Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our taken for granted neighbors

Why spring plants just as winter starts?  Why not?  Actually this is because the current (Dec. 23rd issue) of The New Yorker has a long article by Michael Pollan titled "The Intelligent Plant". He writes about the on-the-cutting-edge of ideas among botanists dealing with this complex, intelligent world. Plants surrounds us; we take them for granted and do not usually consider them intelligent. Plants from slime mold to the grandest Sequoia, the grasses in our lawns, the forests and all the other plants.  They grow so slowly and are such a omnipresent part of the world for most of us that we barely give them a second thought.

For some time fringe-y thinkers have been telling us about the  plant's electromagnetic auras, that they respond to our prayers as well as our watering, that they prefer Mozart to Shastakovitch (as do babies) and that they communicate with one another, albetit that communication is mostly underground.  Pollen writes both about how plants "think" with their roots, searching for water and nutrition, commnuicating with others about insect attacks, putting forth protective chemicals in their leaves to sicken the attackers -- acacia trees in Africa, if being badly eaten by antelope can produce a toxin deadly enough to actually kill the antelope that persist in eating their leaves despite an increasingly bitter taste. Many such examples are given.

Pollan also, of course, writes about academia where some scientists go so far as to speak of neurobiology of plants and others turn their backs in horror at any anthropomorphizing of plants. It's a long runing argument going back to, and a little before, Darwin. It's horror enough for some people to have to admit that animals share feelings and thoughts with humans, that fish and reptiles too have thoughts and feelings. Many will not accept that the complex chemical and electrical impulses of plants are at all human-like our could be called intelligence.

Years ago I read that the Sherpas believe that picking flowers is a horrible thing to do.  Many ancient animists believed the entire world is alive and interconnected.  The more "civilized" people became the more human-centric they became, believing, as the Bible says, that man is meant to 'have dominion" over the rest of the earth.  That idea has so flourished that we now have open pit mining, fracking, destruction of primal forests and jungles and pollution of most of our water sources, from oceans to ancient aquifers. This paragraph offers my thoughts about the how the article fits into the world I live in.  Pollen stuck to his subject and did not go into the interrelations of plants and the rest of the world.  Probably there are books that do that already and more to come.

4 comments:

Zippi Kit said...

To Native Americans, plants were known as "the rooted ones". They were very much a part of the spirit world, as were the winged ones,etc. I can't find this on the web but remember it from books that I read in researching years ago.

Great post. Happy New Year, June :-)

June Calender said...

Thanks, Zippi, that's makes so much sense. I think I'll try a little research too.

FOLKWAYS NOTEBOOK said...

June -- I too have read quite a few books and articles on the subject you address in your post. It is an open subject within botanists, biologists, and herbalists. When I compared all three of the disciplines they had many common thoughts. I would venture to say that the idea of connectivness within the plant world is fairly solid.

You mention the Sherpas and their disbelief in picking flowers. I wonder what is behind this thought.

I just want to mention one book that would be good to read along with Pollan's titled, The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

Enjoyed your post -- barbara

June Calender said...

Thank you, Barbara, I've made a note of the book, I think I'd like it.

I think the Sherpa idea is respect for all living things -- somewhat Buddhist but there has been a strong animist religion (Bon) in this Himalayas which is still practiced which also has deep respect for nature.