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Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence

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Are plants intelligent? Can they solve problems, communicate, and navigate their surroundings? Or are they passive, incapable of independent action or social behavior? Philosophers and scientists have pondered these questions since ancient Greece, most often concluding that plants are unthinking and inert: they are too silent, too sedentary -- just too different from us. Y Are plants intelligent? Can they solve problems, communicate, and navigate their surroundings? Or are they passive, incapable of independent action or social behavior? Philosophers and scientists have pondered these questions since ancient Greece, most often concluding that plants are unthinking and inert: they are too silent, too sedentary -- just too different from us. Yet discoveries over the past fifty years have challenged these ideas, shedding new light on the extraordinary capabilities and complex interior lives of plants. In Brilliant Green, Stefano Mancuso, a leading scientist and founder of the field of plant neurobiology, presents a new paradigm in our understanding of the vegetal world. Combining a historical perspective with the latest in plant science, Mancuso argues that, due to cultural prejudices and human arrogance, we continue to underestimate plants. In fact, they process information, sleep, remember, and signal to one another -- showing that, far from passive machines, plants are intelligent and aware. Through a survey of plant capabilities from sight and touch to communication, Mancuso challenges our notion of intelligence, presenting a vision of plant life that is more sophisticated than most imagine. Plants have much to teach us, from network building to innovations in robotics and man-made materials -- but only if we understand more about how they live. Part botany lesson, part manifesto, Brilliant Green is an engaging and passionate examination of the inner workings of the plant kingdom. Financial support for the translation of this book has been provided by SEPS: Segretariato Europeo Per Le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche.


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Are plants intelligent? Can they solve problems, communicate, and navigate their surroundings? Or are they passive, incapable of independent action or social behavior? Philosophers and scientists have pondered these questions since ancient Greece, most often concluding that plants are unthinking and inert: they are too silent, too sedentary -- just too different from us. Y Are plants intelligent? Can they solve problems, communicate, and navigate their surroundings? Or are they passive, incapable of independent action or social behavior? Philosophers and scientists have pondered these questions since ancient Greece, most often concluding that plants are unthinking and inert: they are too silent, too sedentary -- just too different from us. Yet discoveries over the past fifty years have challenged these ideas, shedding new light on the extraordinary capabilities and complex interior lives of plants. In Brilliant Green, Stefano Mancuso, a leading scientist and founder of the field of plant neurobiology, presents a new paradigm in our understanding of the vegetal world. Combining a historical perspective with the latest in plant science, Mancuso argues that, due to cultural prejudices and human arrogance, we continue to underestimate plants. In fact, they process information, sleep, remember, and signal to one another -- showing that, far from passive machines, plants are intelligent and aware. Through a survey of plant capabilities from sight and touch to communication, Mancuso challenges our notion of intelligence, presenting a vision of plant life that is more sophisticated than most imagine. Plants have much to teach us, from network building to innovations in robotics and man-made materials -- but only if we understand more about how they live. Part botany lesson, part manifesto, Brilliant Green is an engaging and passionate examination of the inner workings of the plant kingdom. Financial support for the translation of this book has been provided by SEPS: Segretariato Europeo Per Le Pubblicazioni Scientifiche.

30 review for Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    I really felt disappointed with this book because I was expecting much more science and content. The writing wasn't as mature and eloquent as I've come to expect with science and nonfiction books, even pop science. The majority of the book is spent talking about challenging our own belief systems and rethinking the way we view plants, but I felt like the supporting evidence was lacking. I already knew that plants use their pheromones to communicate and adjust based on one another's pheromones. A I really felt disappointed with this book because I was expecting much more science and content. The writing wasn't as mature and eloquent as I've come to expect with science and nonfiction books, even pop science. The majority of the book is spent talking about challenging our own belief systems and rethinking the way we view plants, but I felt like the supporting evidence was lacking. I already knew that plants use their pheromones to communicate and adjust based on one another's pheromones. Also the fact that roots are used in a similar fashion to sensory organs was something that's well known. I just wish there was more in depth science and more talk about plant functioning as well as reproduction. I really just felt like the author was trying to be revolutionary and change people's thinking with this radical idea that plants are living and may deserve rights the way animals do but there needs to be much more proof to back up an argument that seeks to question our own ideas of what constitutes intelligence and consciousness.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bradley

