(our abilities to sense our worlds combined with our possibilities for movement within them)
“… Jakob Von Uexküll coined the concept of “Umwelt,” which paradoxically supported achieving objectivity through the study of subjectivity. In his own words: “All that a subject perceives becomes his perceptual world [Merkwelt] and all that he does, his effector world [Wirkwelt]. Perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt” (von Uexküll, 1934/2010, p. 6). … This idea, as Uexküll himself recognized (von Uexküll, 1920/2014), draws from the Kantian idea of the impossibility to grasp substantive knowledge beyond our senses, distinguishing between noumemon and phenomenon (Kant, 1781/1998).”
(How to Apply the Concept of Umwelt in the Evolutionary Study of Cognition by Nereida Bueno-Guerra OPINION article, Front. Psychol., 17 October 2018. Sec. Comparative Psychology, Volume 9 – 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02001)
So, UMWELT is the unique “sensory world” of a specific organism — the stimuli to which an animal is responsive in a given motivational state. It is often presumed that the sensory receptors and neural apparatus for extracting meaning from sensations (resulting in perception) has, in any particular species, evolved to respond to those stimuli that are or were relevant to biological fitness. The term was coined by von Uexküll in the 1920s.
(AMONGST HUMANS we might expect considerable variability attributable to cultural accommodation and assimilation (see below) — BUT CONGENITAL differences between individuals (see below) can also be surprisingly variable)
Our umwelt constitutes the limits of our directly knowable universe. We are BIASED to the extent that we can input and interpret only that for which we have been prepared by evolution.
MERKWELT is the set of all environmental factors that are significant for a species, whether or not they are actually perceptible: “the set of things it might care about, if only it knew about them; the objective universe that impinges on existence •• We would say that the Merkwelt is a species’ context: the more complex the creature’s contextual sensitivity, the more complex its structure.”
THE UNIQUENESS of OUR INDIVIDUAL SENSORY WORLD
DEEP ETHOLOGY is affected by von Uexküll‘s insight and no longer makes the mistake of extrapolating from our sensory world to create the illusion that we understand the world of another organism, but at some level how certain can we be that our conspecifics, other humans, share our world?
Surely, infants, adolescents, lovers, new parents, and older “wisdom-keepers” seem to have different sensory experiences of the same phenomena in the world. These senses and the manner in which they are processed into percepts, integrated and represented in mind are the raw stuff of one’s unique self and its changes throughout life. Arguably, knowing one’s self –its nature and possibilities– is a highly adaptive biological attribute.
MORE about SELF
We must assume some shared experience if we are to have a shared language, but to what extent do others “see, smell, and touch the world in the same way that we do?” Richard Hollingham (2004) points out that not only are the genes that affect our senses “vastly abundant, they are highly variable.” Further, individual experiences can affect which genes come into play and to what extent.
NOW READ: “How Animals See Themselves”
EXPLORED MORE DEEPLY by Bueno-Guerra (2018): Prefaced by a good brief review of anthropomorphism in thinking about other species, He discusses how, AS ETHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES matured, “… researchers [were urged] to refer to species-specific characteristics as well as to each species’ own evolutionary pathway without necessarily referring to humans as an ideal model (see the seminal paper by von Uexküll et al., 1899; and also Bethe, 1940). Within this period, Jakob Von Uexküll coined the concept of “Umwelt,” which paradoxically supported achieving objectivity through the study of subjectivity. In his own words: “All that a subject perceives becomes his perceptual world [Merkwelt] and all that he does, his effector world [Wirkwelt]. Perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt” (von Uexküll, 1934/2010, p. 6).”
Nereida Bueno-Guerra (2018) How to Apply the Concept of Umwelt in the Evolutionary Study of Cognition. Opinion article in Front. Psychol., 17 October 2018; Sec. Comparative Psychology; Volume 9 – 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02001 ).