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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. 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.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Michael Pollan

85 books12.9k followers
Michael Pollan is an American author, journalist, activist, and professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 279 reviews
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews714 followers
July 3, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
February 9, 2017
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!
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews864 followers
July 25, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Cherisa B.
499 reviews42 followers
November 4, 2022
Among our own species, I'm a firm believer that there are many different kinds of intelligences other than what is scored on Intelligence Quotient tests. Knowing the capital cities of the two Congos, who said "what a piece of work is a man", how speed and distance relate, or other random academic type information, is one narrow area of grasping the universe, our place in it, and how to solve problems to ensure personal success. When someone isn't so good at something, for instance, if they don't have high kinesthetic intelligence, we might call them a klutz; when someone can coordinate a gorgeous color scheme for a room or event, they have a visual intelligence I envy; an ability to speak easily with friends and strangers and put them at ease, my oh my, such an ability surely helps create success in many areas of life and careers.

In this book, Mancuso presents a cogent argument that not only are plants intelligent, but they have problem-solving techniques that we not only should envy, but emulate. He walks us through how their intelligence differs from ours, why we have dismissed them, and how they are utterly brilliant. In many ways, he reaffirmed my own views on the many intelligences, but broadened it out into other species and kingdoms of life.

A real eye opener that rightly reminds us we aren't the center of God's creation, and to respect myriad ways of being in the world and contributing to it in positive ways.
Profile Image for Anca Zaharia.
Author 23 books428 followers
July 26, 2020
Se vorbeşte, în primă fază, despre plante versus animale şi oameni, după care se trece la explicarea unor diferenţe şi asemănări structurale, cum se întâmplă când e vorba despre parameci versus euglenă şi la diferenţele dintre fiinţele autotrofe şi cele heterotrofe. Pe de o parte, e posibil să nu ştii că biomasa planetei noastre înseamnă aproximativ 99.5% regn vegetal. Sau să ţi se pară un lucru neînsemnat, dar în legătură cu care vei ajunge să-ţi schimbi părerea odată ce vei citi despre dovezi ale existenţei simţurilor la plante, despre fototropism, despre somnul acestora (care este, practic, hibernare), despre comunicarea care uneori se realizează prin parfumul emis.

Recenzia integrală: https://ancazaharia.ro/2020/07/verde-...
Profile Image for Ali.
1,289 reviews106 followers
September 16, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Vderevlean.
451 reviews139 followers
April 7, 2019
O excelentă introducere în lumea plantelor și a modului în care funcționează inteligența lor. Foarte multe lucruri pe care nu le știam, așa că 5 stele.
Excelent structurată și ușor de citit!
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,530 reviews378 followers
January 31, 2021
È davvero l’uomo l’essere più evoluto?
Davvero le piante sono esseri inamovibili e non intelligenti?
Profile Image for Annie.
923 reviews311 followers
March 18, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Rocío Prieto.
156 reviews69 followers
January 29, 2023
“Los estudios más recientes del mundo vegetal han demostrado que las plantas son sensibles (y por lo tanto están dotadas de sentidos), que se comunican (entre sí y con los animales), duermen, recuerdan e incluso pueden manipular otras especies. A todos los efectos, pueden describirse como inteligentes ".

Stefano Mancuso es un investigador de plantas que trabaja en el Laboratorio Internacional de Neurobiología Vegetal de la Universidad de Florencia. En esta obra se asocia con la periodista científica Alessandra Viola para compartir algunas de las investigaciones que se están llevando a cabo en el campo. Este libro analiza la investigación y la acumula en un marco lógico y razonado para discutir cómo las plantas revelan su inteligencia.

En definitiva, se trata de una mirada fascinante a las plantas, hace que uno reevalúe todo lo que entendemos sobre ellas. La única pega que le pondría es que la escritura es algo repetitiva. No obstante, vale la pena su tiempo.
Profile Image for Ross.
44 reviews22 followers
October 1, 2019
A könyv olvasása óta nem ugyanolyan szemmel nézem az ablakban héderelő chilipaprikát.
– Akarsz valamit mondani nekem? – kérdezem meg időnként. – Szeretnél velem kommunikálni? Hozzak neked valamit? Forgassalak a fény felé? Vizet szeretnél? Magányos vagy? Szeretnél egy kis chlili-barátot? Mondjad, mit szeretnél!

Ebben a rövidke könyvben a szerző amellett érvel, (és egyébként meglepően hihetően) hogy a növények igenis értelmes lények. Az intelligenciájuk talán nem az emberek által megfogalmazott elvárási kategóriákban nyilvánul meg, és más időtartományban léteznek, de a botanikával foglalkozók számára egyre több bizonyíték támasztja alá azt, hogy a növények valamiféle értelemmel rendelkeznek. Mozognak (a gyorsított youtube videók óta ezt már nem különösebben nehéz elhinni) és akár voltaképpen érezhetnek is, jelezhetik igényeiket, együttműködhetnek más lényekkel, legyen az növény, állat, vagy akár ember.
Lehetséges, hogy a kukorica azért terem finomat, hogy az ember gondoskodjon róla…?

