An Immense World: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Senses

The Royal Society Trivedi science book prize winner delves into the fascinating realm of animal perception and advocates for greater empathy towards other species.

In a world where humans often take their own senses for granted, An Immense World by Ed Yong serves as a captivating reminder of the wonders and mysteries of animal senses. This groundbreaking book, which recently won the prestigious £25,000 Royal Society Trivedi science book prize, takes readers on a journey through the unique “umwelt” of various creatures, shedding light on their extraordinary sensory experiences. From the colossal eyes of the giant squid to the electric abilities of certain fish species, Yong’s work not only unveils the intricacies of animal perception but also urges us to develop a deeper understanding and empathy for the diverse sensory worlds that exist alongside our own.

Unraveling the Evolution of Animal Senses

Yong’s exploration begins with visits to the labs of sensory biologists worldwide, who have dedicated their lives to unraveling the secrets of animal senses. Their research has revealed that animal senses are not merely adaptations to their environments; in some cases, they have driven the course of evolution itself. For instance, primates’ ability to see red colors likely aided their search for food, but it also led to the development of red patches of skin as a means of communication. Similarly, the giant squid’s enormous eyes have evolved to detect their formidable predator, the sperm whale, as it collides with bioluminescent jellyfish in the depths of the ocean.

The Empathy of Sensory Biologists

Yong highlights the unique perspective of sensory biologists, many of whom possess neuro-atypical traits such as face blindness or color blindness. Their personal experiences of perceiving the world differently enable them to empathize with creatures that have similar sensory experiences. The core message of Yong’s book revolves around curiosity, empathy, and valuing animals for their own sake. By attempting to understand the sensory worlds of other species, we can foster a greater appreciation for their unique perspectives.

Humans’ Astonishing Senses

While Yong delves into the sensory experiences of various animals, he also reminds readers of the remarkable senses humans possess. Our eyesight, although impressive, is surpassed by certain insects and birds of prey. Similarly, our ability to detect sound sources is respectable but outperformed by owls and cats. However, Yong also reveals how humans can augment their senses. He introduces readers to a blind American who navigates using echolocation, a technique associated with bats and dolphins. Such examples demonstrate the untapped potential of our own senses.

The Destructive Impact of Human Actions

An Immense World also sheds light on the detrimental consequences of human actions on the sensory worlds of other animals. The ever-present noise and light pollution of our anthropogenic planet have taken a toll on animal populations. Studies have shown that LED lights, for example, are particularly harmful to bats and insects, leading to a decrease in pollination. Low-frequency noise from global shipping has risen dramatically since World War II, disrupting whales’ communication abilities. Traffic noise has also been found to negatively impact bats and birds.

Seeking Solutions for Sensory Pollution

Yong emphasizes the urgent need for societal solutions to combat the destructive effects of noise and light pollution. Simple adjustments, such as swapping LED lights to red hues, can significantly reduce harm to bats and insects. Slowing down ship speeds in the Mediterranean by just 12% has shown promising results in reducing engine noise in the sea. The author stresses that addressing sensory pollution is crucial, as it offers quick and effective solutions compared to the complex challenges of climate change.

The Power of Understanding Animal Senses

Yong highlights the potential of understanding how other animals perceive the world in addressing environmental issues. For instance, playing sounds of healthy reefs underwater can attract baby fish back to damaged coral reefs. While saving coral reefs ultimately requires tackling climate change, comprehending the sensory lives of other creatures provides valuable insights for preserving nature. However, Yong acknowledges that reducing noise and light pollution is not currently a political priority, emphasizing the importance of raising awareness and taking action.


An Immense World by Ed Yong takes readers on a captivating journey into the extraordinary sensory experiences of animals. Through his exploration of various creatures and their unique senses, Yong encourages readers to develop empathy and understanding for the diverse sensory worlds that coexist with our own. The book also serves as a wake-up call, highlighting the destructive impact of human actions on animal populations and advocating for practical solutions to address sensory pollution. Ultimately, Yong’s work invites us to contemplate the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of fostering a harmonious relationship with the natural world.






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