Bioethics Blogs

Cross Post: Ig Nobel prize winner: why I lived like a badger, an otter, a deer and a swift

Written by Charles Foster, Research Associate, University of Oxford

This article was originally published in The Conversation

I have lived as a badger in a hole in a Welsh wood, as an otter in the rivers of Exmoor, an urban fox rummaging through the dustbins of London’s East End, a red deer in the West Highlands of Scotland and on Exmoor, and, most hubristically, a swift, oscillating between Oxford and West Africa. For this I was recently awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for “achievements that make people laugh, and then think”. Why I did this is not an unreasonable question. There are many answers. One is that I wanted to perceive landscapes more accurately.

We have at least five senses. By and large we use only one of them – vision. That’s a shame. We’re missing out on 80% of the available information about the world. I suspect it’s responsible for lots of our uncertainty about the sort of creatures we are, our personal crises, and the frankly psychopathic way in which most of us treat the natural world. If we only perceive 20% of something, we’re unlikely to be able to relate appropriately to it.

In fact, it’s rather worse than this. Vision – the sense by which we’re tyrannised – is intimately related to cognition. Listen to how we speak. “Seeing is believing,” we tell ourselves. If we understand someone, we’ll say, “I see”. This is a consequence of our evolutionary history. We grew up as a species on the plains of East Africa.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.