I’m an Eternal Positive Skeptic

My Favorite Saying: You Never Know!

Warning: this article is going to be a bit esoteric comic, be warned!

Alice of Wonderland paints white roses red

I like to believe.

Believe in what? Unicorns, Santa Claus, love! I like to give the benefit of the doubt and believe that something is possible.

Few scientists are so open: for many, you believe it when you have solid evidence, a p-value < 0.05, and peers who have validated the information every 10 years. (If you don’t know what a p-value is, consider yourself lucky!) At least, that’s what I’ve seen from my professors-researchers during my studies… And I have to admit that my spouse, a doctor in biology, is the down to earth one of the couple: if you don’t have evidence, you have no reason to believe it. It makes for very interesting conversations between two biologists speculating on whether X or Y is possible or not.

For my article of the day, I take you into my world of “what if?” I want to share with you a bit of my daily life, my vision of life and nature, to open your horizons and to know what kind of gardener you are.

Credulous, Curious, Skeptical?

First of all, keep in mind that at one time, drinking herbal tea to heal yourself was considered witchcraft. Now, the molecule naturally present in willow is used to make aspirin.

In those days, hearing an owl hoot was a sign of great misfortune, and we would kill the unfortunate one that came into our barn. Now we invite them in to get rid of our field mice.

Not so long ago, bloodletting was used to cure various ailments. Now we do transfusions.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to say, “the cows are down, it’s going to rain. Hang a crucifix on the clothesline”… I’m pretty sure that today, the link between cows, rain and religion is non-existent for most people.

A person holds a Petri dish containing a plant
What will we discover tomorrow? Even more intriguing: what will we not have discovered yet? Photo: Chokniti Khongchum.

Yesterday’s Magic, Mystery and Beliefs Are Today’s Science, Experience And… Internet

If there was a time when we did things one way, that can change. Maybe in a few hundred years, we’ll laugh at our current medicine, our beliefs… and the treatment we give our plants!

Maybe we’ll have discovered that planting on a full moon actually does something? Or that it is possible to communicate with our plants using pheromones? “Grow straighter if you want fertilizer, and put away your perlite!”

We don’t know what new discoveries and new technologies await us. Will we discover that having a rotten turnip painted purple on the toilet keeps thrips away? It’s unlikely, I admit, but you never know!

Gardening Is a Complex World, Full of Superstitions, Trial and Error

What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Why is that? I don’t know! We don’t know everything, far from it! Maybe a person’s tone of voice is more favorable to their plants, or maybe it’s the smell from their kitchen that stimulates them?

Ridiculous? Why is it ridiculous? Because no one has done any research on it yet? That’s exactly why it’s not ridiculous.

I have a few messages to share with you today, not as a scientist, but like myself, a positive skeptic who likes to give wild theories the benefit of the doubt:

The Credulous

Don’t believe EVERYTHING, do your research, but do some tests too. Is ketchup a good fertilizer? Take two cuttings and sprinkle one with ketchup water; you may make a wonderful discovery. After all, the greatest scientific innovations were made by mistake, or started by being ridiculed!

Drawing of a monkey with a Darwin head
Darwin was called many things before his theory of evolution was finally adopted. This cartoon appeared in a magazine in 1871 to make fun of his theory, which was considered ridiculous. Photo: University College London Digital Collections (1886).

The Down-to-Earth

You’ve probably read a lot and have loads of knowledge. But give yourself some space too! A bit of time to daydream! And before you say “no” to the person who asks if they can water their plants with ketchup, ask yourself if that’s really the right answer to give. Have you tried it? Have you read a scientific article on the subject? Then maybe you’re about to ridicule a future Marie-Victorin!

Two men looking at trays of plants
Brother Marie-Victorin’s father wanted him to become a merchant. Without him, who founded the Montreal Botanical Garden, who knows how long we would have had to wait before having another passionate person who would have contributed so much to the knowledge of Quebec’s nature? Photo:  espacepourlavie.ca.

The Superstitious

You always plant a Lego block in your plants because that’s how your grandmother did it? Okay, but why? Is it still relevant today? In fact, maybe she was putting that block in just to keep the soil from coming out of the pot through the drainage hole… and because that’s what she had on hand at the time. “It’s always been that way” doesn’t always guarantee success, be open to changing traditions.

Middle-aged lady sends a kiss

Final word: I don’t know everything, you don’t know everything, and nobody knows everything (fortunately, because they would have a lot of emails!) So be open to innovations, question what you do… and dare to try! So much for my thought of the day, after all… You never know!

And you, what kind of gardener are you?

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

4 comments on “I’m an Eternal Positive Skeptic

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  2. I also believe in things that cannot be proven, and after 40 years in medical science, I suspect it makes you a better scientist. Kurt Gödel, who received a Nobel for showing that there are true mathematical statements that are impossible to prove, would likely agree. Mechanistic science is very powerful, but it has major shortcomings too. No matter how deeply you understand the mechanisms driving a watch, you can never discern from them their purpose, to tell time. Good for you for posting this; as an old scientist, tired of silly p value driven linear logic in a world where nothing is linear, I like to hope that we are entering an age of more open minded and healthily skeptical science/scientists. And, as you indicate, it might just make us all better gardeners!

  3. Love this, as I recently learned the true definition of a skeptic (one who forms no conclusions), and I make my own tinctures (but have been called a witch), plus I now talk to my seedlings and do Reiki on them! The seeds and small avocado trees I start sure seem to love the Reiki Energy! Though each seed is unique just as we are.

  4. Jt Michaels

    Although I tend to think along the lines of your spouse in that I don’t believe anything and don’t even use the word except when writing about it, your open minded approach is laudable.

    Because my garden and indoor plants ‘seem’ to communicate their needs to me, I like to think we humans may possibly have receptors to communicate with them but those receptors have not yet been discovered. Of course, I’m also aware that as a life-long steward, I’ve probably learned to pay attention to even the tiniest of their physical symptoms.

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