“An Immense World” is an exciting tour of non-human perception


A dolphin that echolocates a human in the water can perceive not only the human’s outer form but also what’s inside, including the skeleton and lungs. Tree frog embryos – settled inside their unhatched eggs – can sense the vibrations of an attacking predator and release an enzyme from their face that dissolves the envelopes that house them, allowing them to pop out and escape .

The fact that I’ve surprised myself so many times while reading “An Immense World,” Ed Yong’s new book on animal senses, is a testament to his exceptional gifts as a storyteller – although that may say so too something unfortunate about me. I marveled at these details because I found them bizarre; but it turns out that if I try to broaden my perspective a bit, they’re not that weird after all. One of Yong’s themes is that much of what we think of as “extrasensory” is “just sensory.” A term like “ultrasound” is “anthropocentric assignment”. The upper frequency limit for the average human ear may be a measly 20 kilohertz, but most mammals can hear well in the ultrasonic range.

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