Totally OT: Book report on non-human senses

In the science fiction novel, “Dune,” Frank Herbert wrote, " What senses do we lack that we cannot see another world all around us?" This quote stuck with me for decades as I learned about the many tools that scientists use to detect many forms of matter and energy that are outside human sensory perceptions.

I have just finished a delightful new book, " An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us," by Ed Yong.

Mr. Yong introduces the German word, “Umwelt,” which means “environment” but he expands to mean the sensory perceptions that define the world of every living being. Yong points out that human senses often define the interests and thus the investigations of scientists. Nonhuman animals often have very different senses from humans so their Umwelt experience is different. It’s a mental stretch to imagine what they must feel like. As a scientist, the relevant question about the animal should proceed from its Umwelt, not ours.

The purpose of the book is to expand our knowledge of sensory perceptions in order to understand how other animals perceive the world. In some cases, humans have built infrastructure to cater to our own senses (e.g. lighting up the world with artificial lights) with deadly unintended impacts on other species.

I highly recommend this very well-written book for anyone who is interested in expanding their scope of knowledge of perceptions. The New York Times has just published a rave review. I got this book as a Kindle download from the library. It’s a best seller on Amazon.




Thank you for the recommendation. This looks fascinating.

My book club is starting its 18th year and I’ve been looking for books to recommend during our upcoming annual vote. I will read it regardless of whether or not it is chosen.


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Anybody that hunts is well aware of how much greater the sense of hearing, smell, and eyesight is in many animals. Deer are uncanny, seem almost supernatural sometimes. Human use of their own senses is somewhat pathetic in comparison. And Humans who don’t spend much time outside are much worse than even an average hunter in “feeling” their surroundings.