26 March 2011

Material I've jettisoned

I made a page to keep you updated on Canine – you can check it out using the tab at the top.  Meanwhile, here’s something I really wanted to put in that novel, but I took it out long ago because I cannot fathom anyone wanting to read it, ever.  Be thankful and bear with me:

“In wolf form, I live in a world that to a human would look very bizarre indeed.  Take color, for instance: the entire spectrum from red to green all blends into shades of yellow, and blue-green becomes white, and violet stands out vividly.  Take a moment to appreciate how much different your average rainbow would appear from a canine perspective.  Actually, most born werewolves are red-green colorblind in their human forms, so the world doesn’t look all that much different to them color-wise either way.  I’m one of the fantastically unlucky ones that gets his vision thrown wildly out of whack with every transformation.

“And damned if canines don’t have a whole host of other perceptive issues – shit visual acuity, fantastic night vision, renowned sense of smell, insane auditory range and sensitivity, frankly abysmal tactile sensation – that all add up to make me feel both blessed and cursed for being able to experience the world in two wildly different modalities.  Invariably there are times when one form is far advantageous to another, and you can’t imagine how phenomenally frustrating it is to find yourself in a situation in which the other form would be just perfect, if only there weren’t people around to witness your transformation…”

I am such a sucker for pedantic over-description. 

I wanted to go farther even than this.  I was so excited to be able to build into my story that werewolves are genetically red-green colorblind.  Because, see, after centuries of consistently being wiped almost off the face of the planet, they’ve got this founder effect thing going and red-green colorblindness is one consequence of their regular evolutionary bottlenecks.  And that’s why most werewolves wouldn’t be bothered visually by changing into their wolf form which is basically red-green colorblind.  And our protagonist is extremely unlucky because the gene is carried on the X chromosome (it really is, and side note, that’s why men are far more likely to be colorblind than women – because they’re only working with one X so if they’re given a colorblind X by their mother then they can’t compensate for it with a functional X like women can), meaning that his well-bred mother was miraculously, after all this time, still harboring a functional X.  It was pure genius.

I do still mention in my story the flicker fusion threshold of canines.  I don’t think I call it that, though.  A flicker fusion threshold is the frequency at which a brain starts to perceive a series of discrete images as a seamless continuum.  For humans, the flicker fusion threshold is variable but it’s as low as 15-20 Hz (images per second) in low light and as high as 60 Hz with increased brightness.  This means that so long as something flickers faster than that, we fuse it together in our heads and we see a seamless video.  Your TV and computer monitor and fluorescent lights take advantage of this effect and most refresh at 60-100 Hz.  Generally movies are recorded at 25-30 frames per second.

But dogs, their flicker fusion threshold is higher than ours is – 70-80 Hz – and it’s probable that they can see a TV refreshing.  Think about that.  Think about what your dog sees.  Let’s say it’s not the TV, say it’s your kitchen light.  The one light you have on in the house all night and it’s going off like a bloody annoying strobe light.  (Birds tend to have an even higher flicker fusion threshold than dogs do, by the way, so it’s even more likely they can perceive this effect.  And they’re trying to fly through that.)

And think about what your poor animal hears!  Our human range of hearing sucks.  And even then my TV annoys the crap out of me with that high-pitched buzz.  I guarantee you your dog can hear that.  And I’m sure your cat can, too. 

We tailor our entire world to our unimaginably pathetic senses.  We’re not bothered by planes and boats and sonic blasts.  And we know other animals are.  We can measure it.  And as a species we don’t give the slightest shit (excuse my French).  And that is so awfully wrong of us.

Can I soapbox on behalf of animals even more for a moment?  It’s kind of scary to think that every animal on this planet has a nervous system.  We use rats as models for pain because they react to what we call ‘painful’ experiences in the very same way we do.   As I already confessed I anthropomorphize everything, and I hate that as a collective species we can’t take a step back and try to perceive what we’re doing from the perspective of the things we’re doing them to. 

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m an animal-studying biologist and a meat-eater.  And I’m not saying of course I know my dog so well that I can tell exactly what she’s thinking and feeling all the time and it’s like she talks to me and her energy is aqua-green or whatever. 

But you can’t deny that when you step on an ant you extinguish a life.  One life.  That’s as much as you’ve got, too.


  1. Hi! Came over from your link on VS. I just wanted to say that, knowing absolutely nothing about your book, I'm sad that this got cut. (I understand, of course--I'm sure I'll be cutting stuff like this from my work, too; I'm just one of those people who loves excruciating detail. Especially when it comes to how things work.)

    Now I feel really guilty for those ants I slowly burned to death with a magnifying glass when I was little.

  2. Hi back! I'm glad there are other people out there who love excruciating detail. If there were legions of us I could maybe publish my book the way I want it. Alas, c'est la vie...