Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of “Voices”

I have just finished “Thus Spoke the Plant” by Dr. Monica Gagliano. In her pioneering book on bioacoustics (sound) Gagliano demonstrates for the first time that plants emit sounds that are heard by their neighbors who then respond to their environment in ways that are beneficial to the plants. Another way of saying this is to state that plants and trees have a voice.

Her research officially started in In Bristol England (2011) with maize. In the laboratory corn began speaking for the first time emitting loud and chirpy vegetal clicks. The instant I read these words in Gagliano’s book I remembered what Scientist Barbara Mc Clintock wrote about her ground breaking genetic work with Indian corn in the 1930’s. Mc Clintock discovered that chromosomes exchanged material during cell division (jumping genes). When the scientist revealed that the plants taught her – they spoke to her – she was ridiculed for it. But eventually this extraordinary woman won the Nobel Prize for Physiology in the 1980’s anyway!

More recently (2014), Gagliano demonstrated through rigorous experiments that plants communicate with neighboring plants using sound even in a highly controlled laboratory situation where plants are totally isolated from each other. Plants also possess a memory; they can remember what they learn and adapt their behavior accordingly.

In one fascinating experiment with pea plants Gagliano asks whether plants can use sound to find a water source, and discovered that indeed seedlings could locate water not just through the moisture level in the soil but by listening to the sound of water even when it was some distance away.

Naturally, Gagliano work is controversial for two reasons. First, our scientific establishment is so well rooted in the rigid mechanistic paradigm that it either refuses to read the evidence presented or simply dismisses the work as nonsense even when experiments can be replicated (this is what happened to Gagliano).This frightening bias prevents innovative scientists from risking their careers by asking the kinds of questions that might allow us to understand more about the non – human species with whom we share the planet during these ever darkening times.

The second problem involves the language that is used to describe plant processes. Mechanistic scientists bristle when words like voicing, learning, listening, or remembering are used to describe what they consider to be purely mechanistic plant processes. Just recently I let a physicist read another article I had written in which I referred to nature as “S/he”. His heated, and to me, knee jerk response: “there is no such thing – nature has no gender” is not only incorrect; for example: Juniper trees are either male or female, and many plants possess transgender elements, but this kind of thinking slams the door on using language that might imply that nature possesses human – like elements with a sickening thud.

My question to the scientific establishment at large is: Why are mechanistic scientists so afraid of attributing possible sentience to non – human species who have been around for 450 million years like plants have?

 


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