The Secret Language of Life: How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate

Brian J. Ford, Author
Brian J. Ford, Author Fromm International $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-88064-254-5
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This study of the abilities of all sorts of creatures to sense and interact with the world will leave many readers impressed and at least buffeted, if not convinced, by the author's passionate approach. Cambridge University scientist Ford (Images of Science; Microbe Power) has in effect written two books at once. The first surveys many species' social, cognitive and sensory powers. The second is a call for eco-awareness and for animal--and plant and microbe--rights: ""All animals and plants sense their surroundings, and thus they all have feelings."" A chapter on mammals' mental processes explains how mole rats search and socialize underground, how primates learn to use medicinal plants and how prairie dog colonies learn from experience. Turning to avians, Ford covers birdsong, echolocation and gulls' mating postures. Later chapters deal with reactive abilities among flora and protozoa. A fertilized ovum, like any single-celled organism, Ford suggests, has ""its own sense""; as to whether the cell is self-aware, ""we know too little... to decide."" Ford's practical suggestions for reducing cruelty (e.g., vets should use soft tables) are useful. Most lay readers will admire his fascinating survey of creaturely powers and may be sympathetic to his call to ""value the global network of all plants and animals, and react to their presence with respect."" But though it trails a dazzling set of facts, Ford's call for ""a new vitalism"" seems less scientific (or philosophical) than quasi-religious--and it's unevenly argued, though deeply felt. (Oct.)
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