    Thanks to Netgalley! The book asks us, sometimes repeatedly, to step outside of our preconceived notions. Fair enough. I'm not a member of an old-boy scientific network, so I have no vested interests besides learning for learning's sake. So what does Mr. Mancuso ask us to swallow? Easily enough, it's just the idea that plants are intelligent. No biggie, actually. I was convinced pretty early in the book, especially when we throw out prejudices such as the need for a "brain" or "eyes" or any of the Thanks to Netgalley! The book asks us, sometimes repeatedly, to step outside of our preconceived notions. Fair enough. I'm not a member of an old-boy scientific network, so I have no vested interests besides learning for learning's sake. So what does Mr. Mancuso ask us to swallow? Easily enough, it's just the idea that plants are intelligent. No biggie, actually. I was convinced pretty early in the book, especially when we throw out prejudices such as the need for a "brain" or "eyes" or any of the traditional "sense organs" we animals possess. Think about it. Plants make decisions all the time, not just in hunting for water, discovering new pockets of phosphorous or other trace elements, competing with other plants, defending against and entering into agreements with bacteria, insects, and animals. Even the way they decide to propagate themselves show a remarkably diverse toolset, from communicating by delicious ripe fruit, chemically unique and heavily directed pheromones that entice very specific animals and insects, and mimicry. And when they choose to do any of it is based on a very complex decision plot. But they're plants, you say. Just dumb plants. (I'm paraphrasing the the author's imagined critique crowd.) I mow the lawn. It doesn't seem to complain. How smart can it be? Actually, pretty damn smart. The tips of even a small plant's roots can number 15 million discrete sensory apparatus, and larger plants, like corn, can have upwards of a hundred million. Think of the tips of the roots as the neurons. They make all the decisions. This is real. And real communication takes place across same species of plants over great distances just as real communication is possible and even likely across species. True non-human, non-animal intelligence right here on Earth? Sure. I'm sold. Look at how plants have learned to communicate with us. If we're so damn smart, then why have plants started preening themselves like courtly lovers trying to land a hot mate with humanity? Hell, they still think that ants are pretty hot shit. Whole colonies will violently defend trees. We are cultivating orchards, food crops, medicinal plants by the hundreds of scores, and in return, these plants THRIVE. They're alive. They think. If they give us more pretties, we take very good care of them. I would not be surprised if in the next 100 years, assuming we haven't killed off all the rest of the intelligent life on the planet, most of the plant life turns into one gigantic catering service to humanity. After all, as long as their root systems survive and they're given comfy environments, they're just fine with being eaten. They're not reliant on us, but they sure as hell know how to exploit us. :) Believe it or not, all of this is proven science. Just because some of us don't believe what is obvious, such as the fact that more than 95% of the world's biomass is plant matter and it'll go on being the dominant life form even if all the animals including us die, doesn't mean it isn't true. There's an interesting anecdote that paraphrases that we nonchalantly ignore the importance and intelligence and motive and sensory capabilities of plants JUST because they're slower than we can readily perceive. They're not less complex. In fact, they have all of our senses, plus a much wider capacity to sense. Theories have most plants linked up to at least 20 full-blown senses. Not just our five. Hell, I'd LOVE to be able to sense gravity. Oh, wait. I do: It's that way. Okay, so perhaps his definition of senses needs a bit more fleshing, whether its animal or plant flesh, but I am convinced on the intelligence. :) An interesting unproven hypothesis speculate that they work together as emergent properties rather more complicated than simply transmitting through the roots, either chemically, spatially, or even through the tiny clicking sounds that all roots make, whether or not it's the cracking of the cellular wall or it's a method of communication. Swarming intelligent emergence within a root system. That's so totally awesome. Discussions of AIs and Other Computing Models are also touched in this book. The only reason I knocked a star was in the total page-time spent exhorting us to just quit it with our animal prejudices, looking for intelligence that's just like us instead of what is apparent all around us. Systems Theory should have put a nail in that coffin of thought, but alas, the opposite is apparently still going strong. I wanted even more facts and even more wild theories, not more persuasive arguments. :) Stop sitting around like a vegetable, people!

