
The filmmaker Werner Herzog stated that ‘the world reveals itself to those that journey on foot.’ He was speaking about Bruce Chatwin like pilgrimages, however I don’t assume it’s a must to journey far, a fast flip around the block will do. There’s something about transferring via the world that enlivens the senses. Merely trying or listening, feeling and even smelling what’s round me is so immersive that I overlook myself; permitting my senses to absorb the outer world stills that interior chatter. Strolling is a tonic for a lot of issues; it makes you more healthy, staves off the blues, but in addition it makes me extra inventive. Typically concepts with which I have been wrangling want time to germinate, in the dead of night, away from my focus. So a stroll can clear even essentially the most cussed case of author’s block.
And I have never even talked about, the happiness of merely being outdoor, in nature. Or the enjoyment I really feel watching Zero, my whippet, explode from zero to… goodness is aware of what velocity. Just like the cheetah in my e-book Sentient, his small head and slender physique imply that he is an arrow and at full throttle, basically airborne. In actual fact, the one time his toes actually join with earth is when he takes corners and finally ends up keening over at such an angle that his flanks virtually scuff the bottom. 4-legged euphoria!
What’s one thing now about happiness that you just didn’t know while you had been 18 years outdated?
Proust was unsuitable… not that at age 18 I knew about Proust’s madeleine dipped in a cup of tea, however I realized about his error whereas researching Sentient.
When in In Search of Misplaced Time (Amazon, Bookshop), he wrote, ‘No sooner had the nice and cozy liquid combined with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran via me… an beautiful pleasure,’ Proust elided reminiscences of childhood and happiness together with his sense of style. He couldn’t have recognized that he was truly speaking extra about his sense of scent. Since, science has proven that our mind hoodwinks us into considering that flavour is sensed on the tongue, when in actuality a lot of the exhausting work is completed by our nostril.
Final yr, I skilled this primary hand on catching Covid. I seen issues weren’t proper when my favorite morning ritual of a home-ground cup of espresso tasted revolting. Then, the experiences of different drinks and meals dulled. I had misplaced my sense of scent, not style, and as so usually is the case, I needed to lose it, to know its value. The loss prolonged past flavour; the world appeared drained of color and vibrancy. I could not put my finger on it, however scouring scientific journals and books, once more for Sentient, provided a solution.
It seems that our sense of scent has an intimate relationship with a part of our mind that offers with emotion. Consequently, it has been referred to as essentially the most ’emotionally related sense’. The neuroscientist Rachel Herz says, ‘I’ve usually puzzled whether or not we might have feelings if we didn’t have a way of scent,’ including with a nod to a sure French thinker, ‘I scent, due to this fact I really feel’. What a thought. A Peanuts cartoon may put it: happiness is… below our nostril. And as considered one of my chapters proposes… so too our sense of want. However that is one other story.
In your area, is there a standard false impression that you just’d wish to appropriate?
Sure, many, however let’s begin with Aristotle, who woefully underestimated himself and each considered one of us when he declared we’ve 5 senses: sight, scent, listening to, contact and style, what you have referred to as ambassador senses (I like that). Sentient explores these and others, certainly twelve in all, however that’s simply the beginning. Right this moment, most scientists would agree we’ve extra.
You’ve executed fascinating analysis. What has shocked, intrigued or affected you – or your readers – most?
A few of my readers are most shocked by the distinctive animals. Whether or not the star-nosed mole whose star-shaped nostril, the scale of our little finger tip, has six instances the contact sensitivity of the palm of our hand. Or the male nice peacock moth that may scent a feminine three miles away. Or the octopus whose unusual sense of physique signifies that it may not register what its arms are as much as. Different readers are extra intrigued by the invention of the senses ignored by Aristotle: our secret senses.
I used to be most affected by the individuals whom I met who associated sensory experiences past the standard. I used to be honoured that they allowed me to share their tales. Whether or not the lady whose sense of ache misfires so typically she will really feel as if on fireplace. Or the person who on shedding his sight, found he had additionally misplaced his sense of time. Or the person who awoke one morning to find he couldn’t really feel his physique. He informed me the expertise was extra profound than the numbness of an aesthetic; with eyes closed, he had no sense the place his physique lay. It was if he had been disembodied.
What’s your e-book’s final message?
I used to be delighted you invited me onto your weblog as a result of my hope is that Sentient brings readers happiness. Craig Foster of My Octopus Instructor informed me it’s brimming with my love for nature — that made me glow. Finally, the e-book’s message is considered one of pleasure, of optimism and of infinite risk.
Would you describe your self as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Insurgent, or an Obliger?
A questioner. My mom was a biology trainer (the beady-eyed will discover that I devoted the e-book to her). She at all times requested, and nonetheless does, that queen of questions: why? That stated, I’ve taken your on-line quiz, so would like to know if I am mistaken and my reply is wishful considering.
Does something are inclined to intervene along with your capacity to maintain your wholesome habits or your happiness? (e.g. journey, events, electronic mail)
No doubt, my iPhone. Even having silenced varied alerts from electronic mail, Instagram or Twitter, I nonetheless discover the gadget troublesome to withstand, if not demanding and downright bossy!
Is there a specific motto or saying that you just’ve discovered very useful?
Whereas writing Sentient, I had one quote pinned on my board simply over my laptop — one thing the neurologist Oliver Sacks penned in what he knew could be his final op-ed for the New York Instances, a number of months earlier than his demise. ‘I can’t faux I’m with out concern. However my predominant feeling is considered one of gratitude…. Above all, I’ve been a sentient being, a considering animal, on this stunning planet, and that in itself has been an monumental privilege.’
I would lengthy cherished his books, resembling The Man Who Mistook His Spouse for a Hat (Amazon, Bookshop). He described the fragility and variety of the human situation with such compassion. Nevertheless, these phrases grew to become my day by day fear beads whereas I wrote Sentient: they impressed me to pick out tales that remind us what an infinite privilege it’s to be a sentient being, a considering animal on this stunning planet. So, my motto? ‘Open your eyes, ears, pores and skin, tongue, nostril and extra to the on a regular basis miracle of being sentient’. Or extra merely: ‘Launch your interior star-nosed mole.’ [Gretchen: The chapter on the star-nosed mole was one of my favorites.]