Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Thinking outside of four dimensions

    In Jakob Von Uexkull's paper entitled Instinctive Behavior he proposes the fascinating idea of organisms residing in their own "umwelt." While this may be the German word for environment, Von Uexkull gives the word entirely new meaning. In his paper, an "umwelt" is not simply an environment. Instead, it is every possible way an organism can sense the world. This applies to the simplest and most complex organisms in the universe.  Von Uexkull gives an in depth description of a female tick's "umwelt" at the beginning of his paper to get the reader acquainted with the idea of a simple "umwelt" with only three sensory modalities. This can be expanded indefinitely to organisms with many more sensory modalities. For instance, humans would have a much richer "umwelt" than that of the tick. While the tick only has the capability of smelling the single chemical composition of butyric acid, humans have approximately 400 olfactory receptors each of which can register multiple smell molecules. Without even leaving the realm of smell, the human has a considerably more stimulating "umwelt."
    I personally find Von Uexkull's ideas extraordinary and I think they can be used for so much more. Which is why I am about to throw caution to the wind and jump headfirst into the real world of cognitive science with some musings of my own based upon the ideas Von Uexkull put forth all those years ago. 
    Von Uexkull claims that each organism lives in its own world defined solely by its "umwelt" but that all these organisms clearly occupy the same physical world. In my eyes this can best be explained by using the idea of dimensions. This is straying away slightly from the idea of the four basic physical dimensions we experience in this world. Instead, I would like to propose every sensory modality as a perceptual dimension. For instance, trichromatic colour vision in humans can provide us with a dimension. However, those who are colour blind and see in only dichromatic colour vision would not share this dimension of existence just as a single point cannot share the same dimensionality as a line. Every organism exists within the same multidimensional universe, however, every organism experiences this universe differently dependent entirely upon which dimensions they are capable of perceiving. Honey bees perceive the dimension of ultraviolet light while snakes percieve the dimension of infrared information. The number of dimensions in this universe is limited only upon the powers of evolution. 
    An important point is that when organisms share occupancy of a single dimension or more, this allows them to better communicate. It would be very difficult to attempt any sort of communication with a tick as a human because they share very little of our dimensionality. However, conversing with another human is fairly simple because we share much the same dimensionality. We can hear the same basic range of sounds and see the same colours in the visual light spectrum. It is because of this shared dimensionality that humans created languages with which to communicate. If we did not share the same dimension of sensing sounds between approximately 20 to 20000hz then spoken language would have never developed. Deaf people, who do not share this common dimension of hearing, have greater difficulty communicating with the rest of their human comrades because they do not share the same views of the universe. It is the shared dimensions that we occupy that make humans such social creatures. Without the shared perception of this multidimensional universe there would be no hope of communication among organisms.
    The four physical dimensions of the universe we know are grand and all, but I say we add on a whole lot more in the form of perceptual dimensions. I'm sure the physicists won't mind....

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