  3. 5 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    Plant intelligence is fascinating! Even though we’ve been exposed to plants our entire lives, examining plant intelligence is like looking at something alien. While they may give us comfort or nourishment, to many of us, plants are simply there. They don’t do anything or solve problems or talk with us or to each other. But what if we’re missing something? In Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola explore views of plant inte Plant intelligence is fascinating! Even though we’ve been exposed to plants our entire lives, examining plant intelligence is like looking at something alien. While they may give us comfort or nourishment, to many of us, plants are simply there. They don’t do anything or solve problems or talk with us or to each other. But what if we’re missing something? In Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola explore views of plant intelligence from thinkers in ancient Greece and the Renaissance, imminent scholars such as Linnaeus and Darwin as well as evolutionary history and case studies. On a comparative basis, plants have more senses than animals (Mancuso and Viola claim at least 15 senses for plants) and have been on a different evolutionary track for millions of years longer than any animals. They engage in behaviors to defend themselves when they are threatened by predation. Should we discount plant intelligence because they don’t have anything resembling the brain of animals? This would be to ignore the amazing proliferation and successful adaptation of plants around the world. It would also ignore their survival strategies (which combine problem-solving and communication). Plant adaptation is nothing short of incredible! The release of chemicals attracting or warning insects or other plants is not accidental. Odors are produced, for instance, which attract insects necessary for pollination. Conversely, when specific plants are attacked by certain insects, they release chemicals making their leaves indigestible. This message goes out to plants up to hundreds of meters away which are not yet under attack. Both examples are certainly communication. When plants commit to these strategies, they expend energy which could have been used for other purposes. Some of the stories about plant intelligence and communication are fascinating. The problem, I guess, is that I’d heard much of the evidence before. You need to read to the end to see that the idea of collective intelligence which was quickly brought up but just as quickly dropped in an earlier chapter, is addressed more interestingly (as a type of swarm behavior like a flock of birds or as a sort of computer network). Also, I would have been okay with more speculation about how we might someday hope to decode some of the language of plants. I was really hoping for more there. Still, this is an interesting look at that 99%+ of life on earth which is often taken for granted! 3.75 stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I came into this book quite supportive of the author's fundamental premise: that plants have lives as complex and deserving of respect as humans. I was intrigued by The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World - which is excellent - and wanted a more scientific overview of the research Peter Wohlleben cites in that book. This was not it. Instead, this is a rant about how underestimated plants are, with constant silly sarcasm and petulance like: I came into this book quite supportive of the author's fundamental premise: that plants have lives as complex and deserving of respect as humans. I was intrigued by The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World - which is excellent - and wanted a more scientific overview of the research Peter Wohlleben cites in that book. This was not it. Instead, this is a rant about how underestimated plants are, with constant silly sarcasm and petulance like: "how could the stupidest and most passive beings on the planet have achieved this primacy?" or "The first advantage of having a modular organization, to give just one example, is that, for a plant, being eaten isn’t that big a deal! Could any animal say that?" I'd like to say this is interspersed with scientific facts, but it kinda isn't. I considered giving this book two stars because Mancuso doesn't actually distort or misrepresent studies : but that's because he simply doesn't cite them. And some cursory research challenged some of his assertions, such as that playlists assist running speed. However, most of the science in the book is basic and uncontroversial. Mancuso's intention in writing the book seems not to be revealing new science but rather to convince us that extreme anti-plant prejudice has meant we don't respect what is already known. I could have respected this approach if it wasn't for how ludicrously overblown it becomes. Among other things, Mancuso argues that Gregor Mandel's work was underestimated simply because he worked on plants, which was also the reason Barbara McClintock waited four decades for her Nobel Prize (sexism, apparently, has nothing on floraphobia). This was the first in a trio of books read on holiday dealing with non-human cognition, the others being Marlene Zuk's Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World and Gisela Kaplan's Bird Minds: Cognition and Behaviour of Australian Native Birds. While all three authors (and I struggle to mention them together here, given the other two wrote good science) struggle with defining intelligence, a term which implies not only a value judgement but also unhelpful linearity, Mancuso takes this to extremes: "If we define intelligence as the capacity to respond to problems, then it’s not possible to demarcate any kind of threshold above which intelligence appears ... Anyone who disagrees, and still maintains that certain animals are intelligent and others not, should be willing to tell us at exactly what point in evolution intelligence appears." By doing this, he undermines his entire argument - that plants show intelligence, by redefining it out of existence. This is a far dry from rejecting the term as unhelpful, and exploring the different elements of cognition we can identify in plant life. And it's a huge shame really. Because the more we learn about non-human living beings, the clearer it seems to be becoming that humans are not unique, but just one manifestation on a spectrum of adaption, learning, and responding to our environment. Mancuso is quite right, I still believe, in his assertion that we are blinded by the differences - particulqrly in timescale and organ specialisation - to the similarities between animals and plants. We all respond to stimuli, adapt to surrroundings, interact, express distress and comfort. Obviously, the internal world of a plant is going to radically different to our own, but that doesn't necessarily make it lesser. Mancuso is setting up a lab to study pkant cognition, and I really hope the science it produces is much better than this. We cvould use more understanding of the world ofvliving things, unblinded by an assumption that we are better at living than they.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    This is not as kooky a book as it appears. I really like one of the fundamental ways this is argued: we are intensely anthropocentric, and so we really define “intelligence” as “most like humans.” We might not say it in so many words, but that’s really the beans of it. That’s a pretty circular definition when applied to ourselves, isn’t it? Thinking about this reminds me of Ender’s Game, a bit. The buggers. Because people perceived them as unthinking and unintelligent and, most importantly, unfe This is not as kooky a book as it appears. I really like one of the fundamental ways this is argued: we are intensely anthropocentric, and so we really define “intelligence” as “most like humans.” We might not say it in so many words, but that’s really the beans of it. That’s a pretty circular definition when applied to ourselves, isn’t it? Thinking about this reminds me of Ender’s Game, a bit. The buggers. Because people perceived them as unthinking and unintelligent and, most importantly, unfeeling, they were to be exterminated— like the bugs they were thought to be. But in actuality, it was just that the hive queens were the only real decision-making minds, and the buggers existed in a very different kind of consciousness, and communicated in ways humans weren’t aware of, but they were no less “intelligent” — something only Ender was able to recognize. The author mentions a Star Trek (I think it was) episode in which an alien species who lives and moves on a much faster time frame than us (much as we live and move faster than plants, who take weeks to, say, move into sunlight, instead of seconds) comes to earth and thinks we’re no more sentient than rocks, simply because they don’t perceive us as even moving— we’re to them what plants are to us! Plants are not intelligent like us. No one is intelligent like us, because we made up the word intelligent and it only fairly applies to us, since we define it by ourselves. But every species, if they had words, would define intelligence as most like themselves. So judging any other species by ours is clumsy, egotistic, and pointless. That’s a major prejudice that we have to be aware of when dismissing plants as little more than rocks. It’s a prejudice that for thousands of years prevented us from recognizing that animals have rights (admittedly, a few people persist under the delusion that there is nothing immoral about vivisecting a dog, but for the most part, even people who support animal testing recognize it’s “a necessary evil” or something along those lines). I also loved the puns just casually thrown in and unacknowledged. “A most FRUITFUL correspondence.” “We hope this will help PLANT some doubts.” Charming, thought-provoking, credible little book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    shatine

    I've never read a book that sounded more like it was written by an indignant plant. I've never read a book that sounded more like it was written by an indignant plant.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    It's a quick and easy read, despite the fact that the book aims at scientific approach. I found myself under an impression that i was reading a rough draft for student's thesis... for a serious science book it often lacked scientific basis and felt too superficial. for a popular read - well, it is ok if you like plants or whatever. it has some curious moments, but it doesn't rock the world. It's a quick and easy read, despite the fact that the book aims at scientific approach. I found myself under an impression that i was reading a rough draft for student's thesis... for a serious science book it often lacked scientific basis and felt too superficial. for a popular read - well, it is ok if you like plants or whatever. it has some curious moments, but it doesn't rock the world.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    This is a manifesto rather than a textbook, by one of the chief scientists in plant behavior, who seeks to convince the reader that plants are indeed intelligent creatures rather than life forms barely above the minerals. The author and his research have taken a lot of criticism based on the assumed fact that plants cannot be conscious, so this is a subject he feels very strongly about. He points out that our evaluation of intelligence derives largely from observing motion, and because plants ar This is a manifesto rather than a textbook, by one of the chief scientists in plant behavior, who seeks to convince the reader that plants are indeed intelligent creatures rather than life forms barely above the minerals. The author and his research have taken a lot of criticism based on the assumed fact that plants cannot be conscious, so this is a subject he feels very strongly about. He points out that our evaluation of intelligence derives largely from observing motion, and because plants are rooted to one spot and move their parts slowly (only appreciated with time-lapse photography), we see them as objects rather than actors. Moreover, because they cannot flee danger, they are built on a modular rather than a centralized "organ" plan: they have circulation but no heart, they breathe without central lungs, perceive light without eyes, etc. This allows many plants to regenerate even if over 90% of their above-ground mass is destroyed (say, by an herbivore or fire). It follows that plant intelligence is unlikely to be centralized in an organ (brain), traditionally one of the main objections to plants being conscious. He also treats the senses found in plants. If you are looking for a sober, academic discussion of this subject, look elsewhere. This book aims to convince a popular audience that plants are conscious beings rather than mere objects and that they deserve our respect and further scientific investigation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robert Teeter

