Sep 3, 2011

The Secret Language of Life

How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate
by Brian J. Ford

This book is all about well, what the subtitle says- how animals and plants use their senses to perceive the world and respond to it. Ford's main argument seems to be that we, as humans, have no right to feel superior to the rest of life on earth because most of them have been around far longer than us, and are just as capable of seeing and feeling things, of making decisions about how to act. First he describes in detail our own sense of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing- and then points out how many animals have much superior senses, or possess ones we lack completely- like bats' and dolphins' ability to echolocate, or birds' ability to navigate using magnetism. Even tiny creatures like insects can see far better than us- have you ever tried to swat a fly? it sees you coming far faster than you can act. All of this was intriguing, but the part of the book that really floored me was where Ford talked about how plants perceive the world. Most of them can sense light, can tell direction (gravity), can respond to temperature changes and wind, and touch. At one point he says that plants sense each other's presence and space themselves out to even out the resources; that's why trees are well-spaced in a forest. I didn't quite get this point, though; he never really explained how that worked out. I always thought trees were well-spaced because when too close together the weaker one would simply fail to thrive.... The final chapters are about microscopic creatures and how they sense the world around them. Not only do they react to their environment and seek out food, but some apparently communicate with each other as well- insofar as they need to, in order to find mates and such. Did you know there's even a microbe that has a functional eye? Crazy stuff, that makes you really wonder at the world around you. The Secret Language of Life is really a fascinating book.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 320 pages, 1999


Jenny said...

I thought that same thing about trees spacing each other, that the roots of one tree would, I dunno, choke out the roots of the other tree. That's not it?

Jeane said...

I'm still not sure. The author didn't give a lot of details backing up his idea of trees sensing each other's presence to space themselves out, either.