It has been suggested that plants are conscious, based on recent experiments that suggest they are able to learn and make decisions.
The notion that plants can learn and make decisions may seem far-fetched, but recent experiments suggest that this might actually be the case.
Is that true, and what implications does that have for our understanding of consciousness and human psychology?
Researcher Paco Calvo from the University of Murcia in Spain is on a path to link into this somewhat controversial possibility.
In the hope of one day answering a deeply bizarre question: are plants sentient, he’s trying to develop a scientific framework for understanding plant “neurobiology.”
Taking a scientific approach to consciousness is a controversial endeavor, primarily because of the lack of concrete ways to study it or define it. Nonetheless, Calvo’s experiments raise some interesting points, although they are still conceptual.
There is a widespread perception that plants are intelligent, albeit in a simple way. Talking, reacting, and even tricking insects are all part of their behavior. These events, however, can be ascribed to simple evolutionary adaptations – passive responses, rather than choices made consciously.
Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Washington, said plants are aware of the environment, themselves, and their neighbors.
Although we do not know if plants are conscious, Calvo and others developed a litmus test to measure whether they have a sense of will or at least cognition.
Firstly, they determine whether the behavior is flexible and proactive; secondly, they ask whether it is anticipatory; and finally, thirdly, they determine whether it is goal-oriented.
When beans climb, it seems that they are seeking out a good spot to land on. In the process of deciding where to settle, they make wide scanning motions, and show a spike in electrical activity when they hook onto a new rail.
Calvo believes that this combination of factors may reveal basic cognitive function, and even that plants have subjective experiences in a more profound way. The bean may even know that the pole is there, Calvo said, but he cautioned against assuming too much.
The idea of consciousness in plants, animals, and machines is not new, and researchers in all fields have explored, proven, and disproven it for a very long time. However, his work is certainly fascinating, and as plants’ intelligence continues to amaze and delight, he may just be onto something.
Having that said, don’t feel bad when you eat your salad during launch.
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