Symposium

A Discussion About (Mostly) Books As They Relate to a Theme of Contemporary Interest

Consider the cabbage

In the summer of 1914, the polymath scientist Jagadis C. Bose, attempting to prove that plants feel pain and emotional distress, invited leading literary and scientific figures to visit his private laboratories for demonstrations of plant sentience. According to Bose’s biographer, George Bernard Shaw attended one of these events, and, “being a vegetarian, was unhappy to find that a piece of cabbage was thrown into violent convulsion when scalded to death.” A hundred years later, we are again being asked by academics to consider the cabbage as well as the lobster. A recent explosion of scientific literature about plant perception and communication has shown that, among other things, plants can interpret sounds and use chemical signaling to warn other plants about nearby predators. These studies suggest that it may be time to reevaluate our basic conceptions about the status of vegetal life.

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Monica Westin lives in San Francisco, where she writes about art and is completing a dissertation on ancient rhetoric and aesthetics.

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