From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Inside of a Dog, this “elegant and entertaining” (The Boston Globe) explanation of how humans perceive their environments “does more than open our eyes...opens our hearts and minds, too, gently awakening us to a world—in fact, many worlds—we’ve been missing” (USA TODAY).
Alexandra Horowitz shows us how to see the spectacle of the ordinary—to practice, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put it, “the observation of trifles.” Structured around a series of eleven walks the author takes, mostly in her Manhattan neighborhood, On Looking features 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. Horowitz 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.
Page by page, Horowitz shows how much more there is to see—if only we would really look. Trained as a cognitive scientist, she discovers a feast of fascinating detail, all explained with her generous humor and self-deprecating tone. So turn off the phone and other electronic devices and be in the real world—where strangers communicate by geometry as they walk toward one another, where sounds reveal shadows, where posture can display humility, and the underside of a leaf unveils a Lilliputian universe—where, indeed, there are worlds within worlds within worlds.
Horowitz (Inside of a Dog) turns neighborhood walks into an exploration of how people interpret the world. Each walk pairs her with a different companion, each experience offering expertise in a wildly different arena, from the fractured geology of Horowitz's native Manhattan to a city block's surprisingly abundant insect life or how blind people experience the world. Some walks playfully dip into academic specialties, as when Dr. Bennett Lorber displays his Sherlock Holmes like knack for diagnosing passersby, or when urban behaviorist Fred Kent shares his counterintuitive perspective as president of the Project for Public Spaces. Elsewhere, a sound engineer explains the "auditory restoration" phenomenon, in which the mind fills in unheard sounds, while a typographer examines fonts and lettering on signs and buildings, going so far as to distinguish between different forms of the letter "Q." Even when Horowitz leaves her home turf to venture to Philadelphia and to Springfield, Mass., or consults such dubious "experts" as her dog, Finnegan, and toddler son, her writing remains insightful. The quirks in how each individual processes the same picture provide readers with their own eyes refreshed, ready to take a good look around them.