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Plant intelligence is contentious.
By this, I mean that not only does it tangle itself up in the problem of how we define what intelligence is, which itself has a long and nuanced history. But plant intelligence, as a proposition, challenges the very ontological foundations upon which most scientists–and many of us brought up in the dominant culture of the postmodern West–understand the natural world. That ontological foundation is anthropocentrism and a human-generated model of life as a hierarchy with humans at the top.
With regards to what is or isn’t intelligent, this anthropocentrism is expressed in placing human-cognitive capacity as the yardstick for what defines intelligence. Wherein the intelligence of other creatures is measured in reference to how close or how far it is from humans. In which case, plant intelligence is absurd. Plants aren’t humans, or even close to humans, and so they can’t be considered intelligent.
However, what if humans having decided that human cognition defines intelligence, and thus only humans (or human-like behaviours) can warrant the claim, is a fallacious basis of investigation informed by ideology, not fact or truth?
What if plant intelligence is real; that plants are intelligent?
What does that mean for our understanding of intelligence itself?
Furthermore, what if plant intelligence was such that it warrants regarding plants as a “someone”, not a something? What might that mean for our personal relationships with plants and plant medicines, including psychedelics?
What might plants being intelligent someones infer about the ideology of anthropocentrism, which places all non-human life beneath human superiority? What would that say about our engagement of the natural world as being merely a generator or resources for us to use (and profit off) however we see fit?
And now the issue of plant intelligence, and all that it infers, really becomes contentious; as it seems that, perhaps, plant intelligence isn’t so much an academic issue of definitions anymore, but an ethical issue which questions (and thus threatens) the very institutional foundations upon which our global civilization is presently operating.
So plant intelligence is a big topic, with a lot of consequence, and it is Adventures Through The Mind’s pleasure to welcome Dr. Monica Gagliano to the show to explore it with us.
Monica Gagliano is a Research Associate Professor in evolutionary ecology. A former fellow of the Australian Research Council, she is Research Associate Professor (adjunct) at the University of Western Australia and a Member of the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of Sydney. She is currently based at Southern Cross University where she directs the BI Lab–Biological Intelligence Lab as part of the Diverse Intelligences Initiative of the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Her work has extended the concept of cognition (including perception, learning processes, memory) in plants.
Her latest book is Thus Spoke the Plant (North Atlantic Books, 2018).
But she is also an editor of The Mind Of Plants: Narratives of Vegetal Intelligence, which was just released through Synergist Press in October of this year, 2021.
In this interview, Dr. Gagliano takes us on a deep dive into the results of her scientific research into plant intelligence. But she also shares the profound impact of her personal encounters with the living intelligence of the natural world, and what those encounters have revealed about herself, about life, and about the murderous consequences of modern scientific training.
We also explore definitions of intelligence and plant intelligence; the impact of anthropocentrism on our relationship to the natural world; listening to and learning from plants; and the role of altered states and psychedelics in our capacity to directly communicate with not only plants, but the intelligent life of nature itself.
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- What is intelligence?
- What is plant Intelligence?
- Why we assume plants aren’t intelligent
- Gagliano’s transformation away from “cold-hearted scientist”
- How anthropocentric bias in Academia delegitimizes plant intelligence research
- Plant bioacoustics and shamanic medicine songs
- Voice, plant voice, and how we silence them
- An example of listening to plants
- Appropriation and the silencing of plant intelligence
- The history of our enslavement to wheat
- What if plants listened to plants as a “someone” and not a “something”
- Slowing down and letting yourself be confused is a good thing
- The role of altered states in communicating with and learning from plants
- The psychedelic experience is happening all the time
- The role of plant dietas in healing
- Allowing our encounters with the natural world to become meaningful moments of learning and insight
- What medicine means
- A closing poem from The Spoke The Plant
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