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Many Minds

Jul 20, 2022

The world is bigger than you think. I don’t mean geographically, though maybe that too. I mean in terms of its textures and sounds and smells; I mean in terms of its hues and vibrations. There are depths and layers to the world that we don’t usually experience, that we might actually never be able to experience. Our senses just aren’t wired to take it all in. We’re simply not tuned to all the dimensions of reality’s rich splendor. But there is a way we can appreciate these hidden dimensions: with a flex of the imagination, we can step into the worlds of other creatures; we can try out different eyes and noses; we can voyage into different perceptual universes. Or at least we can try. 

My guest today is Ed Yong, author of the new book An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Arounds Us. Ed is a science writer for The Atlantic and the author of an exceptional earlier book on the microbiome called I Contain Multitudes. This new book tours the wide diversity of animal senses. It asks what it’s like to be a bat, sure, but also what it’s like to be a star-nosed mole, a manatee, or a mantis shrimp. Informed by some truly extraordinary science, the book considers how it might feel to electrolocate around the ocean, to hear through the threads of a web, or to be tugged by the earth's magnetic field.

There’s a lot of praise I could lavish on this book, but I’ll just say this: it really makes you feel more alive. Reading it makes everything, in fact, seem more alive. It makes the world seem richer, more vivid, somehow more technicolor and finely textured. It makes you realize that every organism, all the creatures we share this planet with, possesses a kind of vibrant genius all their own.

After this episode we will be on a short holiday, and then we’ll be gearing up for Season 4. If you have guests or topics you want us to cover, please send us a note. And, of course: if you’ve enjoyed the show so far, we would be most grateful if you would leave us a rating or a review. I know I say this all the time, and it’s probably a bit annoying: but it really, truly helps, and I would personally, very much appreciate it!

Alright friends, now to my conversation with Ed Yong. Enjoy!


A transcript of this episode is available here.


Notes and links

3:30 – One of our earlier audio essays—'Me, my umwelt, and I’—profiled von Uexküll and his concept of an Umwelt.

6:00 – The classic Nagel article ‘What is it like to be a bat?’; Mike Tomasello’s recent variant, ‘What is it like to be a chimpanzee?’, which we discussed just last episode.

10:00 – One of many articles by Ed about COVID-19. He was awarded a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the pandemic.

14:30 – A popular article on proprioception.

19:00 – A research article on the evolution of opsin proteins.

20:00 – A primer on echolocation.

25:00 – A brief article on heat-sensitive pits in snakes.

26:30 – An academic article about the “star” of the star-nosed mole. A video showing the star-nosed mole in action.

31:00 – A popular article about the eyes of starfish.

32:00 – A collection of research articles about the Ampullae of Lorenzini.

35:00 – A very recent article about spider webs as “outsourced” hearing.

38:00 – A research article about aspects of bird song that humans can’t hear.

40:00 – A study by Lucy Bates and colleagues about how elephants operate with a spatial model of where their kin are.

You can read more about Ed’s work at his website, catch up on his stories in The Atlantic, or follow him on Twitter.


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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