    This small book by an Italian scientist and science journalist makes the case that plants have been underestimated and that they have a kind of “intelligence.” They convinced me — but only for some definitions of intelligence. The book begins with a survey of ideas about plants in the past. The three major monotheistic religions mostly ignore plants, though Mancuso and Viola point out that Judaism forbids the gratuitous destruction of trees and has a holiday to celebrate their new year. Most phil This small book by an Italian scientist and science journalist makes the case that plants have been underestimated and that they have a kind of “intelligence.” They convinced me — but only for some definitions of intelligence. The book begins with a survey of ideas about plants in the past. The three major monotheistic religions mostly ignore plants, though Mancuso and Viola point out that Judaism forbids the gratuitous destruction of trees and has a holiday to celebrate their new year. Most philosophers and scientists before the 20th century didn’t think much of plants either, but Democritus, Linnaeus, and Darwin suspected there was more in them than met the eye. The authors soon build a dichotomy: are plants “social organisms, sophisticated and highly evolved like us” (p. 36)? Or are they “closer to the mineral world than to animal life” (p. 37-8)? Surely those are not the only choices. I didn’t believe either of these possibilities before reading the book, and I didn’t believe either of them when I finished the book. Elsewhere in the book, however, Mancuso and Viola use a more reasonable formulation: “Intelligence is the ability to solve problems” (p. 126). They note the most obvious difference between plants and animals, that plants are stationary (at least for most of their lives). They are therefore subject to predation by herbivores and therefore cannot have centralized, specialized organs that an animal could eat and kill the plant. So, just as plants have a decentralized circulatory system without a central “heart” to pump fluids throughout their bodies, they also have a decentralized nervous system without having a central “brain.” The middle of the book, which is the most informative, describes how plants solve problems in their lives, often by means analogous to what animals do. Mancuso and Viola demonstrate that plants have: a sense of sight a sense of smell a sense of taste a sense of touch a sense of hearing 15 other senses, including a sense of moisture and a sense of gravity Plants also communicate. One part of a plant can communicate with another, such as when the roots tell the leaf openings (stomata) whether to open or not. Plants communicate with other plants, such as telling each other when an herbivore is near. Plants communicate with animals, such as when they provide incentives for their moving friends to pollenate them or spread their seeds. Plants even sleep, a fact Linnaeus was one of the first to notice, but still not much is known about why they do so. The book has a few egregious errors of science, which make it difficult to trust the authors when they make bold claims. "We know that the first single-celled organisms that appeared on the planet were algae — that is, the plant kind of living things. Through photosynthesis, they created the oxygen that enabled life to spread over the earth. This included the emergence of eukaryotes, or animal cells." (p. 29) No, both plants and animals are eukaryotes. (The term refers to organisms with cells having a nucleus and organelles, not to the cells themselves.) Organisms with simpler cells, such as bacteria, are called prokaryotes. "It’s like saying that if 100 is the total weight of everything alive, according to various estimates, between 99.5 and 99.9 percent is composed of plants. Or to put it another way all living animals — humans included — represent only a trace (a scant 0.1 to 0.5 percent)." (p. 40) This seems to be saying that all living things are either plants or animals. What about fungi, protista, bacteria? "… [T]he vectors are bats (cheiropteroi in Greek), which are used to carry pollen from many American desert cacti, such as the Joshua Tree." (p. 109) The Joshua tree is a yucca, not a cactus. Despite some overblown claims for plant intelligence and a few errors, this book is worth reading for some solid information about plant capabilities, some of which have only recently been discovered. Disclaimer: Island Press sent me a free copy of this book as part of their “blind date with a book” promotion. Re-posted from Water Librarian's Blog.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Raluca

    Ever stumble upon a compelling subject, read a book about it, desire to read more but find nothing else? That's what happened to me when, years ago, I stumbled upon Daniel Chamovitz's What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. It explained everything from plant senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, phototropism, geotropism etc.) to how plants communicate. Everything was done in a friendly scientific manner that brought plenty of proof and showed you how these plant mechanisms work. (For an ev Ever stumble upon a compelling subject, read a book about it, desire to read more but find nothing else? That's what happened to me when, years ago, I stumbled upon Daniel Chamovitz's What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses. It explained everything from plant senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, phototropism, geotropism etc.) to how plants communicate. Everything was done in a friendly scientific manner that brought plenty of proof and showed you how these plant mechanisms work. (For an even more in-depth approach on the subject, Prof. Chamovitz also has a free Coursera course with the same name.) Unfortunately, this was the only book I ever found about the subject. Enter Brilliant Green. While not as scientific-heavy and detail-oriented as What a plant knows, Brilliant Green presents a more holistic view about plant senses, communication and intelligence. For example, the first chapter talked about the wrong mentality that regarded plants as inanimate objects or inferior beings that the Bible, ancient philosophers, early botanists and even recent biologists held. To this add various interesting applications that could be developed with heavier knowledge of plants (for example, music vibrations might prove useful in deterring natural predatory insects from preying on vines). More so, the book doesn't shy away from more speculative aspects (Could we use plant intelligence in understanding alien intelligence? Do plants have rights?) All in all, I'd say this is one of the few cases where these books compliment each other really well, rather than presenting opposite views on the same subject. Read Brilliant Green for the what, a more generalist and thought-provoking view, and read What a plant knows for the how. (Also, as a side note: keep in mind that in this book, a few terms are used erroneously, such as the notion of superior/inferior animals and phrases like "insects and animals".)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Renee Roberts

