The world that I perceive is not the same as the one you perceive. That is the simplest explanation of ‘Umwelt’. A theory put forth by a pair of European semiotic specialists, Umwelt contends that since their senses are so individualised, different animals inhabiting the same environment perceive radically different universes. A bat that hangs upside down in a cave and experiences its surroundings entirely through sonar will have a radically different image of that cave than the snake that slithers across the ground reading only information gleaned through heat signatures. And neither creature will see the cave the same way that you or I will, particularly if we are carrying a high-powered torch (and, one assumes, protection from snake bites and bat feces). Even you and I would not perceive the cave identically if, for example, my spectacles are smashed when I first notice the snake and run screaming into a wall. For you, that cave will be a clearly defined environment, at least as far as the torchlight can reach. For me, it will become a smooshed blur of light and dark shades of brown. If you aren’t scared of snakes, it will be a cave full of fascinating wildlife that you want to study more closely. For me, it will be the stuff of nightmares and later I will probably need cuddling. Umwelt. These are the kinds of things I find when wasting time on Wikipedia. Five minutes later I read the entire entry on Miley Cyrus, so don’t give me too much credit.
Umwelt may be a complex semiotic theory, but in its simplest form it does help us understand the condition of our country. We all live in Pakistan, but the Pakistan that we all perceive is radically different for each person. For a political party worker in Karachi, his world is one of kill or be killed; every day is considered in the number of corpses he contributed to while trying to avoid ending up as a corpse himself. In the same city, not too far from where the party worker lives, is the socialite for whom Karachi is the city in which Mathira accidentally-on-purpose exposes her…torso’s upper ventral region (to put it clinically). For the socialite it is a city in which fabulous designer launch parties are attended between subscriptions to Hello! Magazine and negotiations for fashion week invites. Neither reality is invalid if taking the perceiver into account. Sure, one may be more worthy of mockery than the other, but that is because those committing the mockery live in a third reality, in which neither of the previous two subjects is experienced.
Similarly, President Asif Ali Zardari’s Umwelt shows him a country in which nothing is going wrong. The evidence his senses need to believe this is provided by the fact that he is, somehow, still president. Were there a problem, he would no longer be president, just like all the elected leaders before him who lost authority when things went badly. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Umwelt shows him a Pakistan in which women consider being beaten as an integral part of remaining true to tradition. If they didn’t like being hit so much, they would have been born as Western women. Whereas, for Pakistani women, their shared Umwelten is that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a sadistic monster who believes in the oppression and subjugation of women. To expand upon the same line of thought, we can consider the leaderships of the Pakistani and Indian armies. Their Umwelten gives them belief in a world in which a forbidding glacier is vital territory to be protected from enemy incursions. And for the 136 victims of the avalanche, their final Umwelt was one of tragic sacrifice. In the grief over their loss, however, we all share a singular perception devoid of relativistic individuality. To make sure it never happens again though, our Umwelt needs to change. Our worlds need to be the same.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.
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Actually, my point was anti-prejudice. What I meant was that Islam doesn't have monopoly over honesty or other positive traits. I am sure they are fairly evenly distributed throughout the global population irrespective of religion, gender etc.
@ yurikondatyuk. That is your prejudiced point, sir. It sure ends being reasonable for you.
Being honest and reasonable isn't necessarily a muslim trait. And that's my point.
It's always a treat to read this writer.He has developed a style of his own.
@Yuri Kondratyuk 3 do not need to think alike but all can be honest and reasonable alike and that is the message for people who think.
No, compadre not so fast ; and furthermore it's this tunamelt of vision that is stinking up this joint called Pakistan. Besides, the boring utopian shared sense of perception is at the root of the problem. See if you can dig up a concept that proposes inclusion even with a different sense of perception. The day you call your local extremist thug and his 12 inch long beard for a cup of Chai and you both admit that you have a different sense of perception, values, thinking yet a shared vision to accept the other for what they are is the day Pakstaan will be a better place to live or at least not to die for.
@N: "LOL..i somehow read “umwelt” as a desi way of saying “omelet”"
See. There is an unwelt experience in even understanding that word.
@Dee Cee: Very informative comment. I think you summarized very well the philosophical aspect of Solipsism.
@Author: Hey, the Wikipedia article tells me that the concept of Umwelt may not be applicable to a human person because we, apparently, live in Welt (World). The way you have interpreted Umwelt is very close to Solipsism. It is the inability to be sure of anything outside oneself (and, by extension, one's intellectual/emotional locus standi). In our philosophy class, a brilliant teacher explained that the role of reason is to bridge between these solipsistic world or umwelts if you like. Reason, being an external and supposedly objective process, allows us to parse and accept/reject information/knowledge from entities other than ourselves.Reason allows us to breach the walls of umwelts and understand other entities. The situation you described for Pakistan is surely less acute than the days we did not have language, did not understand each other's language, were divided in mutual hatred to listen to each other and were without enough patience and reason to listen to and understand each other. The hallmark of umwelts is closedness and dogma. Wherever you see dogma being celebrated at the cost of reason, you see the birth of a umwelt. And Zardari, I guess, is not inhabiting an umwelt; he is plain insensitive, like the majority of the political class in South Asia. :)
Your ability to highlight all these issues in just a few lines never ceases to amaze me. Hands down!
