“Umwelt” is a fancy word for the environment our organism perceives. I ran into it recently in a book about “alternate intelligence.” Intelligence, of course, is the perception and use of patterns _ you cannot use patterns you cannot detect.

To the author, that means that there are alternate perceptions to those of humans involving how plants and other animals exist. The point is to respect the differences, which I do. Modern technological civilization brims with destructive and oblivious power.

On the other hand, by any standard, human umwelt is uniquely massive. That is because each person has and develops a different one _ any one of us can flip through several ways of understanding the world. My wife sees dust on the shelf ,I do not; I observe tree shapes, she admires houses. Query us closely and one would find our worlds barely congruent.

More than that, humans can inhabit an imaginary umwelt that is probably closed off to most other species. These are illusory environments of tribal power, beauty, future, or a million other things any given person can consider important at any given time.

It is a wonder that we communicate at all. Such communication, in spite of umwelt, may be our own most powerful unique ability.

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