From a plant’s perspective

23 Mar

I haven’t made a current issues post in a while, and something from 2007 may not qualify as ‘current.’ But the idea that “looking at the world from other species’ points of view [can be] a cure for the disease of human self-importance,” seems as relevant as ever.

This is a TED talk about looking at the world from a plant’s perspective, which close friends know is a subject that is dear to me. The speaker, Michael Pollan, is the author of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire (which I hope to review at some point). I first saw this link posted by a friend/coworker of my husband‘s. The two of them cook for a fabulous Japanese restaurant here in Portland, so I’d imagine they approach this talk from a foodie angle, while I approach it from — spoiler alert! — a botanical perspective. I want to make some comments after the video:

First, I have been a firm believer for sometime that believing we are the most important things on the planet is an idea that can cause a lot of trouble. A quick look at the natural history and evolutionary progression of this world will tell you that biology doesn’t particularly care about any particular species in the grand scope of things. Nor do geology or astrophysics have the slightest bit of concern for the whole of biological life on Earth.  In other words, our world, the cosmos, and the forces that created them do not find us nearly as important as we do. Seems only natural.

However, looking at things in a greater ecological context can provide a lot of benefits to humans, too. I particularly like his points about permaculture and the incredible productive capacity of land near the end of the video. Mentioning how easily and cheaply something like this could be implemented in a place like Africa really gets my mental gears in motion. Some friends of mine lead service- and travel-oriented tours in Ghana, and this makes me think I may want to round up some donors and join them this fall!

Also, I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that plants are in many ways far more sophisticated than we are. The first time this occurred to me was when I was thinking about everything that plants have succeeded at doing. I mean, we can walk around to find food and water, and can kinetically manipulate and interact with our environment to survive and prosper. Plants manage to propagate, thrive and form the basis of many of the world’s food webs — all without moving from a fixed spot in the ground. The idea that corn might be manipulating us (in the Darwinian sense) in a scheme for world domination is both hilarious and pure genius. And why not? Many insects have societies rivaling ours in complexity (think bees) and plants have been pulling their strings for ages.

Once you start getting into learning about plant tropisms, tree hydraulics and other plant biochemical processes, well, forget the notion that humans are the most complex little snowflakes around. Learning the exact mechanism of seed germination via auxin was a seriously mind-blowing moment for me. Same with water movement in woody plants — I couldn’t shut up about that for weeks! I also truly think that plants are a lot more similar to humans than we’d like to believe, even physiologically.

I’d love to hear from others on these topics. Maybe I will follow my excitement and do some posts on germination and hydraulics sometime! Maybe I will interview Michael Pollan…

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