    In short, this book is a major disappointment, and I recommend avoiding it. One star because I finished it. In my own belief system, the soul is your life force, and I know animals have souls. So what about plants? They are living things, that we can propagate but not create. Do they have a soul of sorts? I've read about aspen forests that respond across their width to a threat on one edge; do other plants communicate in some way? I was hoping for a book that explored this kind of wondering from In short, this book is a major disappointment, and I recommend avoiding it. One star because I finished it. In my own belief system, the soul is your life force, and I know animals have souls. So what about plants? They are living things, that we can propagate but not create. Do they have a soul of sorts? I've read about aspen forests that respond across their width to a threat on one edge; do other plants communicate in some way? I was hoping for a book that explored this kind of wondering from a scientific POV. This isn't it. There's another book-- The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben-- that the author of Brilliant Green has clearly read and taken to be his personal Bible. Wohlleben has worked in forestry, and certainly has observed "behaviors" of trees and has many interesting examples to illustrate his ideas, but is accused of anthropomorphizing by much of the scientific community. As for Stefano Mancuso, he's to botany what the guys on the TV show Ancient Aliens are to archaeology. He's read the ideas of others, taken it to an extreme level, and preaches his zealotry as fact. It was impossible to get through the short book quickly, as I kept rolling my eyes in frustration at his lack of evidence and scientific method. Even if you could stand reading his idiocy, (such as his assertion that people are "prejudiced" against plants), his overuse of exclamation points will irritate you to no end. If you have any curiosity about this type of research, I'd suggest you start with this article: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/scienc... This provides an overview about the subject, Wohlleben's work, and talks about the research of several scientists (including those who refute him) into the subject of plant communication, symbiotic relationships, and the idea they have any sort of sentience.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Am Y

    Really repetitive. If we cut away the terrible repetition, this book would only be a quarter its current length. The author drones on again and again about how plants are wise but we don't want to believe it. Look, the reason why the majority of people are picking up this book is because we're already open to the concept of plant intelligence and want to find out more about it right? We don't need a lecture about how humans credit animals and all other living things as having "intelligence", but Really repetitive. If we cut away the terrible repetition, this book would only be a quarter its current length. The author drones on again and again about how plants are wise but we don't want to believe it. Look, the reason why the majority of people are picking up this book is because we're already open to the concept of plant intelligence and want to find out more about it right? We don't need a lecture about how humans credit animals and all other living things as having "intelligence", but not plants (according to the author). Seriously, the author spends akin to half the book scolding mankind for failing to recognise plant wisdom. I felt like telling him, "Shut up already and get on with showing and explaining how and why plants are intelligent!" Turns out the actual content is scarce. It brought to mind the idiom "empty vessels make the most noise". You don't have to put up with the author's constant railing. You're much better off reading those other, more acclaimed books on plant intelligence.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mila

    Such passion for plants! Very thought provoking.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alison Lilly

    Fascinating subject, lots of potential -- TERRIBLE writing. The overly-casual tone came off as sloppy, while the arguments were poorly structured and often lacked depth (as well as citations and specific examples of the research being discussed). The book reads like the rough draft transcription of a rambling conversation with an absent-minded professor. There are glimpses of a more complete and convincing argument in support of plant intelligence that could have been made, but instead the text Fascinating subject, lots of potential -- TERRIBLE writing. The overly-casual tone came off as sloppy, while the arguments were poorly structured and often lacked depth (as well as citations and specific examples of the research being discussed). The book reads like the rough draft transcription of a rambling conversation with an absent-minded professor. There are glimpses of a more complete and convincing argument in support of plant intelligence that could have been made, but instead the text too often retreats into over-generalizations, simplifications (some which I have to believe are merely inadequate (mis)translations), and outright blustering and posturing. ("Of course, it's obvious!" is not an argument.) That said, the subject matter is one that deserves a much more serious and thorough treatment. For a better example: I also just finished reading _Plants As Persons: A Philosophical Botany_ -- the last chapter of which only briefly touched on some of the current scientific research into plant intelligence (most of the book was dedicated to an in-depth treatment of the development of various philosophical and theological traditions that denied or excluded plants from moral consideration, and sought explanations for why and how those traditions developed). I was hoping this book would be an expansion on the ideas and research mentioned all too briefly in PAP, but was very disappointed to find a much shallower treatment instead. Hopefully this book won't discourage other writers from tackling the subject with more thoroughness and skill.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ana-Maria

    This is a short and very clear, even pedagogical short book that showcases the argument that plants are intelligent creatures, and that means that they are able to collect information about their environments through various senses (many more than the human senses) and to process that information, make a decision and make a behavioral strategy. "The most recent studies of the plant world have demonstrated that plants are sentient (and thus are endowed with senses), that they communicate (with ea This is a short and very clear, even pedagogical short book that showcases the argument that plants are intelligent creatures, and that means that they are able to collect information about their environments through various senses (many more than the human senses) and to process that information, make a decision and make a behavioral strategy. "The most recent studies of the plant world have demonstrated that plants are sentient (and thus are endowed with senses), that they communicate (with each other and with animals), sleep, remember, and can even manipulate other species. For all intents and purposes, they can be described as intelligent. The roots constitute a continuously advancing front line, with innumerable command centers, so that the whole root system guides the plant like a kind of collective brain—or rather a distributed intelligence—which, as the plant grows and develops, acquires information important to its nutrition and survival." There is an anthropocentric perspective of understanding life and intelligence that this book challenges and the main mission of the book is to enlarge our view about life: "Perhaps knowing that plants perceive, communicate, remember, learn, and solve problems will help us someday to see them as closer to us and will also offer us the opportunity to study and protect them more effectively." For me, the most surprising thing in the book was the fact that "plants definitely can recognize their relatives and in general are much friendlier to them than they are to strangers". This was a nice read, definitely opening the appetite for finding out more about plants and our relationship with them.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mohammad Ashori

