Are plants intelligent? Can they think? Can they hear, see, feel, smell and taste? Throughout history, most Western philosophers and scientists answered those questions with a resounding “no.” Plants have long been treated as passive, inanimate objects that form the backdrop to our active lives, rather than highly sensitive organisms with intelligence and agency of their own. But on the cutting edge of modern science, this orthodoxy is being questioned by a group of daring and imaginative scientists — including our guest, Monica Gagliano — who think that plants are radically more sophisticated and sensitive than we’ve been giving them credit for. Gagliano pioneered the field of “plant bioacoustics,” the study of sounds produced by and affecting plants. The results of her groundbreaking experiments suggest that plants may perceive, solve problems, remember, and learn via mechanisms that differ from our own. In this episode, we speak with Gagliano about the profound implications of her discoveries and how listening to plants changed her understanding of the world.
A concert pianist-turned-entomologist and bedbug expert, Dr. Gale Ridge is an insect detective. She solves mysteries and helps thousands of perplexed, struggling people with all varieties of bug problems — from bedbugs to agricultural pests to imaginary bugs that infest our consciousness. Dr. Ridge speaks about her sleuthing and how she brokers peace between the humans that walk in her door at the Connecticut Insect Inquiry Office and the tiny segmented animals we’ve learned to fear.
Termites outweigh humans ten to one. If they went on strike, ecological chaos would ensue. We speak with science writer Lisa Margonelli, author of the new book Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, about the questions these small creatures raise about technology, power, morality, and the nature of scientific progress.