22 Dec 2016

Uexküll (Foreword) “Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men”, “Foreword” summary


by Corry Shores


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[The following is summary. Bracketed commentary and boldface are my own, unless otherwise noted. Citations refer first to the 1934 German edition, secondly to the 1956 German edition, thirdly to the 1957 English edition, and fourthly to the 2010 English edition. When quoting, the source version will be indicated in citation by having its page numbers underlined. I apologize in advance for typos, as proofreading is incomplete.]


[Note for the Foreword and Introduction sections: The texts of the 1934 German edition, the 1956 German edition, and the 2010 English edition seem to correspond. The text of the 1957 English edition for these sections seems to have combined and rearranged parts from what is in both the foreword and introduction of the other texts. The page citation for the 1957 edition therefore may not always be sequential, and in some cases it may present additional material.]






Summary of


Jakob von Uexküll


A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds

[A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans]

[Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welt]







Brief summary:

We should not see animals simply as subjectless machines but rather as subjects who live in their own environment or Umwelt. We can think of their Umwelt as a bubble they live in, because they are sensitive to a certain limited range of qualities and things in their surroundings and not to others. But the mechanistic view of living creatures is prevalent. Were we to take it, we could regard there being two sorts of mechanical elements in an animal. To understand them we will think first of these sorts of machines as they exist as human artifacts. We have machines that produce effects in the world, like factories, trains, cars, and so on, and we can thus call them effect-tools (Werkzeuge). There are also tools that aid our perception, like telescopes, eye-glasses, microphones, radio devices, and so forth, and so we can call them perception-tools (Merkzeuge). In the animal organism, were we to see it as a machine, we would consider its motor organs as effect-tools and its perceptual organs as perception-tools. However, so long as we consider these tools being operated by the organism as though they were somehow being used by a machine-operator of sorts, then we are positing a kind of subjectivity in the creature. Then also by studying the nature of this animal subject’s particular machinery, we can better delineate its Umwelt. For, everything that the subject perceives is its perception world (Merkwelt) and everything it produces is its effect world (Wirkwelt); and these two worlds form one closed unit, the creature’s Umwelt, which can be discerned through a study of the ‘machinery’ that produces the constituent worlds. In fact, an animal’s Umwelt can be understood as its phenomenal world or its self-world. This book, then, will serve as a ‘travelogue’ through these normally invisible Umwelten of living creatures, which we will be able to explore by using our mind’s eye.








[This book will describe a walk through unknown and invisible worlds.]


This book will not introduce a new science but will rather describe a walk through unknown and invisible worlds (vii / 21 / 5b / 41). In fact, many zoologists and physiologists deny justification for the existence of these worlds (vii / 21 / 5d / 41).




[Certain convictions can prevent people from having access to these worlds.]


Many people already have access to these worlds and will not be surprised by this study. However, others may have certain convictions that prevent them from having access to these worlds (vii / 21 / 5d / 41).




[Seeing creatures as machines prevents access to their worlds.]


For example, those who maintain the conviction that all living things are simply machines will not have access to the animal’s own environments (vii / 21 / 5d / 41).



[Some human-made machines are simply tools for production (“effect-tools”), while others are perception-tools, like telescopes and microphones.]


Uexküll asks those who are not yet adherents of this machine view of life to consider some following notions regarding machines. He says many of our human-made machines benefit humans only. Some human-made machines are simply tools (Werkzeuge), which are “aids to producing effects” (Wirken) [and thus will also be called “effect-tools”]. Most large machines including factories are such tools, as are trains, cars, and planes. However, there are also machines which aid our perception, called perception-tools (Merkzeuge), and they include telescopes, eye-glasses, microphones, radio devices, and so forth (vii / 21 / 5-6 / 41).




[An animal’s body can be seen as being made of effect-tools and perception-tools, but this ignores the animal subject using those tools.]


Those who see the world of living creatures in terms of machinery would regard an animal as being nothing more than a combination of effect-tools and perception-tools “which are bound up in a whole by a control device which, though it remains a machine, is nonetheless suitable for exercising the vital functions of the animal” (vii-viii / 21 / 6ab / 41-42). But when one takes this view, they forget that the animal is a subject who is using all these tools that are supposedly a part of the machinery of their body (viii / 21 / 6b / 42).



[We can also see humans as such machines.]


Uexküll considers such a “combined effect-perception tool” to be an “impossible construction” [perhaps because it leaves out the subject, who is essential to the living being] (viii / 21 / ?6b? / 42). We can even see human beings mechanistically. For example, behaviorists regard our sensibility and our will as mere appearances (viii / 21 / 6b / 42).




