Monday, October 29, 2012

Setting the Record Straight

Geez, how a simple statement can be misconstrued!

In a recent NPR piece entitled, "Recognizing the Rights of Plant To Evolve", the author writes:
Plants display remedial types of memory and possess "anoetic consciousness" — the ability of an organism to sense and to react to stimulation — writes Daniel Chamovitz in his 2012 book, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses.
This article then goes on to question whether plants should enjoy legal and moral protection, similar to that claimed for animals.  Accordingly, in numerous blogs and talk-backs, my book has been associated with such calls for "plant rights", and I've received a fair bit of mail asking how I can support such nonsense.

A careful reading of WHAT A PLANT KNOWS reveals that I do NOT subscribe to the notion that plants are just green animals. When discussing consciousness, I wrote the following:
But as stated in a recent opinion article, 'The lowest level of consciousness characteristic for procedural memory - anoetic consciousness - refers to the ability of organisms to sense and to react to internal and external stimulation, which all plants and simple animals are capable of.'
The fact that plants may display anoetic consciousness does not imply that they have inherent rights or dignity. Indeed, as I wrote in later part of the book:
...anthropomorphism of plant behavior left unchecked can lead to unfortunate, in not humorous, consequences. For example, in 2008 the Swiss government established an ethics committee to protect the 'dignity' of plants.
Being brainless, a plant likely does not worry about its dignity!

Do you think this bush feels violated?
Indeed, my clear take on this matter is that in the absence of a brain, plants should not be included in the discussion of "dignity" and "rights". This type of anthropomorphism is just another attempt of humans to define their place in nature.

Making comparisons is apparently in our nature. As individuals we compare ourselves with other people. As an ethnic group, we often seek feelings of superiority in comparisons with other ethnic groups. As a species we seek out human-like characteristics in chimps and dogs. So perhaps these attempts at bestowing rights and dignity on plants are just another manifestation of humans coming to terms with our place in nature.

But once with attempt has been made, lets leave the plants out of it. They really don't care.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

More on Art and Biology

Need examples of how biology and art influence each other? Start here. « ArtPlantae Today <!--[if lt IE 8]> <![endif]

Need examples of how biology and art influence each other? Start here.

The links between art and science are obvious to me and to you too, I am sure. The difficulty in making this case to others who may not share our interests is providing examples of how art and science work together. Pointing to illustrations in a field guide or a textbook is easy to do, however if we do this too often, I feel we risk making the impression that science and art intersect only in academic texts. Searching for examples outside of academia requires travel to venues such as museums and art shows and, while definitely not a bad thing, time and resources limit how much traveling we can do.
Fortunately for us, Maura Flannery wrote Biology & Art: An Intricate Relationship, a wonderful article in which she features 22 artists and how they blend biology and art in their work. You can postpone your museum visits for a little while longer. Thanks to Maura, you only need to travel as far as your file cabinet for examples to help illustrate the fact that biology and art influence each other on many levels.
The artists featured in Flannery (2012) work with pencil, pen and ink, glass, clay, stainless steel, and even dung. Some keep nature journals, press plants, make prints with fish, create molecules, and use insects as art. You’ll even find examples of controversial bio-art in her article.
You may recognize the name of one of the artists Flannery writes about. Illustrator Jenny Keller made Flannery’s list because of the chapter she wrote about the value of sketching in Michael R. Canfield’s Field Notes on Science and Nature. Keller is a scientific illustrator and instructor in the scientific illustration certificate program at California State University, Monterey Bay. Keller’s sketchbooks are packed with information and are oh-so inspiring. Actually, the word inspiring doesn’t cut it. I am going to borrow the word illustrator Dorothia Rohner used this past summer at the conference of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators — “masterful”.
In keeping with our shared interest in plants, I will mention one more artist Flannery writes about in her article. Artist James Walsh discovered that many of the weeds growing in New York are native to the Arctic (Flannery, 2012). To bring attention to these plants, he collected them, studied them, pressed them and created an exhibition about his findings. A summary of the 2010 exhibition is still viewable online.
Flannery’s article is filled with fantastic examples and I recommend it as a reference to anyone whose interests are firmly planted in biology and art. Her article can be purchased online for $14 or obtained by visiting your local college library.

Literature Cited

Flannery, Maura C. 2012. Biology & art: An intricate relationship. 74(3): 194-197. The American Biology Teacher

More Examples of Biology & Art

To Maura’s well-researched list, I would like to add the following resources for your consideration:
  • Symbiartic: The Science of Art and the Art of Science
  • Member Gallery of the American Society of Botanical Artists
  • The Ask the Artist list located in the column to the right of this article. This list features the wonderful guests who have shared their work and who have taught us so much. Guests such as Gary Hoyle. Gary will be taking your questions through October 31, 2012. Have a question about museum exhibits, dioramas or the realistic plant models seen in museums? Ask Gary!
Also, don’t miss Maura’s article about imagery in scientific communication.