Jenell's Reviews > The Secret Life of Plants: A Fascinating Account of the Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Relations Between Plants and Man

The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins
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's review
Jul 15, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: botany
Read in June, 2008

In The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man, Peter Tompkins chronicles numerous scientists and their experiments with plants through the centuries.

I found myself immediately drawn in. I already had a sense that plants were sentient, but seeing the range of plant consciousness in the researchers’ documentation was amazing. The experiments were simple enough that I could do them. I’ve sat in front of my garden and tried to loosen my idea of consciousness and meet the plants in theirs. I’ve played my flute for them. Of course, for me, it wasn’t about the data, but about my own phenomenological observations and expanded awareness (and hopes that my plants might benefit). And that is what Tompkins’ book made me realize--that what I like about science is nascent science. I like the beginnings of scientific thought--the person who doesn’t know everything, who is able to sit with the unknown and ask questions and observe.

It is often these very people whose ideas are too strange or too powerful or too ahead of their time to be accepted. While not sensationalized, Tompkins doesn’t leave out the resistance and blacklisting encountered by scientists who proposed such theories. While their work was deemed pseudo-science or quackery, many scientists continued independently, documenting their work and self-publishing--which sometimes led to re-discovery and acceptance at a later time--sometimes long after they were dead.

It is when people start getting invested in science that I get skeptical. Scientists’ egos get in the way, or they get attached to their theories. Researchers get funded by companies eager to find applications for consumers. Maybe there are applications in medicine--or, if not--maybe the Military-industrial complex. Maybe it fits into someone’s God puzzle. The theory becomes marketable and codified and, in my mind, dead—dead because people mistake this superstar theory for fact and aren’t interested in further research.

My only criticism of the book is that, at some point I started to feel overwhelmed. I think it was due, in part, to poor organization. The Parts were divided into: 1) Modern Research; 2) Pioneers of Plant Mysteries; 3) Tuned to the Music of the Spheres; 4) Children of the Soil; and 5) The Radiance of Life. I think, maybe, it would have had a better flow if it had been written chronologically--to chronicle the discoveries and subversion (even in our own century) and re-discoveries through the ages. Tompkins included a wonderful, extensive Bibliography, but I think it would have been more efficacious if he’d written Chapter End Notes. That way the reader could stop at each chapter and do supplemental reading--or perform their own experimentation--without having to wade through the 17 page Bibliography.

Despite the organization of the book, I felt that Tompkins brought the ideas full circle, solidified the fact that science abounds with theories, and instilled in me the idea that these theories often originate when an individual is intrigued by the world and doesn’t let dogma or convention kill his or her pursuit of meaning, of answers… This book inspired me to look further into the biographies of some of those intriguing individuals: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jagadis Chandra Bose, Rudolf Steiner, Wilhelm Reich, Luther Burbank… I also felt a call to the scientist in me--and a deep wish to share that we can all be engaged in our world in this scientific sense. That we think we need to have the newest technology and be in the most credible clubs, is an artifice that prevents people--scientists and laypeople alike--from looking at their world with their very real curiosity and wonder. The Secret Life of Plants inspired me to look further into the world that I inhabit and to take back science from the specialist dictocrats!
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