In an effort not to harm other living creatures, I became a vegan about seven years ago. Generally it’s not too difficult, although many eateries still think you have to exploit animals to eat anything. Vegan fare is quite good, and some of it is remarkable. Then I saw the article in Popular Mechanics, “So It Turns Out Plants Have Had Voices This Whole Time” by Jackie Appel. Well, “voices” may be stretching it a bit, but they do make sounds. According to the article, plants “talk” at the same volume as humans tend to, only it’s in a range that we can’t perceive. Other animals, however, may. That’s right, your dog may be able to hear the noise plants make. This is one of the reasons I marvel at scientific arrogance. Human senses simply can’t perceive all stimuli—how can we claim that what we term “supernatural” doesn’t exist? We don’t have nearly all the data.
Meanwhile, we live with animals whose sense of smell would send us running even more frequently to the showers. Animals who can hear plants “talking.” Animals who can perceive magnetic fields. We’ve evolved knowing what we need to know. (At least in part.) What then do plants communicate? Can they hear one another? The sounds plants make, if “translated” to human perception, seem to be “I’m thirsty,” “I’ve been hurt,” or “I’m fine.” The terminology here is Appel’s but you get the idea—plants broadcast their status. Can plants scream? One of my students reminded me a few years back that I once wondered to her what a tomato felt when it was being sliced. I responded, “That sounds like something I would’ve said.”
So now I’m a vegan and plants are joining the conversation. My hope is that they don’t feel pain. As far as we know, plants don’t have brains. Even so, heliotropes are smart enough to follow the sun across the sky. And even fully grown trees move—very, very slowly—to optimize the light they require. Such intelligence in nature always leaves me in a state of wonder. We’ve been told for centuries of human exceptionalism. Sure, we have opposable thumbs and have figured out how to communicate intricate things vocally. So much so that we can represent them in written form (such as you’re reading right now) and can know what someone’s saying even at great distances. That doesn’t mean we’re the only remarkable creatures. But it does leave me with the dilemma of what to eat.