    This has been one of the best books I've read in a while in the non-fiction space. Reminds me of that book the Secret Life of Trees. I would say it's not well-written, as in it's a bit dull and not the modern style book which capture your attention by barraging you with stories and connecting the dots for you. Instead, it's one of those books you have to put some effort into. You have to get through the hard parts and understand why a point the author(s) makes is important. I enjoyed it because This has been one of the best books I've read in a while in the non-fiction space. Reminds me of that book the Secret Life of Trees. I would say it's not well-written, as in it's a bit dull and not the modern style book which capture your attention by barraging you with stories and connecting the dots for you. Instead, it's one of those books you have to put some effort into. You have to get through the hard parts and understand why a point the author(s) makes is important. I enjoyed it because I had no idea that plants were capable of all of this. In fact, at the end of the book the author talks about how we should have the same appreciation and sense of protection towards plants as we have towards animals. I now get that, after reading this book. It is a bit narrow minded to believe that just because plants aren't moving in front of our eyes they aren't actually moving. Or that all that matters in a plant is really on the surface. But it's the roots and their communication with other plans and the volatile compounds they give off that is so fascinating and worth learning more about.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Yulia Tell

    I enjoyed the concepts and questions that book poses including our definition of intellect, communication, etc. But it feels at times that the authors are too predictable in what and how they write, and keep reiterating the same idea in a few different ways.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    This book has made me understand Jelena on a deeper level. I now love plants and all they stand for. Good.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Thrapp

    Interesting perspective. I enjoyed the deep dive into the subject.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sarahalateeqi

    A brilliant book if you want to know more about plants intelligence.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Summer

    Plants are aliens and you can’t convince me otherwise

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This was a fascinating read. Although it is non-fiction it was such fun and interesting to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tom Roth

    Quite a disappointment. The language was not very scientific. I understand that it is a popular science book, but the writing in this book was too popular. For example, it literally said that plants CHOSE not to concentrate their organs in one place... In addition, it contained a lot of teleological descriptions of plant evolution. The science that the book mentions is probably known to most biologists. At least, for me it was, and I do not specialize in plant biology. The only thing they add is Quite a disappointment. The language was not very scientific. I understand that it is a popular science book, but the writing in this book was too popular. For example, it literally said that plants CHOSE not to concentrate their organs in one place... In addition, it contained a lot of teleological descriptions of plant evolution. The science that the book mentions is probably known to most biologists. At least, for me it was, and I do not specialize in plant biology. The only thing they add is that they call these behaviors intelligent. That is certainly an interesting move, but the reasoning is not very good. They just pick a definition for intelligence that is relatively easy to meet, it seems to me. The same goes for the definition of communication they use in the book. Last point: if you write a popular science book on a still controversial topic, please use direct citations. Sometimes they mention that a certain study from a certain year found a certain plant behavior. Please cite the study! Then I can find it, and check whether the author's interpretation is correct.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anda

    We may resent those we depend on, because they don't make us feel completely free. In short we're so dependent on plants that we do everything we can not to think about them. Perhaps we don't wish to remember that our very survival is linked to the plant world, because that makes us feel weak, hardly masters of the universe! Of course this argument is partly intended to be provocative, but it may be useful in clarifying the balance of power between us and the plant world. p 39 Comestible (edible) We may resent those we depend on, because they don't make us feel completely free. In short we're so dependent on plants that we do everything we can not to think about them. Perhaps we don't wish to remember that our very survival is linked to the plant world, because that makes us feel weak, hardly masters of the universe! Of course this argument is partly intended to be provocative, but it may be useful in clarifying the balance of power between us and the plant world. p 39 Comestible (edible) plants are numerous but most cannot be cultivated on an industrial scale because of the way they've evolved. They're wild, like tigers and bears. Dog on the other hand, evolved from wolves as a new species, through discovering that living symbiotically with humans was easier and more convenient than fighting for survival. ... Certain plants have adopted a similar evolutionary strategy: by feeding humans they have been protected from insects s, provided with nourishment, and, especially, propagated until they've spread to the far reaches of the planet. p 41 As we saw in the first chapter, the idea that the plant world is composed of sensorily deprived beings came to us whole from ancient Greece. It passed unchanged through the Renaissance - as depicted in the famous "Pyramid of Living Things" in which plants exist but nether feel nor think - as well as through the more exacting screening of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, which should have exposed this model as absurd. p46 Sight - moves with the light But what is smell for, in the plant world? Plants use "smells" - that is, molecules called BVOCs ( Biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds ) to receive information from their environment and to communicate with each other and with insects, something that goes on continually. All smells produced by plants - for example those produced by rosemary basil and licorice - are equivalent to precise messages: they are the plants' 'words' or lexicon! Millions of different chemical compounds function like signals in a real plant language, about which we know very little. We do know that each compound transmits precise information, such as warnings of imminent danger, or messages of attraction or repulsion, or something else. ... But why do sage, rosemary, licorice give off their typical scents even when they're not in flower? All we know is that they have their reasons: producing those smells costs energy, and no plant would waste energy uselessly! It's still a long road from this simple observation to the possibility of interpreting these plant messages with certainty. p54 The results were astonishing: the veins given musical treatment didn't just grow better than those which had nothing to listen to, they also ripened earlier and produced grapes richer in flavour, colour and polyphenols. // What's more, the music kept insects away, by disorienting them. The use of music made possible a drastic reduction in the use of insecticide, and a new, revolutionary branch of agricultural biology came into being: agricultural phonobiology. p 75 Selfishness or altruism: which is more useful? // In evolutionary terms, which is more rewarding- behaviour we call selfish, or behaviour we call altruistic? The jury is still out on that question. ... The discovery that plants adopt altruistic behaviours towards kin is revelatory because it opens up two possibilities, both revolutionary: either plants are much more evolved organisms than we thought, and thus are altruistic; or altruism and cooperation are actually primitive forms of life, where pure competition had always been thought to rule, with victory going to the stronger. p 95 The most notorious examples are orchids: according to some estimates, about one-third of existing orchid species, to guarantee themselves a successful pollination, use strategies that in human terms could only be described as fraudulent. These plants make use of insects, too, but by deceiving them and getting them to transport pollen without the insect's receiving any benefit in return. p 113 From a plant's perspective, it would be worth the trouble to make friends with these strange bipeds, and even to benefit from their services! Are we sure they haven't used their manipulative skills on us too, creating flowers, fruits, fragrances, flowers, and colours that please our species? Maybe plants produce them just for that reason: because they please us, who in turn propagate them throughout the world, care for them, protect them. When we think of the marvellous gifts plants give us - from perfumes to the wonderful, multicoloured forms that have inspired so many artists - let's not be too surprised at our good fortune. Nobody does anything for nothing, and at least for certain species, we're the best allies on the planet. p 115 Think about it: the stock market tells us the worth of businesses all over the world, effectively dominates politics, and has considerable influence over our individual fates, all without any central control. Indeed, there's no entity dedicated to overseeing its overall functioning: investors know only a limited number of companies within their portfolios, and simply follow market rules. Ultimately the behaviour of the stock exchange derives solely from the interactions of individual investors. Like the tips of a root system, or ants in a swarm, they amount to nothing by them selves, but together develop incredible capacities. ... In the animal world, swarms are formed by a great number of people, mammals, insects, or birds. But in plants, these dynamics actually come into play inside one plant, between its roots. In short, every single plant is a swarm! p 146

