Hidden Life

David Cowles

Sep 23, 2021

An earlier “Thought” introduced “The Hidden Life of Trees”, the reflections of a career forester. The book focuses on communities of trees. In these communities, trees demonstrate the ability to communicate, to share resources, to perform selfless, eleemosynary acts, to recognize and care for progenitors as well as offspring. Are these activities enough for us to ascribe a type of consciousness to these communities?

An earlier “Thought” introduced “The Hidden Life of Trees”, the reflections of a career forester. The book focuses on communities of trees. In these communities, trees demonstrate the ability to communicate, to share resources, to perform selfless, eleemosynary acts, to recognize and care for progenitors as well as offspring. Are these activities enough for us to ascribe a type of consciousness to these communities?


Now Netflix is showing a documentary called “Fantastic Fungi”. The role of fungus in the behavior of trees is well treated in the “Hidden Life” but this Netflix documentary focuses exclusively on that role.


My lifetime has witnessed a new awareness of mental process and moral behavior beyond the “merely human world”. Prior to this, during the Age of Reason, the status of animals was reduced to that of automatons and the status of plants to that of simple machines.


If we go back to even earlier times, however, we discover cultures that truly valued the non-human. In Biblical Judaism, for example, animals and cultivated lands enjoy all the same Sabbath protections as humans.


Later, Hasidic Judaism divided being into 4 categories: human, animal, vegetable and inanimate. Each contains the same ‘divine spark’. Each can be reunited with God. In fact, the Hasidim refuse to recognize any sort of hierarchy among these 4 ontological categories. It has even been suggested that Judaism is the natural religion of ecology.

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