Norbert Peeters

Botanic Philosopher

What do plants think?

‘Until recently I knew less about plants than the average gorilla,’ botanic philosopher Norbert Peeters says. ‘While I had difficulty discerning a beech from a birch tree, my evolutionary cousin easily recognises up to two hundred different plant species.’

Peeters studied archaeology and philosophy at Leiden University, where he learned about the importance of Darwinism through the philosophy lectures of Th.C.W. Oudemans. ‘In his lectures the human race fell off its pedestal,’ Peeters explains. ‘Man no longer appeared to be the crown of creation because of their rationality, language, art and morality, but turned out to be a cousin of the chimpanzee and a great grand cousin of the amoeba.’

For the last three years Peeters’ main focus has been on botany and philosophy. This led him to start writing about the amazing aspects of plant life and how these are intertwined with our own lives. In the book Peeters published together with Oudemans in 2014, entitled Plantaardig: Vegetatieve filosofie (Plantliness: vegetative philosophy), they suggest a re-evaluation of the complexity of plant life. ‘We often think of plants as very simple organisms, but this seems far from the truth. I don’t think we anthropomorphise plant behaviour when we say that they show clear signs of intelligence,’ Peeters summarizes the main hypothesis of the book, which was nominated for the Jan Wolkers award for the best Dutch nature book in 2015. Currently he is finishing a new book in which he explores the botanical teachings of Charles Darwin. ‘People often do not realize that Darwin was an eminent botanist, who wrote multiple books and articles about the evolution and physiology of plants.’

Science, Botany, Philosophy, Netherlands PINC.17