We think it is all about us. The world is our oyster. We developed the current global economic structure in which the costs of environmental damage, labour exploitation, and socio-political disruption are ignored, or perhaps even celebrated, as the price of doing business. Our philosophy stumbles over the word ‘equal’ because it maintains that we have dominion over all that is nature. We struggle to imagine that others might know something we don’t, or that fish and trees have languages of their own. If such understanding was possible for us, life on earth would not becoming to an end.
Research in British Columbia has found evidence of nitrogen from fish in tree rings. The salmon that swim in the local rivers provide food for predators, such as bears and eagles, who leave the remains of the salmon lying around on the floor of the forest where it decomposes allowing the trees to absorb the nitrogen embedded in the bones of the salmon. In some cases, up to three-quarters of a tree’s nitrogen is from salmon. This implies that interfering in the life cycle of the salmon, for instance by commercial fishing, will impact on its predators, the forest and everything that is dependent on or interacts with the trees. The complex nature of these interconnections have been apparent to the aboriginal peoples of the world for a very long time [see ‘Blinded by reductionism‘ on August 24th, 2022]. To quote Suzanne Simard, ‘Mistreatment of one species is mistreatment of all. The rest of the planet has been waiting patiently for us to figure that out’.
A couple of years ago I wrote in the abstract about ‘Slow thoughts from a planet sized brain‘ [on March 25th, 2020]. I read on vacation in Suzanne Simard‘s book, ‘Finding the Mother Tree‘ that glutamate, which is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the human brain, is also transmitted through mycorrhizal networks connecting trees in forests. Mycorrhizal fungi live in the soil around the roots of plants in a symbiotic relationship with the plants transmitting water to, and receiving sugar from, the plant roots. Fir trees have been shown to transmit information about threats, e.g., budworm infestations, to one another and to other species of tree. The speed of this information transmission is fast enough that production of enzymes to protect the trees increases within a day of the appearance of the threat. We have assumed that folklore tales about enchanted forests are products of our imagination; but perhaps they are based on a long-lost appreciation that forests possess a level of consciousness. Consciousness seems to require different parts of a system to communicate with one another and form networks [see ‘Digital hive mind‘ on November 30th, 2016], which Simard and others have demonstrated occurs in forests with the mycorrhizal networks being equivalent to the neural network in our brains. The scale of a forest’s network is such that communication will be slower than in our brain but that is not necessarily an inhibitor of consciousness. So, perhaps forest-sized brains would be intermediate between human-sized and planet-sized.
I wrote about the weakness of reductionism about 18 months ago [see ‘Reduction in usefulness of reductionism‘ on February 17th, 2021]. Reductionism is the concept that everything about a complex system can be understood by reducing it to the smallest constituent part. The concept is flawed because complex systems exhibit emergent properties [see ‘Emergent properties‘ on September 16th, 2015] that appear at a certain level of complexity but do not exist at lower levels. Life is an emergent property so when you reduce an organism to its constituent parts, for instance by dissection, you kill it and are unable to observe its normal behaviour. Reductionism is widespread in Western science and has been blinding us to what is often well-known to aboriginal people, i.e., the interconnectedness of nature. One example is forest ecosystems that Suzanne Simard, amongst others, has shown are complex synergistic, multi-scale organisations of species. Complexity is only hard for those who have not thought about it – it is obvious to many peoples whose lives are integrated in nature’s ecosystem but it is really difficult for those of us educated in the reductionist tradition.