LOL..i somehow read "umwelt" as a desi way of saying "omelet"
Always a treat to read his articles.
Isn’t diversity to be embraced? Having the same view would be so boring!
@Random Passerby: Just discovered XKCD thanks to you!!
I can never think like Einstein or Gandhi. Even if all the three (including me) were pious muslims in the strictest sense.
Dear brother, I have no hope whatsoever of understanding that sentence.
So i guess we pray that whatever our own umwelt may be we can try to clean up whats wrong in our own capacity. Be the change you want to see in the world (M Gandhi)
@Omar @ Falcon " The message Of the Quran" dedicated to "people who think' could help reach the Umwelt. 'secular-liberals' vs 'beards' want to change the others instead of themselves. The message emphasizes to change oneself and act with responsibility.
Some responses: 1) You go from good to worse - i.e., from animals you go directly to semi-animals (such as political party workers, socialites, and political leaders). 2) You completely ignore the general public and their "umwelt" - hopefully not everyone is a political party worker. 2) Political party workers are not in this for idealism but for individual gains (that they expect from their parties - such as jobs, contracts, favors, etc.) 3) Perceiving a world is completely different to experiencing a world upclose - where it smells - rather wreaks of injustice, hypocricy; where it suffocates you of your present and future - where you really damn care of such names as zardari, fazl, sharif, or even imran (all in small caps). One just wants to be left in peace to freely pursue betterment for oneself and family.
Unfortunately, the majority of the affected can neither understand your essay nor my response!
Well written article. I don't think you need to go as far as Europe to find the concept of Umwelt, there is one much closer to home. Maya (illusion for want of a better word) according to Indian philosophy is roughly the same, in that each person sees/ perceives a projection of the environment (not the true reality) due to lack of capability and understanding; and the aim of every human being is to distinguish the truth from this incomplete experience. In fact your analogy reminded me of one given by Sankaracharya -of a rope in dim light, which is perceived as a snake, and arouses genuine fear in the individual - although the snake does not really exist in this context. Of course in Pakistan's case, it is likely to be the opposite, enough snakes are being ignored as harmless bits of rope.
@omar: I think the question is not what you or I or anyone else believes in. Question is how you expect to change things without confrontation with your ideological opponents? Once the mode of progress has been agreed upon (fight vs. compromise), you might still be able to change things. However, choosing a side and building a wall around it is not going to change things even in a millennium.
Very good article. Convergence of objectives and perspectives is necessary to form a remotely agreeable solution. The continuing spate between Republicans and Democrats in US points to this shift as well. A group of people can only tolerate certain level of ideological diversity in their ranks. Once limit is crossed, agreement on any solution becomes an unattainable challenge.
You forgot to mention Imran Khan's Umwelt that makes him believe that he can end Pakistan's corruption in 90 days. While I wish him luck and hope that he achieves the unthinkable task but as a realist I don't think this can be done in 90 months let alone 90 days. Also before people start pounding my comment, I would like to state that I like Imran Khan and think he's the leader that can turn Pakistan around.
Serious stuff written with humour and style. Poor Mr. Jinnah's Umwelt died along with him.
So, you follow XKCD too.
I certainly agree we need to have more dialogue and debate in our society but it's impossible to do so without some fascist thug attacking you for "insulting islam". furthermore, i can't have a debate with a man who mistreats women. Our world will never be the same without a shared sense of civic duty and an agreement on what our values should be. Unfortunately as a secular liberal, i refuse to compromise on what i want pakistan to be like and the conservatives do the same. I want a country with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the same human rights to be found in western countries and freedom from the government. the beards would rather have us be like North Korea. A country of slaves making a small elite wealthy while we all suffer. Sorry sami, but that umwelt is unattainable.
and to be frank sir, this article is slightly pretentious and doesn't really say anything we don't already know. how would you advise us on reaching this "umwelt"?
Wonderfull write sami bhai zindabad its like zameen khuda ki, badshah mughalo ka, hukam goray kaa, same thing still exist in pakistan of jinnah ji pooja jis some where peoples live in walled city and others dont have food to eat some spend thousands on one time food and some dont even able to buy a kg meat for dinner and govt is zerdari ki, orders comes army se, and real ruler is america ji wah jinnah ka pakistan.ML.