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Rose bushes lack neurons. 

But that doesn’t mean that they, as a species, and they, as individual plants, don’t make decisions and embody strategies and tactics.

Today, a local crow and I were playing the counting game. I think that’s the most parsimonious explanation, even though I can’t “prove” it. Here’s what actually transpired. I went out into the garden to take pictures of flowers before it gets too chilly. Soon a crow said, “CAW!” So I said, “CAW!” 

Then, the crow crowed “CAW! CAW!” So I repeated that message. Any way, we got up to three and the crow started over at one and we went through the whole sequence three times. 

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They cawed three times and I said: “That’s what we call ‘Three’ and I “cawed” the first three digits followed by cawing three times. He cawed back.

Then, once again, I said, “One, Two, Three” and “CAW! CAW! CAW!”They next did something I don’t recall hearing before. They did a distinct two-tone CAW: I think it was low-hi. I went out to photograph roses, not take notes on crows. I repeated his two-tone CAW as best I good and he flew off while cawing about ten times. I fantasize that they flew off to tell their friends that they discovered a human who almost seems smart enough to CAW! Indeed, they are having quite a conversation out back right now. I am not yet sophisticated enough to know what they are talking about but cross-species communication is pretty cool. 

The rose bush speaks to me too, of course. 

I cannot hear it with my auditory apparatus. At least, not yet, I can’t. I have to “listen” with my eyes, and my mind, and my heart. I “know” something of what the rose wants and needs. I know it needs water and sunshine, for instance. It needs minerals. But those things are true of green plants in general. What does the rose tell me about its strategy and tactics for survival and thrival? 

No, the rose bush cannot answer my spoken questions, but that often happens when it comes to communicating with other humans. I have read some poorly documented code (perhaps my own) and tried to figure out what the heck this code is doing. Probably, the single most important thing is to understand what the programmer was trying to do. What was their intention. I don’t actually have to know what precisely was in their mind in order to understand it at a useful level. This particular human programmer might have been thinking primarily about getting a raise, or impressing their supervisor, or outdoing their friend. Who cares? I need to understand an imputed design rationale.

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In that same sense, I strive to understand the imputed design rationale of the rose plant. It doesn’t require that the rose talks to me in English. For example, why are a rose’s blooms so beautiful? Certain, the original “motivation” was mainly to attract pollinators like bees. But guess what? Some of the same patterns, colors, and odors that attract insect pollinators also attract human caregivers. In fact, the human caregivers have, through selective breeding, put additional design constraints on roses. As a result, there are more varieties of roses than there would have been without human intervention.

The roses have, one way and another, evolved genes that encourage them to grow beautifully. In a way, this can be said to be their “intention” — Their “design rationale” is that if they grow more beautiful, they will thrive more. But is their “intention” to be beautiful so recent? Suppose that other mammals also find the blossoms beautiful? Attracting mammals to the rose plant may encourage them to breathe carbon dioxide on the roses; to defecate nearby and provide minerals; perhaps even to bleed some because of the thorns. It’s even possible that there is also an innate design rationale of all life to be beautiful. Life is beautiful in terms of being itself. Perhaps, other things being equal, surfacing the fact of your being part of life by being beautiful is itself a survival strategy. It increases the chances that other life forms will cooperate with you. They will perceive that you are kindred and may have something valuable to trade. 

Is it the natural state of affairs that all life reaches out for all life in the hopes of reaching some mutual understanding? 

What do you feel?

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