Note — Nov 03, 2019

Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees

This interview with professor Suzanne Simard about trees, fungi, their networks of communication, collaboration, intelligence, and “feelings” would certainly make for a super interesting conversation with people from other disciplines since her view of all of these would likely be interpreted differently. I still liked it a lot and it’s a good intro to the mind expanding research she has been doing on trees. (Check out the fungi pictures in Miscellany below.)

Fungi don’t register at all except for a sprinkling of mushrooms; those are regarded in isolation, rather than as the fruiting tips of a vast underground lattice intertwined with those roots. The world beneath the earth is as rich as the one above. […]

Simard went on to show how mycorrhizae-linked trees form networks, with individuals she dubbed Mother Trees at the center of communities that are in turn linked to one another, exchanging nutrients and water in a literally pulsing web that includes not only trees but all of a forest’s life. […]

Rather than biological automata, they might be understood as creatures with capacities that in animals are readily regarded as learning, memory, decision-making, and even agency. […]

I’ve come to think that root systems and the mycorrhizal networks that link those systems are designed like neural networks, and behave like neural networks, and a neural network is the seeding of intelligence in our brains. […]

We know these old trees are changing their behavior in ways that give advantages to their own kin. Then the kin responds in sophisticated ways by growing better or having better chemistry. A parent tree will even kill off its own offspring if they’re not in a good place to grow.