«What is a tree?» «That is a tough one actually.» Hmmm… In what sense are trees not so different from human beings?
We proudly call ourselves «homo sapiens». It turns us into «wise women and men» after all.
What really makes us stand out from all other living creatures on this planet is our extraordinary brain. That is at least the story we keep telling ourselves. We write books about our brain’s capacity to think and praise our outstanding ability to learn.
That is the traditional way of looking at intelligence. And yet, it is not the only one.
Watching the Patagonia movie Treeline, The Secret Life of Trees, made me look at trees differently. I now see what has always been there. Way longer than wise men and women have been crawling, jumping and walking on planet earth.
I kindly invite you to read (or listen to) Forest Ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard’s non-traditional views on intelligence:
«Intelligence is a word that we ascribe to humans and animals and we tend to associate with nervous systems and brains. Plants don’t have nervous systems and they don’t have brains like we do with neurons and axons. So in the traditional sense of it we restrict our thoughts of intelligence to the physical brain and the physical nervous system.
Well then, you know, plants don’t have that, trees don’t have that, but they do have intelligence in a broader sense in that they are perceptive and they receive information, they make decisions, they have memories, they can learn. These are all attributes that we ascribe to intelligence. They have all those capabilities, all those skills and they have actually been evolving those skills for millions of years, hundreds of millions of years, far longer than the humans or the animals, which came on much later in evolutionary history. So their ability to carry out these life skills are highly evolved and I would say highly intelligent.
The origin of that intelligence I think is much more complex and not that different than we find in human beings.»
Truly fascinating and humbling.
Ever more curious about how trees talk to each other? Listen to Dr. Simard’s TED talk.