zondag 31 januari 2016

The social life of trees

According to a very popular book by Peter Wohlleben (Das geheime Leben der BaĆ¼me) trees have a social life too: the news — long known to biologists — that trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots. [] Reading up on the behavior of trees — a topic he learned little about in forestry school — he found that, in nature, trees operate less like individuals and more as communal beings. Working together in networks and sharing resources, they increase their resistance. By artificially spacing out trees, the plantation forests that make up most of Germany’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster. But, naturalists say, creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, stymieing some of their inborn resilience mechanisms. Intrigued, Mr. Wohlleben began investigating alternate approaches to forestry. Visiting a handful of private forests in Switzerland and Germany, he was impressed. “They had really thick, old trees,” he said. “They treated their forest much more lovingly, and the wood they produced was more valuable. In one forest, they said, when they wanted to buy a car, they cut two trees. For us, at the time, two trees would buy you a pizza.”

Another look at creativity

The NY Times has an article Scientists Move Closer to Understanding Schizophrenia’s Cause. They found a clear correlation between a gene connected to pruning brain cell connections and schizophrenia. This gene is far from the only cause, but the correlation is clear. It also explains why schizophrenia usually start in late adolescence or early adulthood when pruning is strongest. Now creativity is often correlated with schizophrenia. So it would be logical to assume that this might somehow be correlated with pruning too. One theory of creativity holds that creative people have so much links in their brain that other people don't have. That would suggest that they have less pruning. However, my view is that the main thing that discerns creative people is not more ideas but less filtering. In that context it looks like that all those extra links in less creative people serve as brakes that make that ideas are rejected at an early stage because some objection is found. Another article (How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off) gave another clue about creativity - that training hampers our flexibility: First, can’t practice itself blind us to ways to improve our area of study? Research reveals that the more we practice, the more we become entrenched — trapped in familiar ways of thinking. Expert bridge players struggled more than novices to adapt when the rules were changed; expert accountants were worse than novices at applying a new tax law.