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melek

    I should check my reading history to be sure, but this might be the first non-fiction book that I disliked this much. For one thing, what was that first chapter? It got better after a while, but the first half was downright ridiculous. While the rest wasn't that bad, I kept feeling like the writer(s) was/were (how many writers does this book have, one or two? I can't be certain) just shoving their thoughts down my throat instead of giving me facts. Or let's say, just giving facts, as the book was I should check my reading history to be sure, but this might be the first non-fiction book that I disliked this much. For one thing, what was that first chapter? It got better after a while, but the first half was downright ridiculous. While the rest wasn't that bad, I kept feeling like the writer(s) was/were (how many writers does this book have, one or two? I can't be certain) just shoving their thoughts down my throat instead of giving me facts. Or let's say, just giving facts, as the book was informative apart from that. Their history wasn't surprising, no, but it was a quick read. Overall, 3/5.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dona

    Great ideas, interesting points of view but it is a "easy" book with answers that are really simple, with not so much explanations. Green intelligence deserve a better book. Great ideas, interesting points of view but it is a "easy" book with answers that are really simple, with not so much explanations. Green intelligence deserve a better book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joantine Berghuijs

    This book encourages us to better appreciate plants among all forms of life than has been done so far. And not to regard them as "lower" or "less developed" organisms than animals. The authors show: - That plants make up at least 99.5% of the living biomass, and therefore animals (including humans) only 0.5%. - That we only know 5 to 10% of all plant species, and that 95% use them for our most important medicines. - That because of their sedentary way of life, plants have developed totally differen This book encourages us to better appreciate plants among all forms of life than has been done so far. And not to regard them as "lower" or "less developed" organisms than animals. The authors show: - That plants make up at least 99.5% of the living biomass, and therefore animals (including humans) only 0.5%. - That we only know 5 to 10% of all plant species, and that 95% use them for our most important medicines. - That because of their sedentary way of life, plants have developed totally different strategies for growth, defense, reproduction, competition and communication than animals. And that we have only partially unraveled those strategies. - That plants are essential for all life. Plants are the mediators between the sun and the animal world through photosynthesis. If animals died out, plants could still survive. Not the other way around. - That we are directly or indirectly dependent on plants for almost everything we need. This is not just about food, but also about oil and the fuels and plastics produced from it, about medicines, about mental health, etc. - That no part of the plant is so essential that it cannot grow again - one of plants’ survival strategies. - That plants are equipped with senses, which are not concentrated in one organ as in animals, but present throughout the entire plant. Not only can they see, hear, taste, smell and feel, but they also have around 15 other senses. - That they communicate (within the plant, with each other, and with animals), that they sleep and can remember. - That they "trade" with other species, with examples of ‘fair’ practices (where both partners benefit) or ‘unfair’ practices (where only the plant benefits). Plants are even able to manipulate other species. - That the root system controls the plant as a sort of collective brain or scattered intelligence. The book is written in a very accessible way, by a professor in collaboration with a science journalist. It is certainly scientifically sound material, even though he does not give references innfootnotes. However, in the last pages the authors give a number of titles for those who want to read more. I already knew a lot of the facts that the authors present, partly through the beautiful 3-part documentary The Kingdom of Plants made by David Attenborough. But this book places everything in a broader perspective: that of life on earth as a whole. It again illustrates the connectedness of all life, the exchange, cooperation or exploitation, the general striving of all living beings for survival, prosperity and well-being. And it teaches you as a person to be modest: our extinction is not disastrous for the whole of life on earth. That man is seen as arrogant in his opinion that he is the most important species on earth and that he controls all life, raises a question. We may not represent much in terms of biomass, but we do have enormous influence, largely in a negative sense, on the other life on the planet. Is importance dependent on biomass? Another question is to what extent the plant intelligence takes place through automatic processes or has a ‘free will’. The authors do show that a lot of signals come together in the roots, among other things about soil moisture and the locations of all kinds of nutrients, and that therefore complex 'decisions' must be made and priorities set, for example about the direction in which the root system will continue to grow. But even then you could see these processes as ‘instinct.’ The basic question, of course, is that about consciousness. However, we ourselves do not even know exactly what consciousness is. The authors do not speak about it. They do, however, talk about ‘emergent traits’: traits that do not emerge in an individual, but in a community of individuals. Like with ants and swarms of starlings. Because of its scattered senses and properties, the plant can actually be considered as a community of individuals, in which case such emergent qualities as their so-called intelligence can arise. Finally, I find it somewhat annoying that through the entire book we are told how stupid it is that people have never fully recognized the value, the superiority almost, of plants.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Grazyna Nawrocka

