“…you must not extend awareness further than your culture wants it to go.” (19)
This is Buhner’s fourth book in his series of books on plant intelligence, inter-species communication, non-linearity in nature, including the various non-linear and intuitive capacities in humans. This book dives deeply into the fascinating and emerging scientific fields of plant-neurophysiology, molecular microbiology, systems ecology/complexity theory, and gaia theory, including the effects of psychotropics in nature and in the human brain. But this heavy (very well-written) reading is not the central focus of the book. His synthesis of vast amounts of scientific information exposes a reality that runs contrary to scientific reductionism and materialist maps of the world. He exposes a new scientific understanding that the qualities of “self-awareness, intelligence, and the search for meaning—that have (erroneously) been ascribed as belonging only to human beings, are in fact general conditions of every living organism” (28). Of course, this understanding is not new, as many indigenous groups of humans have known this for a very long time.
“The idea that humans are separate from and superior to everything else in the biosphere has taken a terminal blow from the new knowledge about bacteria….There’s no going back.” (95)
Using concepts and language from neuroscience, such as “sensory gating channels,” he enlightens us to the reality that our perceptual capacities are flexible, fluid, and multi-dimensional; in other words, we can perceive multiple perspectives, and change our own perspective whenever it benefits us to do so. However, “gating parameters tend to set themselves as time progreses, and all organisms tend to habituate to cetain ranges of sensory intake and response to environmental perterbations.” This habituation can and does limit what and how we perceive, and how resilient and creative we are in the face of adversity. But nature has built in ways for organisms to remain fluid and adaptable; altered states, and the expansion of our perceptual capacity through drugs and other experiences, has been a fascination of humans and other organisms for a long time, and rightly so. Ingesting psychotropics (the psychoactive quality of psychedelic plants) break habituated patterns of gating by opening sensory gating channels more widely, which enables the organism to perceive a greater degree of novelty in ordinary or common experience; this opens the doors to new information and is an evolutionary advantage. Expanded gating also enables us to perceive deeper meanings in things that we are normally closed off to. As Buhner elaborates, “The more sensory data from the image that flows inside us, the more of the text that is embedded within it will flow into us. The more of the text we have access to, the more meaning we can distill out of it, the more rays of relation we can find and experience.”
Thus, the different kind of thinking this book seeks to inspire is one that enables us to access this deeper web of information and meaning that run throughout our lives and everywhere on Earth at all times. He explains that we don’t need psychotropics or advanced trainings to deepen and expand our sense of the world around us. We merely need to regain an embodied feeling sense that touches and perceives the world in a non-linear way.
“Although the beauty is what we are most drawn to, in the darkness and terror are truths that all travelers in the metaphysical background of the world eventually encounter, must face, and come to terms with. They have teachings that are necessary.” (279)
This book takes the reader into tremendously deep waters, and challenges you to examine your preconceived ideas about the way the Earth functions. Buhner invites you to discover the “imaginal realm,” where real information flows at the level of subtle meanings; meanings that guide and direct all organisms through the environment; meanings that literally reveal the underlying unity between the environment and its actors, dissolving the illusion that the “environment” is merely a passive backdrop to the moving actors and organisms. The environment shapes organisms and communities just as organisms shape the environment; they are not truly separate, the boundaries are fluid.