Umwelt Hacking

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Let's define Umwelt Hacking. So what's the Umwelt? The Umwelt is that what you can perceive, right? So for example, you and I would be mesoscale phenomena. We're not at the size of galaxies, but we're not at the size of electrons either. We're somewhere in the middle. And, you know, we have a hearing range, we have a visible light range, we can say what it is that we're set up to perceive from the moment we're capable during development of understanding our world.

Then the tools came and they said, you know, Galileo pointed a telescope at the sky and was able to see moons of Jupiter. Okay, so he changed his Umwelt. He was able to focus light, and be able to see things that were too faint without an instrument and be able to deduce things about them. Now, that wasn't that helpful to see moons of Jupiter, but, you know, ultimately, we were able to land Cassini Huygens on—was it Saturn's moon, Titan? So it's pretty amazing what you're talking about.

I talked to my grandfather about this, that he was born in 1913, and he went from planes being so rare that he and his friends would run out to greet them in the fields where he lived when when they flew overhead, to seeing somebody land a probe and send back a picture from the surface of Titan. Well, that had to do with Umwelt Hacking.

Like if you look at Harold Edgerton's photographs of the first atomic explosions, he was able to slow time down using high speed photography, to actually see what was happening in the first atomic blasts.

So now you could speed up the slow, you could slow down the quick, right, with slow motion photography, you could see small things and make them large, make large things small. And there was just a lot to do with what you could now perceive that you would never have been able to perceive. You know, even like the germ model of disease. We have forgotten that that was the source of a lot of what happened in the 19th and 20th centuries, that it was just Umwelt Hacking. And we thought about it as like, "Well Farraday did this, and Einstein did that. And, you know, Watson and Crick over here, Rosalind Franklin." And in large measure, that was what people were able to do with increased resolution on the world.

It's that thing that came to an end. That's the big shift.

It's not that there's no more low hanging fruit. It's that this was a particular orchard, and it was the Umwelt Hacking Orchard. And just by hacking your Umwelt with instruments—you know, you want to see whether you have a tumor? If you didn't have a CAT scan, or, you know, you wanted to watch the brain work? Well, we didn't have functional MRI, you know, that's a good—that's probably a better example. Now that we have that, we can ask simple questions, and the tool will tell you things that you could never have known about any other way.

Well, a lot of what we're now finding with these tools has no industrial application, doesn't change your life. And I always point to the same one, which is that in 1968, we found quarks. Every proton and every neutron has three valence quarks in it, and it doesn't have any industrial applications whatsoever. So try to imagine that in every atom, you found additional structure, and you haven't been unable to do anything with it. You know, now we can hear the chirps of black holes colliding through the LIGO experiment.

What does it do for us? Nothing, yet. You know, we have we have genes that we understand, but we don't have gene therapies to go with.

We're in this very weird state where a lot of the applications from Umwelt Hacking were already accomplished. And what we're waiting for is to discover the next orchard and pluck its low hanging fruit. Well, that's different than saying, "We should just get back in there". We should be in a different mode, which is searching for orchards.

- Eric Weinstein on The Jolly Swagman Ep 100 ~01:38:12