Do Trees Feel?

November 11, 2017

 

What's a book review on a totally non-professional subject doing on LinkedIn? I find my work gets better when I encounter inspiration from nature.

 

This week I’ve been devouring the NYT bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees, which reads like an ayahuasca trip. To wit:

 

“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.” 

 

Except that Peter Wohlleben’s book is anything but trippy; it’s backed by recent science on plant communication. The German conservationist writes from decades of experience studying old-growth forests in Europe, and argues that we’ve denied the consciousness of a vast array of plant life. I have been reading more about environmental issues lately, as forest fires raged across my beloved home state of California and as retreating to Mars becomes the hot topic of Silicon Valley (I attended a dinner last week on the topic…I still don’t understand why we’re spending billions to colonize an inhospitable planet instead of using that money to save forests and stop climate change here at home.) 

 

We know so very little about the complex lives of plants. Trees communicate using scent and electrical signals, but their pace is on a different timescale. What takes the human nervous system milliseconds to process can take trees an hour. Writes Wohlleben: "Beeches, spruce, and oaks all register pain as soon as some creature starts nibbling on them...the leaf tissue sends out electrical signals, just as human tissue does when it is hurt. The plant signal travels at the slow speed of a third of an inch per minute.”

 

Beyond what individual trees can do, forests, especially old-growth forests, like the Amazon rainforest, contain incredibly complex systems — large fungal webs that convey signals between trees, for example, and a vast number of microorganisms. Another mind-blowing factoid: “there are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet"

 

Last week, I wrote on Solidarity vs. Charity and asked you to reply or write in with your thoughts. Josh G. from Chicago shared this beautiful quote from Saint John Paul II:

 

“[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”

 

After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, I have found myself wondering: should solidarity apply to our relationship with the plant kingdom?

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