Since its leaves are fast becoming the favorite food for caterpillars and slugs, my cucumber plant must have failed Plant Intel 101.. No, it’s true. There’s a hypothesis among some scientist that plants—not my cucumber plant but others of its ilk— may indeed possess intelligence. An intelligence alien to ours, of course, but an intelligence nonetheless.
An Italian scientist, Stefano Mancuso, believes that plants possess a complex analysis system that enables them to gather, process and share information vital to their survival. “Plants are not just able to live, they are able to sense,” he insists. For instance, Mancuso suggests that plants can stop a foraging caterpillar dead in its tracks by secreting a chemical that attracts caterpillar-killing wasps. Further, he and other scientists believe that plants have a way of communicating to other plants that there is danger—in other words, a grapevine of sorts.
I’m not sure whether I ascribe to this way of thinking—I would have to view my salad in a very different light— but, truly it would be arrogance to imagine that ours is the only type of intelligence on Planet Earth. Of course there are differences. Ants, who build complex societies, are known to have a collective intelligence. The entire ant colony is one brain with each ant carrying a neuron that enables it to perform its task for the good of the whole.
Non-human intelligence exists under the sea, too. Of course we all know that dolphins are smart and have self awareness which is the cornerstone of intelligence. But in the deep and briny we can also find the octopus whose brain is proportionately larger than Man’s. This amazing cephalopod’s vision is advanced, and as it coils and slithers about in the deep, it can also use its tentacles to check for depth perception as well as to explore its environment. I think it’s interesting that octopi like society and, lacking their own kind, will hang out with fish… proving that these interesting creatures are smart enough to realize that differences matter not a whit.
It’s been long established that Man has superiority in the cerebral department. We can create, devise and dream magnificent things. We can accomplish the most complex feats of engineering and invention imaginable. And, yes, we can be altruistic and work for the good of all or reach deep into our hearts to be heroic or even saintly. But when I look at the news and see the mindless eyes of people who have been swept up in a mob, I have to wonder what happens to us when our vaunted reasoning powers vanish into a rush of hate-directed adrenaline. I suppose it all goes to prove that all the brainpower in the world is only useful when we actually think.
Perhaps in the far future we will find on other planets an intelligence completely different from any that is known today. Will it be of a collective nature where the whole planet is linked together as one mind? Will it be a sort of plant-like symbiosis? Or will we find an intellect so far superior to ours that we will stand in awe?
I’ll never know. But one of the most wonderful parts of being human is the ability to dream….
When the mind is still
And imagination rules,
Then dreams can take flight.