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Book 347 - A Year of Magical Learning

Reflection Title: Making Sense of the World!


Book – An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the World Around Us by Ed Yong (Part 1 of 2)

Book Description:

The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every kind of animal, including humans, is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of our immense world. In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.


Reflection:

Wow, what a journey! I think this was the exact book I needed at the right time as I needed a reminder about how magical this world is and can be.


I’ve been so bogged down in books recently detailing the human experience that I had forgotten that we aren’t the center of the universe. It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book like An Immense World, too long if you ask me. I honestly can’t remember off the top of my head the last time I finished a book like this that magically transported me out of my lived experience and got me to open my eyes and learn about the beauty of the rest of the world that I blindly walk through each day? The first ones that comes to mind are the Hidden Life of Trees, Eager (about beavers), and the Inner Lives of Animals, but those were all read over a year ago at this point. In the meantime, I’ve been inundated with books about psychology, grief, memoirs, wars, business, happiness, comedy, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a blast with those as well, but none of them left me with that holy shit feeling that you get after finishing a book like An Immense World.


My head is swimming with thoughts of how truly magical and wonderous all the creatures are that call this world home. I’m now proud to call myself a fan of bats, spiders, whales, dolphins, crocodiles, ants, bees, all kinds of other insects, and even snakes. I’m also officially a superfan of Elephants, they are just freaking badass. Did you know that Elephants use infrasound, noise at a frequency that we can’t hear, to communicate up to hundreds of miles away from each other, how unreal is that? Don’t even get me started on bats and their incredible sonar abilities.


It is beyond humbling to know that humans are not that special. Don’t get me wrong, we are definitely special, but so is everything else in this magical world. If you ever want some inspiration to create a new superhero for a comic book, I’d highly encourage you to take a look at this book.


The one word that I will never forget when I think about this book for the rest of my life is something called umwelt!


What is umwelt you ask? Umwelt is a German word that was coined to describe the world as it is uniquely experienced by a particular organism.


Each organism’s umwelt is how they apply their unique sensory gifts to filter down the world around them in an effort to make sense of it all and navigate their way through life. What a cool concept. The most special thing about the idea of umwelt is that we’ll never know what it is truly like to be an elephant and experience the world as they do. It is impossible because we will never be able to sense the world as they sense it. We can guess, but we’ll never truly know. Their unique gifts of how they experience, communicate, and ultimately navigate this world are theirs and theirs alone. It is what makes them unique and special.


What I personally find most fascinating about the idea of umwelt is that for it to even work, animals must first be able to make sense of themselves and their unique ways of viewing the world before they can start to make sense of the world around them. Meaning, if you don’t know the unique gifts that you innately possess that help you to navigate this world, you will have no chance of every successfully making a go at this thing called life.


While this recognition of an animal’s unique gifts often happens naturally at birth for most creatures, I don’t think that is necessarily the case for humans. I think humans are unique because we don’t have 1 specific umwelton we are handed upon entry into this world, I think we have an infinite number of umwelton options. For every human being that has ever existed, we’ve been giving the ability to shape our own unique universe. This is the ultimate gift and the ultimate curse in a lot of ways. We’d love the certainty of being handed a specific umwelton at birth, but that would take all the fun out of life.


It appears the only way to unlock this custom-made umwelt is to first understand ourselves. Once you do that, the rest of life is pure magic.


Question: Have you figured out your inner umwelton yet?



 

Links:


What is The Year of Magical Learning? - An Introduction


YOML Podcast Discussion - Coming Soon


YOML Bookstore - An Immense World by Ed Yong

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