Light Eaters

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In a recent article in the Journal Nature, Beronda J. Montgomery critiques Zoë Schlanger‘s book “The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth“. Montgomery explores Schlanger‘s idea that most plant scientists still reject the notions of “plant intelligence, sentience, consciousness, and agency”.

The Light Eaters is a deep immersion into the drama of green life and the complexity of this wild and awe-inspiring world that challenges our very understanding of agency, consciousness, and intelligence. In looking closely, we see that plants, rather than imitate human intelligence, have perhaps formed a parallel system. What is intelligent life if not a vine that grows leaves to blend into the shrub on which it climbs, a flower that shapes its bloom to fit exactly the beak of its pollinator, a pea seedling that can hear water flowing and make its way toward it? Zoë Schlanger takes us across the globe, digging into her own memories and into the soil with the scientists who have spent their waking days studying these amazing entities up close.

– From Book Cover (source: Amazon)

In her critique of the book, Montgomary observes that author sometimes falls into the trap of assuming that topics that have recently become trendy are ‘new’. But, it’s common for scientists to propose some phenomenon tens or even hundreds of years before researchers have the techniques and technologies needed to detect them. The ‘language of scent’ is a good example of this. Researchers are now uncovering molecular details about how plants produce, detect and respond to ‘volatile organic compounds’. But the idea that these compounds have key roles in pollination and other processes was first suggested in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by naturalists Christian Konrad Sprengel, Charles Darwin and others.

“I wish that Schlanger had acknowledged this more often, because I worry that scientific communities’ tendency to erroneously say that they are the first to report a phenomenon can make it hard for the general public to trust researchers. Nonetheless, The Light Eaters overflows with the author’s infectious enthusiasm. Plant lovers will find much of interest in the Schlanger’s inspiring tale of where her curious mind has led her. I, too, try to lead with enthusiasm when communicating plant science. Although we might not agree on everything, in Schlanger I’ve found a kindred spirit,” Montgomery concludes.

In the recent episode of The Hidden World Of Plant Intelligence on NPR, Schlanger discusses her interest towards the field of plant intelligence.