“As an intellectual matter, looking at the world from other species’ points of view, helps us deal with this weird anomaly, which is – and this is in the realm of intellectual history – which is that we have this Darwinian revolution 150 years ago… We have this Darwinian revolution in which, thanks to Darwin, we figured out we are just one species among many: evolution is working on us the same way it is working on all the others, we are acted upon as well as acting, We are really in the fibre, in the fabric of life.. But the weird thing is, we have not absorbed this lesson 150 years later. None of us really believes this; we are still Cartesians, the children of Descartes, who believe that subjectivity, consciousness sets us apart. That the world is divided into subjects and objects. That there is nature on one side, culture on another.
As soon as you start seeing things from the plants’ point of view, or the animals’ point of view, you realize that the real literary conceit is that: it’s this, the idea that nature is opposed to culture. The idea that consciousness is everything. And that’s another very important thing it does. Looking at the world from other species’ points of view is a cure for the disease of human self-importance. You suddenly realize that consciousness, which we value and we consider, you know, the crown, the crowning achievement of human consciousness, is really just another set of tools for getting along in the world.
And it is kind of natural that we would think that it was the best tool. But, you know, there is a comedian who said, “Well, who’s telling me that consciousness is so good and so important? Well, consciousness.”
So when you look at the plants, you realize that there are other tools, and they are just as interesting. I will give you two examples. Also from the garden:
You know what a lima bean does when it is attacked by spider mites? It releases this volatile chemical that goes out into the world and summons another species of mite that comes in and attacks the spider mite, defending the lima bean.
So what plants have — while we have consciousness, tool making, language –, they have biochemistry. And they have perfected that to a degree far beyond what we can imagine. Their complexity, their sophistication is something to really marvel at. And I think it is really the scandal of the Human Genome Project; you know, we went into it thinking, 40,000 or 50,000 human genes, and we came out with only 23,000. Just to give you grounds for comparison – rice. 35,000 genes. So who is the more sophisticated species? Well, we are all equally sophisticated. We have been evolving just as long, just along different paths.
So… cure for self-importance…. way to sort of make us feel the Darwinian idea. And that is really what I do as a writer, as a storyteller, is try to make people feel what we know and tell stories that actually help us think ecologically.”
66 on this day
The talk is already a bit old, but worth your time…