Almost 30 years ago, the trippy flower-power film The Secret Life of Plants claimed pot plants could read minds, cabbages were easily annoyed and a cactus could learn the Japanese alphabet. Then just last year, a parliamentary panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians in Switzerland, charged with devising new rules for genetic testing, published a treatise on preserving the "dignity of plants". Its edicts included that it was "morally impermissible" to decapitate a wildflower by the roadside without rational reason.Ha ha. I enjoyed reading this article, especially after listening to the entire book "The Botany of Desire" last night while I slept. Ah, but did I understand it?
But while such fanciful claims continue to take root at the margins, scientists in Australia and abroad are quietly discovering plants are more sophisticated and complex than the wildest imaginings. Plants can navigate a maze, trade food for sex, sniff out and hunt down prey, use cost-benefit analysis, learn from past experiences and recognise friend from foe.
I woke during the chapter on marijuana, having slept through the apple tree, the tulip, and the potato. Michael Pollan was talking about a passage in Aldous Huxley's "The Doors of Perception." Here's that passage:
[T]hat very morning... I looked down by chance, and went on passionately staring by choice, at my own crossed legs. Those folds in the trousers - what a labyrinth of endlessly significant complexity! And the texture of the gray flannel - how rich, how deeply, mysteriously sumptuous! And here they were again, in Botticelli's picture.And here's a little clip from "The Secret Life of Plants":
... Draperies, as I had now discovered, are much more than devices for the introduction of non-representational forms into naturalistic paintings and sculptures. What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescalin, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of brain and ego, into his consciousness. It is a knowledge of the intrinsic significance of every existent. For the artist as for the mescalin taker draperies are living hieroglyphs that stand in some peculiarly expressive way for the unfathomable mystery of pure being. More even than the chair, though less perhaps than those wholly supernatural flowers, the folds of my gray flannel trousers were charged with "is-ness." To what they owed this privileged status, I cannot say....
"This is how one ought to see," I kept saying as I looked down at my trousers....
What is this post about? Ha ha. I always hated questions like that on the reading portion of the SAT. Does the test still have questions like that? Here, let me construct one for you.