on the legitimacy of talking to trees.
roots are radiant. they ray out thinner roots from thick ones and finer ones still from the thin ones. they aren’t passive; they move about like fingers, purposefully seeking out nutrients in the soil. they have an array of techniques for attracting the chemicals they need from the soil and repelling those they don’t, which is as various and impassioned as asking, soliciting, begging, imploring, acquiring, pleading for, stealing, appealing for, etc. are in humans. from their quests, sallies and gestes activating their biochemistry the spirituality of tree roots is composed, which together with those of the trunk and crown, which are just as highly organized and structured, make a major contribution towards the spirituality of the tree. the physical is spiritual.
what a multitude of beings a tree comprises. atoms are beings. cells are beings. leaves, flowers and seeds are beings. how busy and alive they all are, from the fine, feeding filaments of the roots to the busy chemistry in the cells of leaves. they actively respond to the sea of molecular and microbial events in the soil. no two atoms are alike. tin atoms have a spirituality distinct from that of all other kinds of atom, but similar to that of all other tin atoms. every atom has travelled its path through the cosmos from its genesis to its present position. every atom has a memory, a record of its total experience in all its aeons long minutiae. each element deals idiosyncratically with its memory, according to its own inner logic, which is itself determined by the structuring features of its total experience. within those complexes of paradigms and timeframes of the apparent world that constitute the reality that humanity subscribes to, they can be said to evolve.
the enchantments spun by atoms out of the myriad tugs and tweaks, rays and dynamics, passions and strategies, dilemmas, desires and demands of their chemistry are the elements from which the enchantment of the entire tree is built up. every tug and tweak represents a feature-rich complex of qualities. they mediate…what? is that a religious question? or does marshal macluhan’s famous slogan “the medium is the message” originally referring to the mass-media of the 1960s apply also on this cosmic scale? or are they what australian aboriginal dreaming theology would describe as dreamings, mediating, via the physical, psychical and spiritual dimensions within them, so as to constitute what we know as reality itself, the ideational motifs that manifest as the events and features of the universe, from the births and deaths of cosmoses to the events of the daily lives of people on our tiny little planet earth? the forces within atoms determine the structures they’ll form. the structures structure still more structures, ultimately determined minutely from within the primordial atom. is this not genetic?
qualities are soul. when a number of qualities constellate sustainedly we have ‘a’ soul. atoms are soulful. sulphur is sour. tin is giggly. oxygen is ebullient. hydrogen is mutable. sodium is sulky. probably, on another scale, our big bang is passionate too, perhaps with a whole range of passions of a whole higher order of subtlety and complexity than we can imagine. ‘personality’ exists at the atomic level. it does not stop at the level of species, but goes on building, to the planetary, the galactic, the cosmic and beyond.
molecules are composites of soulful beings, and their logic makes one thing of many parts. their memories are pooled, and they generate paradigm complexes that do not instantaneously harmonise. perhaps their disharmony is a clue to what drives an atom, a molecule, or an organisation of molecules (i.e. an organism). it may be that a major part of the work of the universe is towards the harmonisation of all paradigms, or it may be that the disharmonisation process, the antithesis of entropy, is life, the idea being that we should celebrate the stimulation of disharmony while learning to manage its stressfulness in comfortable, joyous creative ways that hurt no one and contribute to the pleasurableness of existence for all.
there is no real distinction between living and non-living things, no point of complexity or stage of evolution at which a molecular complex becomes living. even the division between biotic and non-biotic systems is not clear-cut. to impute to atoms and molecules non-sentience and non-livingness, i.e. deadness, is unscientific. to distinguish between biotic and non-biotic life-forms is a useful convention, but scientists who are still attempting to present a theory that ‘life’ is something that gets engaged as a soon as a molecular complex reaches a certain level of a certain type of complexity are failing to convince. the molecules comprising genes compose themselves in accord with the inner logic of their passionate, spiritual, mindful atoms, conditioned by the multifarious forces and qualities of their environment. any organism is a colony of organisms, and trees are large and complex ones.
the myriad subatomic memories forming the composite soul of a tree, a human or any organism correspond to what freud called the id. the energy generated by their interplay, is patterned by the logistics of that interplay, such that it mediates, if not mentality itself, the makings of it, and it can be easily structured. their interrelationships constitute what we call logic. the application of logic to data is reasoning. so molecules, in which vast swathes of data are being structured logically by their environment and are structuring it also are already reasoning.