Stefano Mancuso felteszi azt a kérdést is: ha azokról a lényekről nem tudjuk feltételezni az értelmet, – pusztán radikális különbözőségünk okán – akikkel létezésünk legelső pillanatától fogva a lehető legszorosabb szimbiózisban létezünk, akkor ugyan hogy fantáziálhatunk földönkívüli fajokkal történő kapcsolatfelvételről. Mit kezdünk velük, ha legalább annyira eltérnek tőlünk, mint a növények?
Sci-fibe illő eszmefuttatás, de most mondjátok meg; nem elgondolkodtató?

Én nem értek valami nagyon a növényekhez, de olvasmánynak lebilincselő volt.
Profile Image for Ali.
430 reviews
May 16, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Sally.
1,477 reviews51 followers
September 20, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Am Y.
759 reviews34 followers
February 11, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Greta.
95 reviews3 followers
February 10, 2022
Questo saggio divulgativo, scritto molto bene e con termini semplici adatti a qualsiasi lettore, vuole consapevolizzare: gli esseri umani dipendono in tutto e per tutto dalle piante; infatti, le piante potrebbero benissimo vivere senza di noi. Al contrario, noi invece senza di loro ci estingueremmo in breve tempo.
Gli autori iniziano la disquisizione domandandosi se le piante sono esseri intelligenti e conducono il lettore in un inconsueto e affascinante viaggio intorno al mondo vegetale, sfatando stereotipi e luoghi comuni, rivelando le insospettabili facoltà delle piante. Queste creature sono tutt’altro che organismi inferiori e, come gli altri essere viventi, sono dotate di sensi, dormono, hanno un carattere, comunicano fra loro e con gli animali, adottano strategie per la sopravvivenza, hanno una vita sociale. Sono capaci di scegliere, apprendere e ricordare; sono perfino in grado di calcolare la gravità e l’umidità in un terreno (e voi?). La loro intelligenza è oggi affermata sulle basi di una seria sperimentazione scientifica e non può più essere messa in dubbio.
Le piante sono così destinate a svolgere un ruolo sempre più importante per il futuro sviluppo scientifico e tecnologico.
Con questo libro, gli autori, dunque, vogliono rivoluzionare il modo di pensare in riferimento al mondo vegetale e ci riescono, stupendo il lettore e lasciandolo a bocca aperta.
Una rilettura dei tempi dell’università: questo libricino, tipica marchetta del professore di biologia dell’epoca, mi ha aiutato nello studio della materia: questo aiuto, rispetto all’importanza del messaggio che il libro vuole trasmettere, è passato in secondo piano, poiché diventare consapevoli del fatto che le piante siano superiori alla specie animale è una rivoluzione di proporzioni cosmiche. 4,5 stelline, perché il saggio è proprio ben fatto, con fonti certificate e capacità comunicativa strabiliante, seppur lo avevo apprezzato molto di più all’epoca dell’Università.
282 reviews2 followers
July 6, 2022
Mancuso y Viola son unos buenos motivaos del mundo vegetal, pero sobran las razones para compartir ese entusiasmo. En apenas 140 páginas estos dos autores logran hilavanar un relato fascinante que nos revela la complejidad de la vida vegetal, con sus sentidos, sus habilidades comunicativas e inteligencia. No solo se aprende mucho sobre un tema del que yo era y soy un completo ignorante, sino que al leerlo resulta imposible ver igual las plantas y no puedes más que admirarte de su complejidad. Además, libros como este suponen un nuevo desafío a nuestros prejuicios sobre lo que significa ser una criatura sensible e inteligente, hasta el punto de que ambas cualidades podrían considerarse transversales a toda la vida y no patrimonio exclusivo de nuestra especie o como mucho del reino animal. A mí, personalmente, me tranquiliza vivir rodeado de gente tan lista.
Profile Image for Ana.
66 reviews108 followers
November 21, 2021
E ca atunci când umfli un balon: pornește totul promițător, dar cumva îl scapi și se dezumfla. Îmi plac ideile care mai ciupesc din sentimentul de grandoare a speciei noastre (dominante pe Terra sunt, pentru un ochi extern și imparțial - încă - plantele; odată plantele extrase din piramida formelor de viață, toate celelalte - fie ele superioare - se prăbușesc fără speranță; fără a excela în cele cinci simțuri ale noastre, plantele mai dispun de altele câteva; inteligența, dacă o vedem ca pe capacitatea de a găsi soluții, aparține și plantelor; capacitatea noastră de comunicare, pe calea undelor, a fost premiată doar de noi ca fiind cea mai tare, la fel ca tipul nostru de inteligență, ceea ce ne face să căutăm prin spațiu nu alte forme de viață, ci forme de viață similare nouă). Dar apoi ideile se tot reiau, nimic nou nu mai reiese. Nu că ar fi fost foarte originale din start. Sunt lucruri care deja se știu.
131 reviews19 followers
April 10, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Raluca.
152 reviews75 followers
April 30, 2019
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".)
Profile Image for J.S. Meresmaa.
Author 63 books121 followers
June 4, 2018
Mainio, hyvin vetävästi ja kansantajuisesti kirjoitettu teos, jonka luettuaan varmasti näkee kasvit toisin. Ajoittain provosoiva ja joissain kohdin toisteinen, mutta Laura Lahdensuun suomennos on todella onnistunut ja kirjaa lukee vaivattomasti. Pohtiminen ei lopu kun kannet sulkee. Kirjassa on monia kohtia, joita tekisi mieli siteerata, mutta valitsen tämän:

"Kasvit ovat Maa-planeetan dominantti laji, ja eläinten läsnäolo on havaittavissa ainoastaan siellä täällä. Tälle on vain yksi selitys: kasvit ovat paljon jalostuneempia, sopeutuvaisempia ja älykkäämpiä eliöitä kuin olemme tottuneet ajattelemaan."
Profile Image for Atrophaeus.
12 reviews
July 11, 2018
Ein wirklich gelungenes Buch.
Der Autor öffnet Einem in humorvoller, verständlicher und einfacher Art und Weise die Augen für die Welt der Pflanzen.
Stefano Mancuso schafft es mit Witz und ohne belehrend zu wirken verfestigte Sichtweisen aufzubrechen.
Es ist feststellbar, dass dies wohl sein größtes Anliegen war.
Nach diesem Buch begreift man die Pflanzen nicht mehr als ein passives "vegetierendes" sondern äußerst aktiv handelndes Lebewesen.

Der direkte Link zum Buch:
Profile Image for Renee Roberts.
194 reviews9 followers
December 28, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Rino.
28 reviews
July 11, 2015
Schön aufgemacht ist es ja, das Büchlein, aber leider entspricht es sowohl in Sprache als auch vom Inhalt her eher einer besseren Galileo-Sendung als einem richtigen Sachbuch. Die kurzen Kapitel gehen kaum auf die Details der beschriebenen Mechanismen ein, über die man durchaus gerne mehr erfahren hätte, und so bleibt leider auch der Informationsgehalt dem Umfang des Buches entsprechend eher dünn. Wenn sich auf den wenigen Seiten dann auch noch Elemente inhaltlich wie sprachlich wiederholen, dann ist das bei dem Preis eigentlich nicht mehr zu verzeihen.
Schade, weil das Thema überaus interessant wäre, wenn man es denn mit etwas mehr Tiefgang behandelt und eine etwas seriösere Ausdrucksweise dafür gefunden hätte. Dafür weisen die ausführlichen und gut lesbar erörterten Literaturhinweise angenehm auf bessere Lektüre hin.
Profile Image for Ana Rute Primo.
233 reviews27 followers
January 22, 2020
Uma excelente temática que sempre me intrigou e que agora vejo aqui esclarecida sob determinados aspetos. Escrito numa linguagem muito acessível que qualquer um compreenderá. Nunca mais conseguirei ver as plantas da mesma forma que as via até agora. Recomendo.
Profile Image for Mila.
687 reviews32 followers
September 5, 2017
Such passion for plants! Very thought provoking.
Profile Image for trovateOrtensia .
229 reviews219 followers
September 1, 2017
L'autore, che è studioso di neurobiologia vegetale, scrive queste pagine per contrastare una percezione del mondo naturale che, dalle lontane origini aristoteliche (la tripartizione delle facoltà dell'anima in vegetativa, sensitiva e intellettiva) arriva sino a noi in una forma non molto dissimile dalla formulazione rinascimentale datale da Charles de Bovelles, la cosiddetta "piramide dei viventi". Secondo tale classificazione, il mondo minerale "est", il regno vegetale "vivit", l'animale non umano "sentit", mentre soltanto l'uomo "intellegit".
Il testo è leggero e molto divulgativo, a volte quasi al limite della superficialità, ma è comunque utile per ricordarsi che l'uomo non è il vertice della piramide del "creato", e che essere diversi da noi umani non vuole dire necessariamente essere inferiori.

E mi piace qui ricordare queste poche, bellissime parole di Sebald, in Austerlitz: "Non c'è in fondo nessun motivo per negare una psiche alle creature più umili. A sognare di notte non siamo soltanto noi e i nostri cani o gli altri animali domestici, legati da millenni alle nostra emozioni; anche i mammiferi più piccoli, i topi e le talpe indugiano dormendo, (...) in un mondo esistente soltanto dentro di loro, e chissà, disse Austerlitz, forse anche le tignole sognano, forse sogna anche la lattuga in giardino, quando di notte leva lo sguardo alla luna".
Profile Image for Andrea Sacchi.
141 reviews
January 1, 2021
Innanzitutto molto ben scritto, che per un saggio divulgativo non è poco.
La tematica è estremamente interessante e offre innumerevoli spunti.
Consigliato a chiunque, in particolar modo se già sensibilizzati a tematiche green che non si riducano a banalità involuzionistiche.
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