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Umwelt

I thought I had posted before on the concept of umwelt but maybe it was one of those ideas that never quite made it from brain to fingers to keyboard to web. It is a German word and signifies how our perception shapes how we understand the environment around us. For example, dogs have a much more acute sense of smell than humans so, while we walk down the road and perhaps stop to smell the roses, a dog will perceive a complex scent map of the other dogs and other scent-marking creatures that have established a claim on the territory. In effect, they can see through time and that would be a life-changing ability for a human to experience the same.

I had in mind to make the post a theological reflection. We shouldn’t imagine that God is bound by the limited world view of our human senses; no wonder his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

However, what prompted me to post on the topic today was discovering a story about research on a HyperCam, a device that would overlay a representation of what human eyes can see with information drawn from spectrums that are invisible to us. That allows, for example, seeing people’s vein patterns under their skin or being able to tell if a piece of fruit is ripe without poking it. It isn’t quite a ticket to divinity but it would certainly extend our perception in useful ways. I suspect I’m not going to get one this Christmas but perhaps a version of the technology will become affordable in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, here is an old xkcd image on the subject: umwelt.

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