our human sensoria select from the data information relevant to us and surely mountains, fish, herbs and trees do too. trees surely would sense their birds, the animals, snakes and insects they shelter, and the people who care for them and harvest their fruits.
a multi-billion-atomed tree has a vast palette of conditioned energies. it is not necessarily going to create novels or convert its aeons of experience into memes comprehensible to humans, but it’s palette draws from the same array, with minor exceptions such as that the human avails itself of more iron and the tree of magnesium. the degree of difference that we see between the biochemistry and physiology of trees and people, from the molecular level to the gross forms of the organism, the limbs and circulatory, sexual and other systems, will be similar to the degree of difference we might expect to find between tree and human sentience. just as its physiological traits are broadly similar to those of a human in many ways, especially on a cellular level, but different in other ways, so there will be some overlap in the genetically determined usage of the resources of the id. after all we share some significant portions of our genome with plants.
but can trees be thought to have consciousness or not? logically, there’s no way they haven’t. as with life, there is no threshold of consciousness. it doesn’t ‘arise’, the result of a particular arrangement of atoms. atoms are text rich, with myriad memes recorded in their infinitely intricate mathematics, and memes are value-laden, and between one meme and another is a relationship, and that has many aspects all of them vectored, and vectored meme-loads are thought. these intricately complex streams of thought are exquisitely variously responsive to the myriad movements of meme-laden complexes around them, and their responses are conditioned, and purposeful and driven. this is sentience, intelligence, and it is unreasonable not to believe also that it is consciousness.
atoms are consciousnesses. their logical structure dictates that their consciousness concatenates its records of events and situations relevant to it logically. structure is itself intellect. responsivity is passion. sensitivity is feeling. composed of logically interrelated, inter-responsive, sensitive atoms, molecules are mentalities. we have every reason to believe that the microbes in soil ‘behave’ in precisely the sense that animals in an ecosystem behave, and that this behaviour reflects the behaviours of their atoms, which are harnessed by their own internal logic to generate the observable behaviours of visible beings. the awareness of any earthly being is the pooled, multileveled awareness of all its atoms structured from the molecular level up through the cellular level, through organs such as leaves and flowers, clefts and cliff-faces, or eyes and hands to the individual tree, mountain, or human being.
proteins within the cytoplasm of cells or in soil solutions wriggle and writhe. water molecules have been described as behaving ‘like drunks at a party’, forming loose associations, breaking off, clustering here and wandering off alone to join another group somewhere else.
we don’t have to impute to trees the idea that they ‘think’ sequences of thoughts that would be intelligible to us, or ever could, but it would be unscientific to rule it out. trees have no lungs, yet they breathe in a sense relatable to the sense in which we humans breathe. we recognise their circulatory system, their feeding mechanisms their excretory systems and their reproductive systems. all manner of metabolic processes within the human organism have parallels within plants, similar functions being performed by systems vastly dissimilar in appearance. their environment is continually producing changes within them and they register such changes and respond to them within the complex chemistry of their physiology.
are they able to discern their own boundaries? are their boundaries what we think they are? perhaps the question should be: do they imagine their own boundaries the way we imagine ours? is a ‘tree’ the part we call a tree plus the teeming ecology that always surrounds its roots, trunk and crown? or is the tree oriented to our apparent reality obliquely, experiencing its wood-and-leaf avatar as a single sense organ, say, of a vaster, mostly extradimensional being whose forms are beyond our imagining? why not? after all, it’s fair to describe humans as mostly extradimensional beings, unacquainted though we mostly are with practically every part of it not mediated through our material consciousness.
consider the predicament of a tree in a forest depending on the rich mix of debris on the forest floor for its sustenance. not able to move, a tree can nevertheless manipulate its own chemistry, not only to defend itself against pests, but also to manipulate other beings for its own advantage. by experiment trees can learn to make just the right pheromone to draw a favourite animal (copies of its sex hormones for example, reconstructed from bio-chemistry derived from corpses that decayed among their roots) and a predatory tree might team with it a species specific leaf-spray of a finely-tuned soporific or paralytic drug, to be triggered by the approach of the animal, which might cause the animal to lie down under the tree in a state of apathy, there to slip into a coma and then die.
