U is for Umwelt

Umwelt is the idea that because their senses pick up on different things, different animals in the same ecosystem actually live in very different worlds. So in and around the same pond, different animals have their own small self centered worlds. The pond may represent safety to a turtle, while it may spell doom for a monkey; a frog is red no go for an firefly, but its green food for a snake; a kingfisher would not even notice an anthill, but for a grasshopper it is an important topographic area. It doesn’t have to be a pond of course, it can be your home; your cat, your dog and your goldfish; all see the world through their own eyes and even when they look at the same things, they see different ones. But we are forgetting another animal in that ecosystem, that animal is you.

Source: 9gag.com
Source: 9gag.com

Unlike most animals, you and me; the humans have a different kind of an umwelt. For starters, we have a much larger ecosystem (spanning continents). Secondly, we affect others ecosystem much more rapidly and deeply than any other animal. Most importantly though, we have a unique gift of choosing and constructing our own umwelt. Its not all weather and geography however, a human’s umwelt is more than that. Its his political standings, his religious belief, his music genre, right down to his preferred browser; a human’s choices is what creates an umwelt around him.

Think about it, if you had been brought up as a Muslim you would believe in Quran, and non-idol worship; if you are a Parsi (which by the way is the oldest surviving religion), you would believe fire to be your god; Hindus believe in an all prevailing god but worship its many forms in idols; and Christians believe in sermons passed down from the son of god himself. Your political influences would either tag you as a republican or a democrat, a socialist or a liberal, an optimist or a cynic. Your social standings would make you think either a house or a villa, a car or a Porsche, a day’s meal or the 7th course. Which other animal has so much control over his own world.

All of us, each one of us, spend half of our lives, first understanding the umwelt we live in (some more than others), and the other half in creating it. I created mine by having a place of my own, finding a girl I love, playing video games, surrounded by books, and eating awesome food; you might do it a lot more differently. Each one of us have a different umwelt, and while its might sound high and glorious, it is also a problem.

In no other species (at least none that I know of), does the umwelt differ. In the above mentioned pond, all the fishes see the same pond and think of it the same way. All of them see eye to eye (with minor accounting for tastes), and there is no one to tell them any different; to tell them that they are wrong. You already see the difference don’t you. People can communicate, they can share ideas, they can discuss their umwelt, and when they find that their umwelt differs drastically from you they can react.

People who have similar views of an umwelt band together. We convince ourselves that we are right, and feel comfortable. We educate and mold our young to believe in the same things we did, and we protect them from others. We call it Utopia. Anyone who thinks differently is either cast out or attacked upon. History would suggest that people have done much more than speak to protect their umwelt; wars, apartheid, revolutions are examples of an umwelt coming in direct conflict with another.

History would also suggest that people are more forgiving, accepting and tolerant now. But is it really true, we live in a world where even a wrong tweet can get us sued and a simple cartoon by a college professor spells Jail for him. Have we become more tolerant, or have we become even more sensitive. Umwelt is in our nature, it cannot and will not be curbed. It is in Linkin Park‘s “Numb” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby”.  It is in Friday Night Lights and Monday Blues. It is in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” and Jawahar Lal Nehru’s “India’s tryst with destiny”. It is in every one of us, but do we really have to enforce it on everyone else?


19 thoughts on “U is for Umwelt

    • Thanks Afshan…there is actually an xkcd post which introduced me to the word. Then 9gag happened to throw this post at me; and I was like why not.


    • I am glad we were able to add to that “awesome” and “grand” vocabulary of yours. Keep coming back…maybe we can add some more…


    • No…no you don’t….don’t encourage Akhil…I so want to try different themes…
      (Secretly I am glad that you like our site)…


  1. That’s very interesting! You would think that history would teach humans to be more tolerant, but it seems that the opposite is occurring!
    On a lighter note, that cartoon is too hilarious!


    • And you are the first one to talk about the post, rather than the word..and here I was thinking I should stop social commentary..thanks for saving the savior in me…
      (On a side note..why am I not able to comment on any of your posts…I don’t see the comment section anywhere)


  2. Quite interesting article. Simple yet making big effect. Thank God your mail in my spam box and wrote an article ASAP, wish I found the mail earlier and written the piece more well. I thought i never made it top 100. Better late than never 🙂


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