Do nature feels ?

What similarities could be between us and nature ? Not the physical aspect for sure, maybe that we both breath, but what about communication and feelings ? Can nature also transmit messages and feel ? Or… even more !

A way of communication between plants – Internet of the forest

Do you know the “wood-wide-web” ? When you go in the forest, hidden under your feet, stands millions of mushrooms connections : the mycellium. Those thread-like strands connects the different mushrooms together, ut also have some connections with the tiniest roots of trees. This type of connection is called mychorrizal network and let the mushrooms trade some nutrients to the tree and receive sugar from it (1).

In addition to that role of symbiosis, mychorrizal networks also allow between different trees about drought, imminent insect attack, weather and so on. Some researchers as Peter Wohlleben (2) go even further and conclude that trees use the communications network to support each other, sharing carbon and “loaning” sugars between tree species, such as between conifers (fir) and deciduous trees (birch).

Anticipation – What if nature could have more senses than us ?

During the 60’s, the american scientist Cleve Backster waas known for his polygraph machine, that was a way of detecting lies by pulse, respiration and galvanic skin response. One day when alone at night in the office, he saw on his desk a plant, and he wanted to test on it the lie-detection machine. In order to get a response from the machine, Backster wanted to cause anxiety to the plant, to get the same state as an human lying. Then he thought about burning one of the leaves. But before he burns it, the machine registered a big response coming from the plant ! Backster was sure : not only had the plant demonstrated fear — it had also read his mind (3).

This can be a bit hard to believe, but some people tried to do the experiment on themselves and had similar results (4). So maybe plants are actually able of more than humans and can anticipate thoughts in a way.

Sources :

  1. The Mushrooming internet of trees, Jack Savage, Forest, 2018
  2. La vie secrète des arbres, Peter Wohlleben, 2017
  3. Cleve Backster. He talked to plants and they talked back, The New York Times Magazine, Josh Eels
  4. Plants have feelings (primary perception), video from Mythbusters

What is your relationship to nature ?

What is nature ? But, what is nature for you ? How do you interact with it ?

Those are some questions I was asking to myself, but moreover I wanted to have different answers than mine about it. So I did a few interviews to have some other opinions about the perception of nature.

I asked three friends : Andrea (24yo, Spain), Julien (23yo, France) and Ina (23yo, Taïwan) to tell me more about their relationship to nature.

I asked them the following questions :

  1. Can you draw/explain in your own words what is nature for you ?
  2. What is the strongest memory you have of you with nature ? What emotions did you feel ?
  3. How would describe your relationship to nature ? How do you perceive it ?
  4. How often are you in contact with it ? In what ways ?
  5. Do you miss its contact ?
  6. What do you think about how we treat nature nowadays ?

From those interviews, some common answers emerged.

Here are two drawings I got.

In none of them there are humans. The interviewees explained to me that for them, nature didn’t really includes humans. One of the reason is that everything that has been built by humans is not nature. Another answer was that nature was everything that is without human beings.

So only with this first question, I was able to see how in people’s mind, nature was a concept in opposition to the human society.

To the question about the memories, I got two stories talking about volcanos (in Iceland and Italy) and one was about the first time smelling odors of nature. It was the first hike she was doing with her family, and her father taught her that the things she could smell were things of the nature. This story was really cute because it shows how genuine children are and are curious about nature. As adults, we don’t really notice anymore the smell of nature.

Interviewees also agreed that nature was out of the cities. They were all urban people and contact with nature was really rare for them, or with “organised” nature as parks, flowerbeds, pets… But for them, it is also true that we couldn’t live entirely in the nature as past ages because it is too wild for us nowadays.

To the question What do you think about how we treat nature nowadays ?, they all tell me about ecological problems, and they were not satisfied about the current state.

Those interviews confirmed that I was right about the separation we make today between us and nature. It’s perceived as something appart from us. But unfortunately for me, none of them seemed to be really interested in being close to nature again. Why ? Maybe because nature is so excluded from our lives that we forgot it ? Or that we’ve freed ourselves from its boundaries ? There is something to explore about that question of the benefits nature is offering to us, or why we should be close to it again.

To go further, I should continue to do interviews, maybe with people form different ages (grand parents, children) or people that lives out of cities, or people that have really special relationship to nature.

Mindmap of the interviews

Nature ontologies

Ontology is a anthropological/philosophical discipline that refers to the subject of existence. It’s about how we perceive the world, we classify it, we act in it.

Philippe Descola is a French anthropologist that has dedicated his research to nature ontologies across cultures. His idea is that the concept of “nature” doesn’t exists and is just a social production centered on human point of view. The belief of the existence of nature is to say that some entities exists thanks to something that is not human willingness. Very typical of occidental cosmologies, naturalism makes us thinks that nothing happens without a cause. That way, naturalism is so implemented in our ways of thinking that it determines our points of view and our view on others and world.

But naturalism is not the only way to perceive nature. In the book Par-delà nature et culture1 (Beyond nature and culture), Descola identifies four different ontologies: totemism, animism, analogism, and naturalism. He classifies them considering the continuity of two parameters :

  • interiority : do objects have intentions, a purpose, like me ?
  • physicality : do those objects share the same physical properties as me ?

Totemism believes in a similarity of the physicality and of the interiority. It gathered humans and non-humans into categories depending on certain physical or psychological attributes. For example the Australian aboriginal people all have a totem. You are not called by your name, but by the totem like Mr Kangaroo, Mrs Ignam and so on. A totem can also represent a clan, a generation. It means you share some attributes with this totem and then you are connected by physicality and interiority.

