"The Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, electric and magnetic fields. But every animal is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world.This book welcomes us into a previously unfathomable dimension-the world as it is truly perceived by other animals. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires (and fireworks), songbirds that can see the Earth's magnetic fields, and brainless jellyfish that nonetheless have complex eyes. We discover that a crocodile's scaly face is as sensitive as a lover's fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, and that even fingernail-sized spiders can make out the craters of the moon. We meet people with unusual senses, from women who can make out extra colors to blind individuals who can navigate using reflected echoes like bats. Yong tells the stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, and also looks ahead at the many mysteries which lie unsolved"--
We get to meet so many interesting creatures in this book, and Yong helps
Yong’s work on the Atlantic (and Twitter) is very good BUT he has a tendency toward finger-wagging. But in this book he keeps it firmly in check until the last short chapter, and even then he keeps it pretty reasonable. Bravo!
Each chapter introduces the reader to scientists who have made it their life’s work to research a specific sense. Yong’s science writing is accessible and easy to understand, although it does take considerable attention and reading stamina to get through the entire book. In the final chapters, Yong makes a sobering call to action by explaining how humans, through their domination and ignorance, have caused harm to certain species (and sometimes their extinction) by limiting their ability to use the senses that are so important to their survival. This issue is only beginning to gain traction, through efforts like “lights out” campaigns during migratory bird season. But in many cases the damage is already done. Books such as this do a valuable service by increasing our knowledge, but will we change our ways?
An Immense World is a very readable exploration of how non-human animals perceive the world, with Yong trying very hard to connect the reader to perceptions that he's the first to admit are almost impossible for us to imagine. Starting with the 5 senses we ourselves use, and how they differ wildly, and sometime dramatically, from animal to animal (peacock shrimp have 16 different visual receptors - we have 4) and why that's not always the good or bad we imagine it to be, Yong than expands into the senses we can only imagine, like the use of electric and magnetic fields.
He's right, of course, that it's impossible to experience the world as another animal does, but occasionally Yong comes close to bringing the reader at least a hint of what that other perception might be like. He does this with a modicum of charts and as little rock-hard science as he can get away with, allowing any reader to expand their thinking without intimidating them. On the other hand, as someone who enjoys rock-hard science, I wasn't disappointed or left wanting either. I think he found a decent balance between both audiences, and I really appreciated the color photo inserts in my hardcover edition, especially for those animals discussed that I'd never heard of before (knifefish, for example, which generate their own electricity).
There's a lot to take in here, but I found it all interesting. Enough so that I might re-read this via audiobook in the new year, in hopes that a bit more of what I read will sink in.
If you like nature, animals, the outdoors, etc., this is a must read!
Which animal has the highest visual acuity?
Why are Zebras striped?
What colors can your pet dog see?
Why do raptors fly into wind turbines?
Can an octopus see its own skin color changes?
Why do hummingbirds make ultrasonic sounds?
Why can’t you tickle yourself?
And there are also some excellent words to learn, Umwelt, Zugunruhe (my favorite), exafference, and reafference. I highly recommend An Immense World and I’ve added his previous book I Contain Multitudes to my to read list.
It's amusing to consider how alien lifeforms are depicted in popular fiction. They are usually visual creatures exactly like ourselves. After reading this book, future authors will hopefully be able to expand their imagination a little bit further.
Adaptations of various animals - zebra stripes to protect from flies, the fork in snakes' tongue to route itself, echolocation of bats to fly in the dark, electrolocation of some eels and fish to detect hazards and food, the geometry of the face of an owl to direct the faintest of sounds to its ears - only adds to my amazement of what else is there to learn about our environment.
Quite a few examples in the book show that we need to understand Physics, Chemistry and Biology to deepen our understanding of ourselves and others.
Yong is an excellent writer: he sometimes oversimplifies complicated ideas to make them accessible to a general audience, but when he does, he lets you know that's what he's doing, and provides enough references that an interested reader could track down the more complex information. His writing is clear and engaging.
The title of this book is apt: my biggest takeaway was that human senses are only a tiny fraction of the myriad ways that nature has produced to sense the world, and that there is a ton of sensory information around us all the time that we are not capable of perceiving, but the animals around us are. Our sensory world is very small compared to what is available out there. A lot of the research in this book is very new: humans are only starting to realize how differently other creatures sense the world. We need to continue to expand our imaginations to understand the animals around us, and by extension, how we impact their world. They have a lot to teach us about the wonders of nature.
As a pop science book, the
However, this was not a fast read. I found the type face and the tiny footnotes scattered throughout to be very hard on the eyes.
Each species has the sensory perception it needs to survive and reproduce.
Yong offers up one jaw-dropping natural science fact after another. Mice sing, though our ears cannot hear it. Catfish are, in effect, "swimming tongues" because of their ability to taste with their entire bodies. Some insects can hear with virtually every part of their bodies.
Yong points out that earlier scientists have been dead wrong time and again about what animals can sense. Fish don't feel pain, for example. Well, yes they do. But if earlier scientists can be wrong, so can the scientists represented here. If any of them are wrong, however, chances are the real truth is even more amazing than the amazing information gathered here.