Smart as a Box of Rocks
12 9 2021
Smart as a Box of Rocks

How inorganic matter and plants show signs of intelligence and intention

The chemist and author Laura Tripaldi was in conversation with philosopher and author Emanuele Coccia in this event moderated by physicist and author Matteo De Giuli. The central theme was fascinatingly both familiar and alien: intelligence and the unexpected places we can find it.

Tripaldi’s work focuses on inorganic materials (a term she dislikes), while Coccia works on plants and the botanic world. A central topic in the discussion was the definition of philosophy, revolving around the idea that the separation between the humanities and natural science is an obsolete and deleterious concept. Through the attempt to define intelligence in a non-human form (from the overlap of process, intention and product in a growing plant seed, to the way chemicals don’t always act predictably) the authors got closer and closer to a paradigm shift where humanity is not as central as we might be used to thinking.

“We are slowly shifting towards the realization that we are surrounded by subjects, not objects”, biologists are ethnographers of the non-human, chemists are anthropologists of matter. These perspectives opens further philosophical and ethical questions, in a scientific scenario where “humanity starts feeling it is on the wrong side of history and is desperately looking for redemption and a return to innocence”. As events like the pandemic and global warming make us feel smaller than we’ve ever felt in recent history, it might be time to form an alliance with unexpected intelligences.