A book therefore about different ways of Being, including the non-human kind, connected in my mind with previous work I had researched from Suzanne Simard’s Finding the Mother Tree (2021), and Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees (2017) to Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life – How Fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures (2020). I had read about the communication between and among trees, a network that lies beneath the forest floor, the way that trees commune in family groups and how the mother tree takes a matriarchal role in the forest, and the fascinating world of mycelium and its networking role in the natural world. This has led scientists to question whether plants are sentient – that like the human and animal world, they are conscious, capable of having feelings and emotions, and perhaps a sense of Being.
Through a series of examples, Bridle questions the human-centric nature of our world and how animals and plants might hold the key to solving some of the world’s problems if we are prepared to look at and understand what nature has to offer. In the most obvious example, the creation of the world wide web might have been informed and expedited by a better understanding of the wood wide web, discussed above, which has been under the forest floor since the beginning of time. He goes on to develop his thinking by suggesting that our endeavours to measure intelligence in animals and plants might have, in the past, been ill-conceived because of our human-centric view of intelligence, and that had we set up experiments that were more appropriate to test and measure the intelligence of the natural world we may have found some interesting results that Bridle refers to. For example, an experiment to measure the intelligence of the Bonobo, was set up with a branch and some food on a table and the monkey was not able to figure out how to reach the food, however, as soon as the experiment was set up with the branch hanging from above the Bonobo immediately used it to access the food. One might speculate that an experiment more akin to an arboreal landscape is more appropriate for the animal whose intelligence is being measured. Bridle references many other examples where animal and plant intelligence has been questioned because of an inability to see the natural world from different perspectives or conceive of a different measure of intelligence.
Bridle speaks of a non-human world “suddenly alive with intelligence and agency” and as humans, our “utter entanglement with the more-than-human world” (2022 p11). He suggests that the climate change challenges might be an opportunity to engage more appropriately with and learn from our natural neighbours and environments. “We must learn to live with the world, rather than seek to dominate it.” He suggests that what matters for the future is the inter-relationships and connections between the human and non-human world, that which lies between us rather than within and should extend to “things” as well as “beings”. Taking an ecological approach, Bridle argues, allows us to take a wider view and in doing so engage with the world in different ways and with all things, and recognise their “beingness as part of a non-hierarchical whole and not something separate from or subordinate to it.
Bridle’s ideas and approach resonate with a world where all objects (or as Bridle calls them subjects) play an equal part and where we recognise a sense of Being in all things whether it coincides with human thinking or not.
Bridle, J. (2022). Ways of Being – Beyond Human Intelligence. London, Allen Lane.
Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.
Sheldrake, M. (2020). Entangled Life – How Fungi make our Worlds, Change our Minds, and Shape our Futures. London, Random House.
Simard, S. (2021). Finding the Mother Tree – Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. New York, Knof, Borzoi Books.
Wohlleben, P. (2017). The Hidden Life of Trees – What they Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World. London, William Collins.