An Immense World: Exploring the Wonders of Animal Senses and the Urgent Need for Empathy

Ed Yong’s book reveals the fascinating sensory abilities of animals and highlights the destructive impact of human activities on their environments.

In the vast tapestry of the natural world, animals possess a remarkable array of sensory abilities that allow them to perceive and navigate their environments in ways that are often beyond human comprehension. From the giant squid’s colossal eyes to the electric fields generated by certain species of fish, these sensory adaptations have shaped the evolution of countless creatures. In his award-winning book, “An Immense World,” science writer Ed Yong takes readers on a captivating journey into the realm of animal senses, shedding light on the intricacies of their perception and advocating for greater empathy towards other species.

Exploring Animal Senses:

Yong’s book delves into the concept of “umwelt,” the unique sensory world experienced by different creatures. Through interviews with sensory biologists, Yong uncovers the hidden wonders of animal perception. These scientists have revealed that animal senses are not only finely tuned to their environments but have also played a pivotal role in driving evolutionary changes.

One fascinating example is the evolution of primates’ ability to see red colors, which likely aided them in locating food sources. However, this adaptation later led to the development of patches of bare skin that flush red, serving as signals for communication among great apes. Similarly, the giant squid’s enormous eyes have evolved to detect their formidable predator, the sperm whale, as they navigate through the darkness of the ocean, relying on the flashes of bioluminescent jellyfish.

Empathy through Understanding:

Yong highlights the importance of empathy and understanding when it comes to appreciating the sensory worlds of other animals. He notes that many sensory biologists themselves have neuro-atypical experiences, such as face blindness or color blindness, which may enhance their ability to empathize with creatures that have different sensory perceptions. The core message of the book is to cultivate curiosity and empathy, valuing animals for their own sake and attempting to step into the shoes of creatures vastly different from ourselves.

The Power of Human Senses:

While exploring the extraordinary sensory abilities of animals, Yong also emphasizes the formidable senses possessed by humans. Our eyesight, although surpassed by certain insects and birds of prey, is still impressive. Our ability to detect sound sources is respectable, though owls and cats outperform us in this regard. Furthermore, humans have the capacity to augment their senses, as demonstrated by the blind individuals who navigate using echolocation, similar to bats and dolphins.

The Destructive Impact of Human Activities:

Yong’s book serves as a wake-up call to the detrimental effects of human actions on the sensory worlds of animals. The pervasive noise and light pollution resulting from human activities have taken a toll on animal populations. Studies have shown that LED lights, in particular, are harmful to bats and insects, leading to a significant decline in pollination. Additionally, the increase in low-frequency noise in oceans due to global shipping has disrupted the communication abilities of whales. Traffic noise has also been found to negatively impact bats and birds.

Seeking Solutions:

Yong argues that addressing the issue of sensory pollution requires significant societal change. However, he highlights that simple, practical measures can make a difference. For example, swapping LED lights from blue/white hues to red can reduce harm to bats and insects. Reducing ship speeds by a mere 12% in the Mediterranean has been shown to halve engine noise in the sea. By understanding how other animals perceive the world, we can also find ways to mitigate environmental damage. Playing sounds of healthy reefs underwater has been found to attract baby fish back to bleached coral reefs.


“An Immense World” is a thought-provoking exploration of the wonders of animal senses and the urgent need for empathy and action. Ed Yong’s book urges readers to consider the sensory experiences of other species and the impact of human activities on their environments. By broadening our understanding and taking steps to reduce sensory pollution, we can strive for a more harmonious coexistence with the diverse creatures that inhabit our planet.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *