It’s easy to take the world around us for granted. We assume that what we see is an accurate representation of reality. But what if that isn’t exactly the case? What if, instead of one objective reality, there are an infinite number of subjective realities, each determined by individual perception? This is the theory of umwelt, and it has far-reaching implications for how we understand the world.
A Roosevelt Island Daily News Feature
The Origins of Umwelt Theory
Umwelt theory was first proposed by German biologist Jakob von Uexküll in 1909. In his book A Foray Into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, Uexküll argues that each organism exists in its own unique perceptual world, or umwelt. This umwelt is determined by the organism’s sensory receptors and is distinct from any objective reality that exists outside of the organism’s perceptual field.
In other words, our individual experiences determine what we perceive as reality. This means that there is no single, objective “real” world; instead, there are countless umwelt universes, each determined by the perceptions of the observer.
The doesn’t stop beyond complex humans and other animals. Even single-cell bacteria receive and act on sensory inputs creating individual umwelts. And as researchers uncover more about them, plants and fungi can’t be ruled out either.
The Implications of Umwelt Theory
Umwelt theory has profound implications for our understanding of reality. If there is no single real world, then what we experience is entirely subjective. This means that reality is a construct of our unique minds.
This also has implications for how we interact with others. If everyone experiences reality differently, then it becomes difficult (if not impossible) to truly understand another person’s perspective. We can never know what another person is experiencing; we can only know our own experience. This can make communication and collaboration challenging, to say the least.
But that may be relieved by the concept of a universal mind where everything is shared and interconnected. Research has, so far, barely scraped the surface.
Umwelt theory challenges everything we thought we knew about reality. It shows us that what we see is not what exists outside of our perceptual field. Instead, our individual experiences shape our perception of reality. This has far-reaching implications for how we interact with others and understand the world around us.