Animism see a discontinuity of the physicality but a continuity of the interiority. In other words, what can make a difference between humans and non-humans is just the skin. Going beyond the physical differences, animals and plants have the same soul and purposes as humans. You can interact with the same as you do with other people. For example, some aboriginal people of the Amazonian Forest discuss every morning the dreams they had in the night. In those dreams, plants and animals are taking a human appearance and speak human language to deliver messages.

Analogism says that physicality is different, either interiority. Here, the world is divided in a myriad of different individualities, all physically different (not the same kind of life) and in their interiority too (not the same purposes). It is the way of thinking of Aztec and Incas people, or of the Chinese civilization. The world is composed of an infinity of hierarchic relationships between every living beings. It is often related to the polytheists religions that give different attributes to gods.

Naturalism is the way all occidental have been raised. Here, we put a bareer between us humans and whatever else we consider as nature. Despite that we have the same physicality, we don’t have the same interiority. We share the same physiological properties, but we have completely different purposes in life. Because this way of thinking is so widespread in our culture, it’s nearly impossible for us to understand other ways of thinking and to have the feeling that we are part of the nature. Besides, the word “nature” can only be found in occidental languages, you don’t have it the Japanese or Chinese civilizations.

Naturalism led to the separation of nature and culture and is the direct source of all our actions concerning nature. For centuries we’ve been told that it was different from us. Is it even possible nowadays to think out of the naturalist prism ?

Sources :

  1. Descola Philippe, Par-delà nature et culture, 2005

Listening to nature

Today’s blogpost is about : listening to nature. But first of all, what means listening ?

Listening is the active process of receiving and responding to spoken (and sometimes unspoken) messages.

Listening is not just hearing what the other party in the conversation has to say. “Listening means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us,” said poet Alice Duer Miller. “You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.”

So listening to nature can be litterally finding a way to hear it, or inventing more abstracted ways to pay attention to it.

Hearing nature

Some applications are making us closer to nature by teaching us names. Maybe you have it in your own pocket ! Pl@ntNet1 gives us plants names if you scan it, BirdNET2 the bird names with their sound… This is not revolutionnary, but at least, putting names on plants or animals we see is a good start to feel closer to them, as knowing other humans name might creates a closer relationships.

Nowadays, we have way to listen to nature… for real ! With the little help of electronic devices you can transform plant’s elecricity into sound or music3. How does it work ? First, you have to connect some alligator cables to the leaves, roots or stalk of plant. Then, a MIDI device is capting the electrical signal going through the plant, emphasize it and then translate it into music.

Some artists embraced this process and are making concerts with humans and plants, for example, Jean Thoby4. Personnally, I find this kind of music very relaxing and in my head, it is really associated to nature. I couldn’t imagine other sounds coming from it.

France Bleu

What is also really interesting in this concept is that the sounds depends on every plant and it’s environment. The kind of plant, it’s size, the weather, the wind, the surrounding, all those factors can have an influence on the electrical signal of the plant. This way, humans and plants can interact. The art performance Beyond Perception mesures electrical signals from humans and plants while playing music together to see how thay affect each other5. And the results are quite surprising : impossible to know if you are looking to the plant’s signal or human ! We seem to react the same way to music.

Beyond perception, Maria Castellanos, Alberto Valverde

Giving nature a voice

Now we know we can hear nature like sounds or music. But what about giving it a real voice ? How can we do so ?

For now, I found nothing that was giving nature a voice like humans, but an abstract way to do so is with the creation of a juridical status for a nature entity. In Ecuador, the river Rio Vilcabamba has now a juridical status since 20116. This means that the river can sue every entity that harms it and has power to defend itself.

The Rio Vilcabamba

Listening to nature

We can also use technology associated to nature to understand more in depth the natural changes that can affect humans. A sort of animal internet.

The Kivi Kuaka expedition7 is a french project studying birds behavior to predict natural disasters. Scientists are putting some little GPS chips on the back of birds and then follow their signals. This way, instead of using high tech devices, nature could also gives us informations via birds.

Kivi Kuaka expedition

One way to get closer to nature would be maybe to learn again how to read the signs it gives us. Signs of sickness, signs about the events to come, the weather, the seasons.

Sources :

  1. Application Pl@ntNet
  2. Application BirdNET
  3. Pavle Marinkovic, Plants making music…what’s that all about?, 2020
  4. Jean Thoby, Musique des plantes
  5. Maria Castellanos, Alberto Valverde, Beyond perception, 2020
  6. Joshua C. Gellers, Earth system law and the legal status of non-humans in the Anthropocene, 2021
  7. Kivi Kuaka expedition

Design and living beings

For this first blog entry, let me explain you a bit my subject : Design and living beings.

These last years, ecological awareness has risen in a way as it never has before in the occidental world. However, when people think about protecting the planet, they mostly think about climate change and CO2 emissions.

Radically changing our society not to harm the planet anymore, gathers several different topics: climate change, CO2 emissions, economy, consumerism, waste, water, biodiversity… just to name a few of them. Nevertheless, protecting nature and biodiversity is often seen as something kind, but not serious at all.

And people shouldn’t think like this as we are extremely dependent of nature. Each human is living in a very complex ecosystem which provides him water, food, and every change in the ecosystem can have really big consequences for our lives too.

Why, then, have we lost this link to nature?

Part of the answer is that we mostly live in cities full of concrete, we don’t grow anymore the food we eat, we have lost our know-hows about nature and we have lived for centuries with the concept of nature versus culture.

So, how can we rebuild this link between human beings and nature? How can we really see nature and communicate with it?

Those are the questions I’m asking now to start my research. And I already found a few solutions trying to make nature more tangible, more close to our perception of life, but this will be in my next post.