well, okay, trees can’t do that to people these days (or can they?), but it might help to explain some of the anxiety about haunted forests that permeate human folk-lore and fantasy still. plants do employ frogs, snails and insects, and they do manipulate bird and animal flocks for their own use, attracting birds and mammals with pheromones or energetic cues and then triggering defecation and or urination, and sometimes sickness or paralysis and death, thus enriching the soil around their roots. rhubarb plants shepherd whole flocks of snails about, sending them out at night to graze beyond the rhubarb’s reach and calling them home to nestle (and defecate) all day under their leaves, to sleep, to breed, perchance to die and thus nourish the plant still more.
this bespeaks a system actively discriminating between its own interests and those of other competing systems; a life-form that agrees with us in principle as to what constitutes it’s self – at least its material self – and where its ego boundaries are.
people, according to the freudian conception of a person and models based upon it, generally behave not like conscious beings, but like integrated cooperative complexes of conscious beings, and these may or may not be conscious of each other. we normally assume that one of these is a primary consciousness, the ego, and that it shares most of its major consciousness features with the egos of all other (normal) people. associated with it are other consciousnesses, perhaps repressed.
complexes of consciousness which have become almost autonomous within the greater composite consciousness ( perhaps i mean the atman) of a human being, which are able to influence the primary ego with inarticulate or even with heavily-coded or actually articulate promptings such as dream symbolism or psychopathological quirks and glitches; (and perhaps also a ‘soul’, informed from the collective consciousness in the same way as a primary consciousness is informed from the collective consciousness; that is, from the culture it shares with the primary consciousnesses of other people) would be like angels interacting on a whole higher, transcendental level which our material consciousness seldom perceives.
anthropological insights are challenging the assumption that all normal people have a circumscribed consciousness that shares most of its major consciousness features with all other people’s consciousnesses. consciousness and self-orientation varies enormously from one ethnicity to another. parapsychology shows us that, when the experiences of all cultures are considered, the range of kinds of so-called ‘paranormal’ experience indicates that humans are a whole ecology of personality complexes co-existing more or less harmoniously within a single personality, with each culture emphasising some culture specific selections at the expense of others. some of these personality parts are capable of sustained autonomy, like the astral body, others, such as freuds ‘unconscious’, not. even within a single culture, jane hypothetical-smith the accountant is also a wife and mother, and also a tennis player, a vulnerable child, a wildcat fighter, a hostess, a poet, and in her fantasy life, queen and high priestess of bblazthwygx on the planet zwatch. the elements of even a human ego are selected from a formidable array of possibilities encoded within the rhythms and sequences of genes, whose rhythms and sequences are encoded within atoms, the vectors and powers of whose encoding forces are encoded within…etc, ad infinitum, and while one selects within one’s culture. ones species, ones genus, ones biological kingdom etc, from within a particular strategically limited range, these selections vary from culture to culture, from species to species, and from kingdom to kingdom, etc, and the boundaries are usually more or less blurred.
the argument that there isn’t necessarily awareness wherever there are life processes is usually based on the idea that we aren’t normally aware of our digestive processes, the operations of our spleens, our pineal bodies, or the mechanistics of muscular movement, all of which we must painstakingly achieve cognisance of by a process of scientific discovery not available to a dog or a sheep, which therefore would be less aware of them than we are. but that assumes that our ‘primary’ ego is the only ‘conscious’ part of us. in fact, just as all the complexes of a person, body and soul, are as likely as this ‘primary ego’ to be self-conscious and sentient and aware also of a selection of features of their environments and contexts, so all the organs of a body inevitably have their own awarenesses. it could be said that different parts of the body interpret different experiential realms, and through the brain they share the knowledge they get with other parts only in interpreted forms, as in dreams, and other psychopathological events. if this is so among the parts within a human being, it is so among the beings within an ecology.
all this sets a scene in which intelligent communication with trees could be possible, if not one in which it would inevitably happen. but the proof can only ever be through subjective experience.
so, remember to smile and say good morning to the trees you regularly encounter. it’s amazing what a delightful difference their responses make to your life – more convincing than any number of carefully composed words!
vyvyan ogma wyverne /|\