An old red bulb hanging amongst the rafters at Copenhagen Street Food Market.

Audrey Watters cites the work of Zoë Schlanger who asks what we mean by ‘intelligence’. This is important, of course, because we’re often prepending the word ‘artificial’ to it, meaning that we’re foregrounding something and backgrounding something else. It’s a zeugma.

Really, it’s intelligence I’ve been thinking about lately, as I’ve been reading Zoë Schlanger’s new book The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth.


What do we mean, Schlanger asks, by “intelligence”? What behaviors indicate that an organism, plant or otherwise, is “thinking”? How does one “think” without a nervous system, without a brain? Some of the reasons why we’ve answered these questions in such a way to deny plant intelligence can be traced, of course, to ancient Greece and to the Aristotelian insistence that thinking is the purview solely of Man. It’s a particular kind of thinking too that is privileged in this definition: rationality.

And it’s that form of “thinking,” of “intelligence” that is privileged in the discussions about artificial intelligence. It’s actually an inferior, or at least grossly limited version of intelligence, if it’s intelligence at all — the idea that entities, animal or machine, are programmed, coded. It’s so incredibly limiting.

Source: Second Breakfast

Image: Shane Rounce