Plants fuel all life on Earth. I mean that in the most literal sense, as they do much more than just provide us with the oxygen almost all living things depend upon. They're also our source for energy, as they tap the sun's energy and pass that on to all animals in the form of food at the bottom of the food-chain.
Image by Daniel Chodusov - source: Flickr
Everything is energy and so is life itself. The sun is our shining energetic source; even the coals and fuels we burn are nothing more than the sun's energy stored in plant remains from millions of years ago. As a fun side note, did you know that while 71% of the planet's two dimensional surface is made of water, it makes up a whopping 99% of the biosphere, the life sustaining three dimensional volume? And that tiny plankton plants provide almost 50% of the oxygen we depend upon? Read this University of South Florida paper if you'd like to delve into the importance of the Earth's ocean-life: Year of the Ocean.
Today I want to focus on plants though, and our inability to appreciate them like we should. Depending on what's counted, at least 80%, and at most 99% of the planet's biomass is made up of plants, trees, fungi and algae, but somehow we humans look straight through or past all this green. So much even that James Wandersee of Louisiana State University and Elizabeth Schussler of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center introduced the term "plant blindness" in 1998 after years of research. They define the term very broadly, like "the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs."
They saw this as a major problem, because such a dismissive attitude towards our green friends would make it unlikely that society would ever agree that plant conservation is among humanity's highest priorities. And while we hear regularly about how animal species are dying out in record numbers, we almost never hear that according to some estimates one in eight plant species is threatened with extinction.
On top of that, and this is something I'm personally much interested in, more and more scientists are seriously discussing the possibility of the existence of plant consciousness. We know for a fact that plants can communicate and learn from each other, warn neighbors about coming threats, like leaf-eating insects, can communicate with insects to lure predator insects to attack the leaf-eaters, have a memory of past warnings enabling them to get their defenses up more quickly when a particular threat returns... The list goes on and on; plants exhibit behavior almost indistinguishable from conscious animals, making decisions in reaction to perceived and predicted changes in their environment.
Plant Blindness - Interview with Elizabeth Schussler
They're the engines of all animal life, they fuel our bodies as well as our cars, they seem to be conscious without having any organs whatsoever and they make up 80 to 99 percent of all living mass on the planet. Thinking about plants in this way should make you feel a sense of awe. But we don't. It's just that I am actively seeking out this information that I get a chance to occasionally be perplexed, but then life goes on... Wandersee and Schussler have investigated our plant blindness and I'd like to share with you their conclusion.
While they don't discount other causes, like a strong "zoo-chauvinism" among school teachers, Wandersee and Schussler argue that the primary contributor to plant blindness is the nature of the human visual information-processing system. It's a well known fact that we don't process all visual data that our eyes provide us; it would cause a system meltdown if our brains even attempted that, so we're only aware of what we pay attention to and the rest literally fades away in the background.
Other researchers have calculated that each second, the eyes generate more than 10 million bits of data for visual processing, but the brain extracts only about 40 bits and fully processes only the 16 bits that reach our conscious attention.
How, in confronting this tremendous bottleneck, does the brain decide which 16 bits of visual information to focus on? Put simply, it searches for movement, conspicuous colors and patterns, objects that are known, and objects that are potential threats. Since plants are static, blend in with the background, and don't eat humans, they generally don't get visual attention.
We evolved in forests and on grassy plains and were never threatened by plants or trees; we never looked twice at that green and only had eyes for the colored fruits and flowers. Maybe that's why a city-dweller like myself doesn't notice the plants even now they're not part of the daily surroundings anymore. I just thought it useful to at least be aware of this, and to remind myself of plant-life's importance. And share that with you of course, dear reader :-) I'll close with a video about plant consciousness, hoping it'll get rid of some of that plant blindness. Now the question is of course: can plants see us..? I bet they can! ;-)
Are plants conscious? | Stefano Mancuso
The above is a redacted version of a post I originally released on Steemit in December 2018
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