An Immense World

When I first heard this book's title - An Immense World, I guessed that it would be a book about the grandeur of nature - something about marvelous US National Parks. Only half was correct; it was a book about nature, but not about the spectacular or wilderness. It was rather about (many tiny) creatures and how they perceive the world - about their Umwelten.

The Umwelten was defined by zoologist Jakob von Uexküll in 1909. It means the part of an animal's surroundings that it can sense and experience - its perception world. Frankly, the content of this book went beyond my expectation in every aspect. I knew animals use many senses, such as smell, heat, sound, ultrasound, electric/magnetic fields, and so on. But I never knew how exactly they perceive/exploit those senses.

Our Umwelt is still limited; it just doesn’t feel that way. To us, it feels all-encompassing. It is all that we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion, and one that every animal shares.

I never thought the snake's forked tongue was its way to smell the world. I knew bats and dolphins could echolocate, but I never imagined there were humans who could echolocate. I never thought the vision and color could be so dramatically different for every animal. My world was not a 'true' existence but one version based on my perception.

I feel that there are many cases in which I cannot understand someone else. I realized that it might be due to my limited Umwelten. Can I extend my understanding of others if I could have the ability to dip into others' Umwelten? It would be an interesting question that I couldn't easily have the answer to. But I thought that the difficulty was not because I might not be able to be a super-human, but because of my fear - the fear that it could corrupt my own world before I could understand others.

At least, now I could get that my world could be different from others; it could be an incomplete version of the whole in my limited perception.

It tells us that all is not as it seems and that everything we experience is but a filtered version of everything that we could experience.