Animals and plants are complementary opposites. Animals move, plants become rooted. Animals release carbon dioxide, plants absorb it. Animals need to fetch food, plants make their own food. Animals have specialized organs for each activity necessary for life, plants are built in a modular way. Animals are individuals – in the sense that they cannot be divided – plants reproduce by budding. Cut an animal in half and it dies – the honorable exception is the planarians -, cut a plant in half and, in many cases, it will become two.
Thanks to these differences, we delegate to plants a parallel role in the hierarchy of life. Plants have no brain or muscle. They do not even have structures comparable to the head or hands. They are something else – simple as that. Because we are unable to establish an anatomical relationship between the bodies of plants and our bodies, we are unable to assume that they have capacities similar to ours. That they can manifest particular forms of memory, for example.
We are used to thinking about memory not only for what it is – the ability to retain data about the past to guide actions in the future – but for its support: a neuron pool called the brain. If it doesn’t roll in the brain, it’s not memory. So much so that botanists forged half a dozen terms for the manifestations of plant memory: acclimatization, priming, conditioning etc. This whole wording proves inconceivable, for us, that a vegetable can learn from experience.
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Even so, plants of the Mimosa pudica species – which close their leaves immediately after being exposed to a stressful stimulus, such as being transported on a bumpy street – learn that the stimulus is not threatening after some time. And remember this for up to 40 days: put them in the car again and they will remain open. If this is not memory, what is it?
In Stefano Mancuso’s Plant Revolution – recently launched in Brazil by Ubu publisher – the Italian biologist shows that, looking at plants from another angle, they can not only prove to be extremely sophisticated beings, but also offer solutions to human problems that animal perspective has yet to resolve. The book is a manifesto for a world inspired by the way vegetables do things.
A world in which arid local architecture is inspired by the two leaves of Welwitschia mirabilis – the plant that lives a thousand years in the arid desert of Namibia. In which “plantoid” robots, instead of humanoids, take the first steps in colonizing other planets – in the same way that green terrestrials were the pioneers in the transition from water to dry land. In which corporate governance systems (or even the state’s bureaucratic apparatus) are decentralized like a tree, and not dependent on a hierarchy with head, shoulder, knee and foot.
This is #SuperLivros. Every Sunday, SUPER recommends a work that inspires our writers to write the content you follow in the print magazine, on our website and on social networks. Until next weekend.
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