The Miller Memorial Bench. Observation #3
The first few minutes of my third trip to my spot followed the basic general format that I had followed in my previous observation periods. I sat on the bench, taking into account how there were growing splotches of color in the tree leaves above the Nature Trail, noting the relative isolation of the spot being interrupted by early morning runners, noticing the mushrooms starting to grow around the bench, hearing the car horns as a traffic jam started to form on Haverford Avenue, and looking for other aspects of my location that were not the same as the previous week’s visit. But after a while of this, I kept thinking back to the alien world in Vaster Than Empires and More Slow and our class discussion about potential forms of plant sentience. By constantly thinking back to these subjects, I started considering whether my surroundings had a form of sentience and wondering if my presence at the bench was being registered by an alien mind? I began asking myself more and more questions regarding this concept such as:
- Did the leaves and pine needles lying on the ground share the same manner of sentience the trees they came from hold and lost that sentience when they fell from the trees or did they possess a separate form of sentience than the trees they come possess?
- Was the pine tree towering above the bench aware of the occasional rain drop that fell and if so was it aware that its inability to stop every drop that fell from hitting me and my notes?
Did they treat the current seasonal transition in the same way a human might? Did the tree’s losing their leaves feel like dying to them, if they truly a concept of death, or were they just seeing the process as another transition in their lifetime>
- Was the plant life around the Nature Trail similar to the plants from Le Guin’s story and their emotion reflecting abilities? Were the plants surrounding the bench experiencing and duplicating the stress of the commuters in the traffic or my puzzling curiosity at my surroundings?
As I asked myself these questions while continued my observations, I gradually realized that I was trying to give the surrounding plant life a sentient mind but by doing so in a way that forced a human-like sentience on them as that was the only form of sentience I had ever known or was told existed. As I came to the end of my observation, I wondered whether me trying to assert a form of sentience on the plant life during the hour was still a form of me looking down at plant life (that I admitted I may be guilty of) in large part due to my frustration at my inability to know for certain whether my surroundings or not really possessed sentience. If anything, my third observational period provided an excellent opportunity to really examine how I am trying to observe my spot and interpret what I’m seeing in a way that as a human others and myself have taught me to do so with my “sentient” mind.