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In John Brockman’s book ‘This (Concept) Will Make You Smarter‘ the neuroscientist DAVID EAGLEMAN chose ‘The Umwelt’ writing :
”In 1909, the biologist Jakob von Uexküll introduced the concept of the umwelt. He wanted a word to express a simple (but often overlooked) observation: different animals in the same ecosystem pick up on different environmental signals. In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves. The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its umwelt.
The interesting part is that each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entire objective reality “out there.” Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense? We accept our umwelt and stop there.
To appreciate the amount that goes undetected in our lives, imagine you’re a bloodhound. Until a child learns in school that honeybees enjoy ultraviolet light and rattlesnakes sense infrared, it does not strike her that plenty of information is riding on channels to which we have no natural access; or that the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it.
Our unawareness of the limits of our umwelt can be seen with colour-blind people: until they learn that others can see hues they cannot, the thought of extra colours does not hit their radar screen. And the same goes for the congenitally blind: being sightless is not like experiencing “blackness” or “a dark hole” where vision should be. As a human doesn’t miss a bloodhound’s sense of smell, a blind person does not miss vision. They do not conceive of it. Electromagnetic radiation is simply not part of their umwelt.
The more science taps into these hidden channels, the more it becomes clear that our brains are tuned to detect a shockingly small fraction of the surrounding reality. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem; we sense only those aspects of reality that helped our ancestors survive and reproduce their genes.
I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of un-imagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day — and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen.”
In this talk I want to look at the many ways philosophers and scientists have raised the issue of (and sought to transcend) our sensory and cognitive limitations. Perhaps things are not as bad as they seem.
Or perhaps they are much, much worse. I will critically examine Donald Hoffman’s recent book ‘The Case Against Reality’.
Meeting starts at 7.30 on Zoom…..https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87965620406