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Many Minds

May 6, 2020

Welcome to the sixth episode of Many Minds! Today we have another ‘mini minds’ for you. We’ll be talking about umwelt theory—the idea that every species has its own self-world, its own private and peculiar mode of sensing and being. The theory was first put forth in the 1900s by a theoretical biologist named Jakob von Uexküll. He developed the umwelt concept in a short treatise that blended scientific and literary in striking and whimsical way. Remarkably—despite its age—umwelt theory is not dead yet. To the contrary, as you’ll hear, it’s seems more influential than ever.

I’m not sure about you, but in my part of the world nature is coming alive right now. The mornings are thick with birdsong; everything is greener than it was a month ago. It’s a good time, in other words, to head outside—maybe to the nearest meadow, perhaps for a sun-dappled daydream, or a bit of frolic. And, while your out there, it’s a good time to think about the many umwelts that surround us.

Thanks for listening friends! I hope you enjoy this one.


A text version of this "mini" is readable here


Notes and links

2:04 – More info about Nagel’s famous paper.

2:40 – More info about Jakob von Uexküll.

3:05 – A link to the “little monograph” in which von Uexküll sets out his umwelt theory. A new English edition was released in 2010.

8:00 – Kindred spirits of umwelt theory include Maturana’s autopoeisis, J.J. Gibson’s ecological psychology, niche construction, and enactivism. See also this recent article, which discusses some of these links.

8:30 – A paper in which Donald Hoffman and colleagues lay out the “interface theory of perception.”


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 by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Hilda Loury. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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