Bark­ing up the wrong tree

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Let me con­fess with that sear­ing hon­esty for which I’m known from one end of my room to the other, that I don’t give a fig or any other fruit what my dog is think­ing. He has three ba­sic thoughts, as far as I’m con­cerned: “I’m hun­gry, feed me,” is one. Then, “I am sleepy, leave me alone”. And fi­nally there’s one I can’t men­tion with­out up­set­ting you, gen­tle reader, in this fam­ily mag­a­zine.

So why do I need a Scan­di­na­vian re­search lab to make some head­phones that will trans­late the pet’s thoughts into hu­man lan­guage? And how does it help me if that lan­guage is Swedish? I can un­der­stand my pet rather bet­ter than I can un­der­stand Swedish. The an­swer, they say, lies in trans­la­tion. But what if some­thing gets lost in the process? I mean, I can see my pet is hun­gry, but my head­phones trans­late that dog thought into some­thing like, “I want to watch a movie star­ring MarkWahlberg”, and man’s best friend sud­denly turns into some­thing at the other end of the scale.

Dogs don’t use gad­gets made by Scan­di­na­vian re­search labs to un­der­stand what I’m think­ing. As far as they’re con­cerned, I too have only three thoughts: “Here’s food, don’t waste it”; “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you”; and, “The gate is open you knuck­le­head, go for your party but re­turn be­fore break­fast”.

How will dogs re­act if they re­alise that oc­ca­sion­ally we won­der about quan­tum me­chan­ics, quote poetry by House­man or plan to ac­ci­den­tally ruin our busi­ness ri­vals? Will they ever look at us with the same awe and re­spect? Or will they try to some­how get across to us the mes­sage – through the Scan­di­na­vian re­search lab – that all physics is bunk, House­man was highly over­rated and hon­esty is the best pol­icy?

And what if we re­alise when dip­ping into dog thoughts that they are more in­tel­li­gent than we are, that they have al­ready an­swered the philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions we have been grap­pling with for cen­turies and that they think we are their pets and not as it ap­pears in our lit­er­a­ture?

Then there are dogs that watch too much tele­vi­sion. Per­haps, in­spired by all the vi­o­lence on the screen, they might de­cide to send us a sim­ple mes­sage – through the Scan­di­na­vian re­search lab’s gizmo – some­thing like, “Drop a box of un­marked bones near the lamp post and no harm will come to you…”

On the whole, I would sug­gest, leave dogs alone. Also, cats, pi­geons, field mice, tsetse flies and hip­popotami. Af­ter all, who wants to hear a duck-billed platy­pus think? It is a pri­vacy is­sue. Ours, not theirs.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is.

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