The Light Eaters: Zoë Schlanger

A Journey into Plant Intelligence and Consciousness

In Zoë Schlanger’s latest book, The Light Eaters, the unknown realms of plant intelligence and consciousness are brought to life through compelling narratives and cutting-edge scientific exploration. This book is not just a scientific treatise but a deeply engaging narrative that challenges our perceptions of the natural world. Schlanger, a seasoned science journalist, takes readers on an immersive journey, revealing the unseen world of plant life in vivid detail.

The Light Eaters is a masterpiece of science writing. Burning with open-minded curiosity, this exploration of the emerging revolution in plant science will challenge what you think you know and ignite a new way of seeing the plant world. Part detective story, part field trip and part philosophy, this brilliant book stretches the mind, toward a profound new understanding of the sophistication of under-appreciated plants. I feel it as an antidote to arrogance, as it engenders humility, respect and awe for the light eaters who make the world.”
—Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

One of the core themes of The Light Eaters is the concept of plant communication. Schlanger explores how plants interact with their environment and each other through sophisticated mechanisms. Plants are shown to have intricate systems for detecting and responding to various stimuli, such as light, sound, and touch. This section of the book is rich with examples of plants exhibiting behaviors that suggest memory, decision-making, and even altruism.

For instance, Schlanger discusses how certain plants can release chemical signals to warn nearby plants of impending insect attacks, prompting them to produce defensive compounds. This form of communication, often referred to as “plant signaling,” is a testament to the complex and interconnected nature of plant life.

“I did not realize that my houseplants could feel me touching them,” Schlanger said. “I say ‘feel’ — what I mean is, they sense the signal of my touch as an assault.” Credit: Gloria Dickie

Schlanger provides a thorough historical context, tracing the evolution of botanical science from early speculative ideas to contemporary rigorous research. She references seminal works like The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which, despite its popularity, was criticized for blending scientific facts with unverified claims. This historical perspective is crucial for understanding the scientific community’s initial reluctance to accept the idea of plant intelligence.

“A brilliant must-read about the marvels of the green world. This book shook and changed me, revealing plant intelligence as more strange and wondrous than I could imagine. Zoë Schlanger’s explorations brim with curiosity and every page brings new revelation and insight.”
—David George Haskell, author of Sounds Wild and Broken, The Songs of Trees, and The Forest Unseen

The book highlights how scientific paradigms evolve and how new discoveries often face skepticism before gaining acceptance. Schlanger’s narrative underscores the importance of open-mindedness in scientific inquiry, while also advocating for rigorous validation of new theories.

The Light Eaters is heavily grounded in contemporary research, providing readers with an up-to-date view of the field of plant intelligence. Schlanger visits various research sites and interviews leading scientists, offering firsthand accounts of their groundbreaking work. This section is particularly engaging as it presents science in action, with ongoing experiments and debates.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is its discussion on the controversies surrounding plant consciousness. Schlanger examines the work of researchers like Monica Gagliano, who has made bold claims about plant cognition and consciousness. While these claims are fascinating, they are also contentious, with some in the scientific community questioning the methodologies and interpretations of such studies.

Listen to an audio sample of the book:

You can read more reviews and purchase the book through Harper Collins.

For more on the topic of plant consciousness we invite you to listen to our Sounds of SAND Podcast with scientist and author of Thus Spoke the Plant, Monica Gagliano, #23 The Songs of Gaia.

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