I have come to realize—even though I may wish otherwise—I will never grasp more than a sliver of reality.
In a recent post, I noted how our view of reality is fragmented and distorted because we only absorb a small fraction of the infinite sensory inputs we experience at any moment. As a result, everything we know—about ourselves, other people, and the events of our lives—is based on little more than bits and pieces of the world!
Upon further reflection, I now believe our greatest failure is not in misassembling the fragments we experience, it is what we cannot experience that most distorts our perception of what actually exists.
Even in comparison to other members of the species Homo sapiens, my view can be exceedingly narrow. The values, morals, and mores of the culture in which my ideas take root often prevent me from even trying to understand those from a culture with fundamentally different beliefs.
My jealousies, fears, anger, frustrations—even guilt—can blind me to what others might experience.
Metaphors are often the best lens through which to understand, and communicate, experiences. But when the metaphors through which I organize my world are foreign to others, what then?
And while I think of time in linear form—with the past to the left and future to the right—other cultures see time vertically, or even in three dimensions. The frames and structures I use to interpret my experience can cause me to miss your world entirely when you employ alternate lenses.
When I expand my investigation into the stunningly distinct sensory experiences of other species, I come to appreciate there is an immense reality completely invisible to me. Whales communicate over thousands of miles and map the ocean floor with their songs. Bats know the shape and texture of their world through echolocation. Octopus’s eight arms and hundreds of suckers taste, explore, and understand the world through multiple independent brains. Eagles have eyes that can observe a rodent half a mile away. Myriad species distinguish visual ranges beyond what we perceive, such as ultraviolet. Even dogs know a world unimaginable to us through scents interpreted by complex nasal structures.
So, if it’s true that the tapestry I weave, one I believe describes reality, is nothing more than the tiniest sliver of all that exists, what then?
Ethologists have adopted the German word umwelt to denote an organism’s unique sensory world. I need to be aware that, while my own umwelt is an amazing gift, it is no better, and often far more limited, than those of countless other species. They see, hear, taste, and feel things I will never know.
In moments when I believe I have an expansive, inclusive view of the Universe, I must find humility. I need to kneel in wonder and awe when in the presence of every another species knowing their unique, extraordinary understanding of the Universe is forever beyond my grasp.