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 bigger reality, whatever that might mean, is called the Umgebung ['surrounding, environment'].
...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, but is does not approximate the larger picture.
Here in mid August I'm rooting around in a pile of books that bear upon Umwelt and nudge the topic of Consciousness that we've often mentioned. Many of these are from the last year or so, a few go back to 2019 or so:
What can we possibly make of such a panoply? I've absorbed bits from each, read the whole thing for some, promised myself to come back and finish others... and surely I think differently about the material than I did a couple of years ago, when I began to consider the heretical notions that Consciousness (a) might be everywhere (not just in a person's mind), and (b) that human Consciousness is only one form, and not perhaps the Crown of Creation, as we've taught ourselves to believe.
And some articles:
- What a Mushroom Lives For: Matsutake and the Worlds They Make Michael J. Hathaway 2021 (and in the same family as The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing 2015)
- A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans: with A Theory of Meaning Jakob von Uxküll 1934/2010 (introduction by Dorion Sagan)
- An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us Ed Yong 2022
- Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest Suzanne Simard 2021
- In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind Eric R Kandel 2007
- Dreamed Up Reality: Diving into the Mind to Uncover the Astonishing Hidden Tale of Nature Bernardo Kastrup 2011
- Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World Nina Kraus 2021
- The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World Iain McGilchrist 2019
- Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness Time Parks 2019
- A Sense of Self: Memory, the Brain, and Who We Are Veronica O'Keane 2021
- Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures Merlin Sheldrake 2020
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence Michael Pollan 2018
- The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World Peter Wohlleben 2016
- Mind After Uexküll: A Foray Into the Worlds of Ecological Psychologists and Enactivists Tim Elmo Feiten 2020 (in Frontiers in Psychology)
- Umwelt Michael Cross
- Uexküll's Surroundings: : Umwelt Theory and Right-Wing Thought (pdf of 2022 book)
Sensorium: The totality of those parts of the brain that receive, process and interpret sensory stimuli. The sensorium is the supposed seat of sensation, the place to which impressions from the external world are conveyed and perceived.
The sensorium also refers to the entire sensory apparatus of the body.
The Extended Sensorium (David Howes)
Dr. Trippy's Sensorium
This material pushes me in the direction of considering what I might DO with extended range of senses, if I could have them: which I'd choose to augment, or not. Thus, would one want to enlarge olfaction, given how much stinky stuff is out there? (of course, 'stinky' is subjective—dogs adore what we smell as 'stinky'). Wouldn't we find ourselves overstimulated by amped up senses? That is, aren't we so used to the range we know that augmentation would be scary, and overloading? Think of psychedelic excesses, and of the disorientation that accompanies 'Virtual Reality'.
I've explored extending the visual range a bit via infrared photography: see my Infrared Flickr Album ...and I'll do more soon with color infrared, now that I have a camera converted to that modality. But really the Problem is to make better use of the senses we have. How might we set about that? Practise...
(We considered this general realm at the end of August 2020 [what would you wish to do with your senses? which to augment? how? See the Senses blog post... worth revisiting? ])
This is not irrelevant: Photography is Easy. Art is Hard. (Michael Gordon)
Is There VR for Senses Other Than Sight? (Daniel Kolitz)
...this seems possible with high resolution direct brain stimulation and much greater computational power, but this technology is at least decades away.
(and a commenter comments:)
If humanity doesnt destroy itself, a BIG if, imagine what VR will be like in a hundred years, a thousand years? It will simply be a brain interface or implanted chip which when activated fools all 5 senses, since after all, our body already is basically nothing more than a haptic suit. Place a person is a SD Tank activate the vr interface and you will truly be in a virtual reality, it's only a matter of time.
Listen to a spider web being constructed ("Spider's Canvas," an algorithm that turns spiderweb vibrations into a digital stringed instrument)
These Are the Best AR Apps You Can Use Outside
The human brain is a small electrical device of super-galactic complexity. It contains an estimated hundred billion neurons, with many more links between them than there are stars in the Milky Way. Each neuron works by passing an electrical charge along its length, causing neurotransmitters to leap to the next neuron, which ignites in turn, usually in concert with many thousands of others. Somehow, human intelligence emerges from this constant, thrilling choreography. How it happens remains an almost total mystery, but it has become clear that neural technologies will be able to synch with the brain only if they learn the steps of this dance.
Do Brain Implants Change Your Identity? (Christine Kenneally)
from Sensing Blue Light: From Bacteria to Birds by Mechas (Small Things Considered)
...the involvement of cryptochromes in bird navigation. Numerous species, some of them tiny songbirds, travel non-stop for thousands of miles using celestial cues and the Earth's magnetic fields to skillfully navigate the skies. How these animals complete these journeys is still not fully understood, but the current proposal involves cryptochromes in the birds' eyes (Figure 3). When activated by blue light an electron-transfer reaction occurs between the FAD co-factor and several tryptophan residues located nearby within the cryptochrome. This reaction generates radical pairs with quantum effects (yes, this involves quantum mechanics!) that can sense the Earth's weak magnetic fields. In a way, it appears that bird's eyes can "see" magnetic fields, giving a completely new meaning to the phrase "from a bird's eye view." This may sound bizarre and immensely complex, but it is currently the preferred explanation. And this exquisite biological function is tied to and derived from those ancestral microbes that used blue light to repair DNA damage. But in birds this astonishing adaptation provides them with the enviable capacity to find their way around the globe, free of compasses or GPS, using cues that we humans simply can't perceive.