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Overview: Brown Symposium XXX

The theme of Brown Symposium XXX is based on an influential paper by Jakob von Uexkull (1934) who argued that to truly understand animal behavior one must appreciate the animal's "umwelt" or self-world. This self-world is determined by the animal's sensory systems, the means by which sensory information is processed and perceived, and its action systems. To illustrate this approach, von Uexkull asks his readers to "blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows."

Von Uexkull shows that the world of a female tick is reduced to three sensory cues: the smell of butyric acid, the warmth of a mammal's skin, and a warm liquid, and three motor programs: dropping from a branch, burrowing, and drinking. Amazingly, the tick may sit dormant for as long as 18 years sensing nothing and doing nothing until molecules of butyric acid reach her sensory system. Clearly, the self-world of the tick is far different from our own.


The Brown Symposium at Southwestern University

The Brown Symposium is presented by Southwestern University on an annual basis. Open to the public without charge, the symposium is funded through an endowment established by The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, Texas, for professorships at the University.

The symposia are designed to enhance the effectiveness of the work for which the endowed professorships were established. Each symposium presents topics in one of the broad areas of study represented by the chairholder.

"Umwelt: Exploring the *Self-Worlds of Human and Non-Human Animals" was developed by Jesse Purdy, professor of psychology and holder of the John H. Duncan Chair.

Lecture events are held in the Alma Thomas Theater, located in the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center.

 

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