    I expected the book to tell me about somebody measuring waves from plants, which were exposed to various harm. No, it was not about it. The general conclusion from the work is that our knowledge of plants is very limited. There are millions of roots. At the end of each root there is a part that recognizes beneficial or harmful elements in the environment (even ones that are a few meters away), and directs growth according to information it gets (analyzing data, making choices - definitely parts I expected the book to tell me about somebody measuring waves from plants, which were exposed to various harm. No, it was not about it. The general conclusion from the work is that our knowledge of plants is very limited. There are millions of roots. At the end of each root there is a part that recognizes beneficial or harmful elements in the environment (even ones that are a few meters away), and directs growth according to information it gets (analyzing data, making choices - definitely parts of intelligence). Author calls it "distributed intelligence," or "emergent behaviors" which are very typical of swarms or flocks of birds. I disagree with the author, when he explains this group behavior by need to keep the same distance between members, and completely rejects concept of telepathy. His idea would work only if swarms or flocks never changed direction of their movement, and in the moment they changed it, if members would bump into each other. We know it is not what happens, so keeping same distance, without some kind of coordination is not a sufficient explanation of the behaviors. He also suspects that plants like citronella, basil, (plants that issue fragrance even in absence of flowers) might use the scent to conduit messages. Whole book examines thoroughly all aspects of plants' behavior and is founded on scientific research, which includes Aristotle, Darwin, and others. It is a very interesting work of popular science, and I'd recommend it to anybody. Now, like always I'll list some fascinating trifles, that I found funny. During times of Inquisition not only witches, but also plants like garlic, parsley and fennel were put on trial, as tools used for witchcraft. I object! Plants could not have spoken in their defense! Then again, during Inquisition I don't think anybody cared about defendants. Future: plantoids - robots based on flora, "Greenternet" - network which monitors environmental parameters continuously, and in real time (the same way the roots and leaves do it). The last one I'm going to quote: "phytocomputers - computers that use new algorithms based on the capacities and calculating system of plants ('unconventional computing')." HA!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gerrit

    A very interesting read. It has made me realize that I conflate "intelligence" with "consciousness". Although Mancuso suggests that plants can remember and learn things, he does not convincingly argue this case. This may be because the book is aimed at the general public and hence very technical details are not discussed. It also may be that, although Mancuso argues strongly against an animal-centric perspective on intelligence, I still have not sufficiently shed it. The book does show that plant A very interesting read. It has made me realize that I conflate "intelligence" with "consciousness". Although Mancuso suggests that plants can remember and learn things, he does not convincingly argue this case. This may be because the book is aimed at the general public and hence very technical details are not discussed. It also may be that, although Mancuso argues strongly against an animal-centric perspective on intelligence, I still have not sufficiently shed it. The book does show that plants have amazing sensory capabilities and are able to actively respond to the data they gather about the world. The review of the varied senses and behaviours of plants is fascinating and demonstrates that plants really are not the passive organisms they are perceived to be. They are able to detect problems and arrive at intelligent solutions, modifying their behaviour accordingly. In the absence of consciousness, I would suggest that this falls under the Dennet's "competence without comprehension" nomer. This is not to say that this signifies a significant divide between plants and animals and us. After all, most (or at least very much) of what we do is also not consciously comprehended and reasoned out. Some of my disagreements may stem from the translation. The translation is less than perfect and has spelling errors (as an archaeologist I found the use of "bronstijd" where "bronsttijd" was meant most amusing), there is a lack of synonym-use making some sentences annoyingly repetitive. Most problematic is that the meaning of the author may be distorted in some passages. Throughout the book, Mancuso argues that plants should be studied in light of evolution. The central thesis is that plants as passive organisms would have gone extinct long ago in Darwinian competition. Yet towards the end (p.133) the book states that Darwin realised that plants have capabilities that cannot be explained evolutionarily. This seems to represent a misunderstanding by the translator and leaves open the possibility that more subtle examples occur elsewhere in the book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I am mixed about this book. I am already an environmentalist and an avid gardener, so I don’t need to be convinced about the importance of plans. I fully believe that we do ourselves and our world and incredibly dangerous to ourselves when we eradicate trees and green spaces. So in that way, I was already convinced. And I learned a lot of fascinating things about a variety of plants that I didn’t already know. That’s where the three stars come from. The missing stars are from applying the word i I am mixed about this book. I am already an environmentalist and an avid gardener, so I don’t need to be convinced about the importance of plans. I fully believe that we do ourselves and our world and incredibly dangerous to ourselves when we eradicate trees and green spaces. So in that way, I was already convinced. And I learned a lot of fascinating things about a variety of plants that I didn’t already know. That’s where the three stars come from. The missing stars are from applying the word intelligence where I don’t feel like that’s the best word for what the author is trying to describe. And at many points, he appears to be suggesting that plants are even superior to animals. And maybe there are ways that they are, but the book felt like proselytization. But the intelligence bit, which the author returned to repeatedly, I wasn’t fully buying. For instance, he states that on earth, plants are overwhelmingly dominant in terms of biomass (97.5% to 2.5%). And then makes a great leap to, “There can be only one explanation: plants are much more advanced, adaptable and intelligent than we’re inclined to think.” Well, no that’s not the only explanation possible. It could be that it takes vastly more plants to support a small amount of animals. It could be that invisible aliens roam the earth tending to that that ratio. And his explanation isn’t even parsimonious. You could as easily say it’s due to plants being more advanced and/or adaptive than we knew and leave out intelligent entirely. Granted, he uses a very broad definition of Intelligence , defined as the ability to respond to problems. By that measure, sure. But it implies intention or being sentient and that seems like a big and unnecessary stretch to me.

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