[Yet so long as we think that an animal’s sensory organs (perception-tools) serve perception and the motor organs (effect-tools) serve the production of effects, then we are regarding the animal as having a “machine operator” built into the organs and thus as having subjectivity.]


[I am not sure I grasp the reasoning in the next part, but he might be saying that if we take the view that living beings are machines but that the tools of the machinery do not serve some purpose, then we can consistently see them as machines. But] if we think that the perception organs serve the function of perception for the creature and that its motor organs serve the production of effects, then we are not seeing the animal as a simple machine but as well we regard it as having a “machine operator who is built into the organs just as we are into our body” (viii / 21 / 6b / 42). Upon doing this, however, we will thereby be regarding animals not just as objects but also as subjects (viii / 21 / 6b / 42).




[On the basis of recognizing this subjectivity in the creature we then gain access to its perception world and effect world, which together constitute the creature’s environment or Umwelt.]


So we have found this subjectivity within the workings of the living creature. By recognizing the subjectivity behind its perceptions, we have gained access to the world it perceives, and by recognizing the subjectivity behind its motor/productive mechanisms, we have gained access to the effects it produces in the world. We can then regard these two worlds together as being the creature’s environment.

But then, one has discovered the gateway to the environments, for everything that the subject perceives  belongs to its perception world [Merkwelt], and everything it produces, to its effect world [Wirkwelt].  These two worlds, of perception and production of effects, form one closed unit, the environment [Umwelt].

(viii / 22 / 6b / 42, the Umwelt addition is mine, and is given as such in the 1957 edition).




[Given the richness of these environments, it can be rewarding simply to stroll through them, although we will need to see them with our mind’s and not our body’s eyes.]


The creature’s environments or Umwelten can be as diverse as the creatures are diverse. They are each very rich, and so it can be rewarding simply to stroll through them. However, they are revealed only to our mind’s eye and not to our body’s eyes (viii / 22 / 6c / 42d).




[A creature’s Umwelt is like a bubble, because this world is limited to sorts of things it is perceptively sensitive to and to the objects that are important for its existence, and these things will vary from creature to creature. These bubbles are the phenomenal worlds of the creatures.]


We can think of the Umwelten as being like bubbles that surround the creatures. Everything accessible to the animal subject is thought to be included in that bubble. Were we to enter into another creature’s bubble, our surroundings would reconfigure in accordance to the reach of accessibility of that creature’s world/bubble. Certain qualities of the surroundings will appear in that bubble, while others will not [as each creature perceives the world differently and orients itself toward certain components and is unconcerned with others.]


We begin such a stroll on a sunny day before a flowering meadow in which insects buzz and butterflies flutter, and we make a bubble around each of the animals living in the meadow. The bubble represents each animal’s environment and contains all the features accessible to the subject. As soon as we enter into one such bubble, the previous surroundings of the subject are completely reconfigured. Many qualities of the colorful meadow vanish completely, others lose their coherence with one another, and new connections are created. A new world arises in each bubble.

(viii / 22 / 5c / 43a)


[The 1957 English edition has these passages at the beginning of its Introduction. It includes further material about phenomenal or self-worlds, at the end of the passage. As I cannot find them in the other editions, let us look at them here (underlined below).]

The best time to set out on such an adventure is on a sunny day. The place, a flower-strewn meadow, humming with insects, fluttering with butterflies. Here we may glimpse the worlds of the lowly dwellers of the meadow. To do so, we must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of these bubbles, the familiar meadow is transformed. Many of its colorful features disappear, others no longer belong together but appear in new relationships. A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal.

(viii-ix / 22 / 5c / 43a)

[[Here we can consider the role of phenomenal givenness in the constitution of the animal’s Umwelt. We might therefore perhaps think of the study of Umwelten as being something like an animal phenomenology.]]




[The reader is invited to take this illustrated stroll through Umwelten.]


The reader is invited to take this stroll through Umwelten. Uexküll wrote the text and Kriszat made the illustrations (ix / 22 / ?? / 43).



§§12, 13, 14

[Others made contributions to this work, too.]


Uexküll hopes this travelogue will help convince people of the existence of these environments and open up research into them. The Institute for Environmental Research in Hamburg is credited, and as well K. Lorenz, Eggers, Franz Huth, and Th. von Uexküll also made contributions (ix / 22 / ?? / 43).









Uexküll, Jakob von. 1934. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Berlin: Springer.


Uexküll, Jakob von. 1956. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. In Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Bedeutungslehre, pp.19–101. Hamburg: Rowohlt.


Uexküll, Jakob von. 1957. A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds. In Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, pp. 5–80. Edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities.


Uexküll, Jakob von. 2010. A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans. In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with A Theory of Meaning, pp.41–135. Translated by Joseph D. O’Neil. London/Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.



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