The Intelligence of the Plants

Wood Trees Plants Flowers Nature

I was lucky enough to grow up in a place so close to nature that I was able to frequent the wood on a daily basis.

It was therefore natural for me to follow in an increasingly passionate way the phenomenal discoveries made by scientists all over the world about the extraordinary world of plants.

In this regard, I was invited as a speaker to attend an important webinar on the topic of well-being, with a special focus on the intelligence of the plants.

In this post, I would like to share a few highlights with you.

The Cognitive Bias

For humans, unfortunately, intelligence – real intelligence – only refers to the human brain.

This happens because, as neuroscience has shown, our mind proceeds by what are called cognitive biases, i.e. errors of judgement: we match a word with a label, a meaning that we have stored in our mind.

So, in our case, when we think of the word “intelligence” we automatically link it to the brain: we match the word “intelligence” with the word “brain”; in fact, it is often said ‘he has a big brain’.

That of Leonardo Da Vinci for example, to name just one: and it would never occur to us to ruin one of his paintings; on the contrary, people from all over the world even travel thousands of kilometres to go to museums to admire these masterpieces that make us feel as if we were in front of something sacred.

When we think of a tree or a wood do we feel the same? Certainly not, because we tend to take them for granted. And yet we should!

The difference between Knowing and Awareness

We say “I have read that plants feel, that plants are also intelligent“, yet we think of it as a different, inferior intelligence.

This happens because it is often thought that “knowledge” and “awareness” are synonymous, whereas they are not at all.

Let’s take an example: we all know that banging our head on the wall hurts; but it is not the knowing that prevents us from banging our head on the wall, but the awareness of the painful consequence.

We can say that “knowing” just means having stored any information on a cognitive level.

Becoming aware, on the other hand, means having realised what that information means.

It is awareness, therefore, that enables us to guide our behaviour in a positive sense.

We can also say that knowledge comes to us from the outside, while awareness is an internal process that develops through imagining and feeling the consequences of what we are doing.

Without awareness one can be full of knowledge, and therefore “intelligent”, and yet at the same time remain irresponsible, if not unscrupulous; and as we all know, this is the attitude of our times.

We all know that our lives are totally dependent on the environment, on air to breathe, on food to eat: but knowledge alone is of no use to us, so much so that the environment in the sense of “air, water and earth” is now seriously compromised.

Over time, man has taken more and more liberties and has convinced himself that he can exploit and dilapidate all resources without suffering the consequences, which are, in fact, right in front of our eyes: humans, however, feel so intelligent that they consider themselves superior to everything.

We must necessarily learn to change our point of view.

Humans, Animals and Plants are Complementary to Each Other

Gustav Fechner, a great scientist, physicist, physician and psychologist, presented a paper in 1948 on which he had been working for years and which was a real revolution, positively influencing even the great Jung.

In his book, Fechner strongly challenges the materialistic hierarchy that places humans, animals and plants on a scale, from superior to inferior, where the latter have the sole right to be at the service of the former.

And he demonstrates, step by step, anticipating various scientific researches done long afterwards, that it is a presumptuous view lacking in logic, and that it is unfortunately at the root of the destruction of nature.

He stated: “My intention is not to subvert this hierarchy but to attest its complementarity“, and demonstrated how plants, animals and humans coordinate with each other despite their belonging to different species, but of equal dignity.

He also said: “We must learn to radically change our view of nature and plants“. In Fechner’s opinion, science had to take a decisive step forward, breaking down the serious prejudice that humans (or animals in general) are privileged and superior beings compared to plants, as the only possible owners of a soul. (Materialistic conception).

There is no “scale” or “hierarchy” between living beings, and plants certainly cannot be placed below humans and animals. For the American Indians, indigenous peoples and our ancestors, this was certainly not the case: on the contrary, they had a close relationship with nature, and they celebrated it, considering it indispensable and sacred.

We, too, should recover this relationship with nature and plants because it is indispensable to being well; instead, we now only have a close, and even harmful, relationship with technology.

We need to recover our Indispensable Relationship with Nature

We can start doing this by reminding ourselves, for example, that without trees we could not survive for more than 2 minutes!

It is essential to remember that it is thanks to trees and that miraculous process called chlorophyll photosynthesis that we can breathe oxygen, without which we would die within minutes; precisely with the advent of covid thousands of people have unfortunately had the dramatic experience that breathing is not a matter of course.

Still on the topic of intelligence, it is fair to say that all humans on the planet, even the greatest and all put together, have not even remotely learned to imitate this extraordinary and unique ability of plants.

The latter not only give us oxygen, but do so by converting carbon dioxide, which as we know is at the basis of the serious climate crisis and its dramatic consequences; they also provide us with food, paper and substances that are valuable for human health, used for pharmaceutical and natural purposes.

Human behaviour itself, by which we are all infected, is proof that so much “knowledge” is without awareness, and therefore sterile, not recognising in fact that we are totally dependent on the environment and plants.

Deforestation, in fact, is an ever increasing phenomenon: as if palm oil or soya were more important than the oxygen we need to breathe.

The forest is not a trivial sum of trees, but an ecosystem, a very complex set of living organisms in deep balance with the physical environment: and this balance is indispensable for us.

The Internet of Plants

Suzanne Simard, a leading British Columbia professor and world-renowned ecologist, has dedicated her life to studying forests. She tells us that when we walk through a forest, we only see the tip of the iceberg because in reality, beneath our feet lies an incredibly complex communication structure between all the plants on the planet.

We know that one of mankind’s most important and revolutionary discoveries is the internet, where billions of humans simultaneously exchange billions of even very complex data.

In 30 years of tireless work, this researcher has discovered something extraordinary: underground, there is a network of fungal filaments called mycelium that, like a sort of internet, connects all plants together, and not only those of the same species but also of different species.

This network allows them to communicate to help each other, exchanging carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, and sharing information that is essential for their health, and therefore also that of the forest.

The scientist claims that this underground ecological network is so extraordinary that the internet, in comparison, is just a poor copy of what plants have been doing much better for thousands of years.

The Mother Trees

The researcher Simard discovered in this extraordinary network the presence of impressive main fulcrums that she called Mother Trees. To find out how extraordinary they are, I recommend a book entitled “The Mother Tree” by Susanne Simard herself, which made everyone who read it fall in love with them and change their relationship with trees forever.

These mother trees differ from all others in their longevity, and they have incredible properties: first of all, they are indispensable because by connecting to thousands of other plants they transfer all sorts of resources, food and water, but above all information on how to defend themselves from diseases and dangers.

The most shocking aspect of this scheme is the perfect analogy with the human brain, where the chemical elements are identical to our neurotransmitters and their behaviour is one of pure wisdom, sensitivity and care.

This book, which is a masterpiece, is not about how we can save trees, but how trees could save us.

One of the most important mother trees is the Olive Tree, defined in the Bible as the first medicinal plant: the olive tree has crossed the entire history of mankind and has been celebrated by all the greatest people in every sphere, from philosophers to intellectuals, from artists to scientists all over the world.

In the next post on the Olive Tree we will discover the extraordinary peculiarities of this plant.

Thank you for your attention