Book Every Friday: The Tree Story

Part of this exercise is forcing myself to share my work. I’m getting more used to that. Still, though, I’m not 100% with the ending on this one so I’m going to blur it. And I kind of want it just to myself for now.



One Reply to “Book Every Friday: The Tree Story”

  1. Interesting line of thought. I’ve been reading about the lives of plants, and wondering how to make children aware of them, when adults know so little about the topic, and have turned the phrase “plant sentience” into a punchline and/or joke. Cutting and pasting here; need to read it all.

    “The Secret Life of Plants by Tristan Wang
    On a night in 1966 interrogation specialist Cleve Backster taught how to perform lie detection to policemen. On a whim, Backster attached electrodes of a galvanometer to a nearby dracaena plant. A galvanometer is an instrument that detects minute electric currents, often used as a part of the polygraph lie detector. When Backster began to water the plant, the galvanometer did not show the same growth in electrical conductivity as he would have expected. Instead, the needle of the galvanometer started to move downward, a response often only seen with surges of human emotion. Caught completely by surprise, Backster started formulating ideas about plant conscience. Because he knew that that some of the strongest emotional stimuli came from life-threatening situations, Backster thought about burning the actual leaf the electrodes were attached to. Before he could reach for a match, the tracing pattern on the graph swept upwards as if in response to the thought of threat. These 10 short minutes changed Backster’s life and gave him the idea of plant sentience—an idea so grand that it later was coined into the term “the Backster effect.” (1)

    It is no argument that humans use their senses to feel, think and act. Even the smallest baby cries when tripped and laughs when played with, but that’s not the whole story.

    What about organisms that lack the complex nervous system that we share? Would animal-rights activists protect the cockroach that was stepped on or even the callous sponge and coral? Take this a step further and let us wonder about the life of plants. Plant biologists have long spurned the crazy ideas of botanical feelings and consciences such as those explored by Backster, but does that mean that these topics are not worth studying?

    In the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, several brazen souls decided to explore a topic that is today considered as pseudoscience: plant sentience. Some went to great lengths to see if plants could detect, understand and pinpoint pain. While this research and subsequent book made a great splash in the media, it efficiently turned away scientists from the study of senses of plant biology as a sort of the unthinkable, taboo if you will. No one was able to reproduce Backster’s projects, an overarching necessity for correct science, and plant sentience became a joke in the field of plant biology.”

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