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How Do We Increase Our Open Water Umwelt

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Every ocean swimmer has his or her own window on reality.

In the open water swimming world where the normal human senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste are significantly limited compared to our land-based reality, our perceptions of what is reality in the open water are shaped by a number of factors.

Some athletes are excellent at feeling the pull and direction of currents and tides without actually “seeing” the movement of the water. Others are less skilled. Some athletes are excellent at directional propulsion through their exceptional navigational IQ level. Others are much less so. At another level, some swimmers enable cold water to negatively affect their mental outlook while others feel elated when the warm sun shines on their backs.

In the non-human world, other creatures experience their own reality due to the biology that they are born with. For example, some insects use heat or body odor to sense their surroundings (or umwelt, German for the surrounding world). Bats alternatively use air compression waves while dogs use their olfactory senses and deep sea marine life uses electrical fields to sense their umwelt.

But can swimmers somehow sharpen their senses to better understand their open water umwelt? Most certainly. But how do swimmers better understand the dynamics of the ocean beyond what they normally or initially sense?

Improvement comes with practice and it may also come through utilization of technology. Imagine swimming in Sandycove, Singapore, Santa Monica or Sydney for the first time. Next do it 10 more times over the next 2 weeks. By your tenth swim in a new area, your senses and understanding of the open water dynamics have improved, sometimes significantly.

But technology can also play a role in increasing one’s umwelt, so believes neuroscientist David Eagleman. Can technology expand the senses of humans?

Dr. Eagleman explains, “Our brains are locked in a vault of silence and darkness inside our skulls. It only sees electrochemical signals and this is all it has to work with. But our brains are really good at taking in these signals and extracting patterns and assigning meanings. Our brains do not care where or how the information comes into it. It just figures out what to do with it.”

Dr. Eagleman argues that the human awareness levels of their umwelt can be expanded through technology (see TED Talk below).

But can we also improve the perceptual experience of swimming along the natural movement of the ocean through technology? Eventually, can we “feel” and experience the ocean like our experiences on dryland?

We hope so and perhaps Dr. Eaglemen’s research and experimentation with software and hardware will help…

Photo above shows Simon Griffiths of H2Open Magazine entering the water as he heads around Sandycove Island in Ireland.

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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