“People aren’t the apex species they think they are. Other creatures — bigger, smaller, slower, faster, older, younger, more powerful — call the shots, make the air, and eat sunlight. Without them, nothing.” — Richard Powers, The Overstory

Unless and until nonhuman intelligence (NHI) loses its mind and leaks the game plan to human beings, Italian botanist Stefano Mancuso’s pursuit of its more accessible manifestations is as good a lead as any. He studies the terrestrial organisms that broke away from our brain-shackled forebears 1.6 billion years ago and have dominated the planet ever since. Their accounting for 82 percent of Earth’s biomass is a success story Mancuso calls plant neurobiology, a term that makes a lot of his peers choke.

Long before what we call brains came along, Flora picked a more efficient way to govern memory, behavior, and movement, to outmaneuver and outlast any and all obstacles. She did it by operating in a different time and space, and she didn’t need a brain for that. Too risky, too vulnerable, those overrated brains, cramming the whole library of cognition into a single housing. Better to decentralize all that know-how and distribute it throughout a vessel’s entire framework. Flora’s farsighted and mind-boggling evolutionary head start has prepared her so well for the Anthropocene epoch, she even converts its insults into new opportunities.

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