Are Plants Intelligent?

Are plants intelligent? New book says yes | Environment | The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com › Environment › Conservation

Aug 4, 2015 – A new book, Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, was pubished by a plant neurobiologist (yes, plant neurobiologist),  ( …Are plants intelligent? Can they solve problems, communicate, and navigate their surroundings? Or are they passive, incapable of independent action or social behavior?) Philosophers and scientists have pondered these questions since ancient Greece, most often concluding that plants are unthinking and inert: they are too silent, too sedentary — just too different from us. Yet discoveries over the past fifty years have challenged these ideas, shedding new light on the extraordinary capabilities and complex interior lives of plants. (Amazon posting).

Stefano Marcuso, author of Brilliant Green, joined with Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, an American plant biologist, Rainer Stahlberg, a German plant photobiologist, Eric D. Brenner, an American plant molecular biologist and František Baluška, a Slovak cell biologist to publish an article in 2006, Trends in Plant Science.

The authors contended that ‘the behaviour that plants exhibit is coordinated across the whole organism by some form of integrated signalling, communication and response system … [which] includes long-distance electrical signals, vesicle-mediated transport of auxin in specialised vascular tissues, and the production of chemicals known to be neuronal in animals’.

Michael Pollan, who wrote an article in the New Yorker in  Dec. 23, 2013, says for the longest time, even mentioning the idea that plants could be intelligent was a quick way to being labeled “a whacko.” But no more, which might be comforting to people who have long talked to their plants or played music for them.

The new research, he says, is in a field called plant neurobiology — which is something of a misnomer, because even scientists in the field don’t argue that plants have neurons or brains.

“They have analagous structures,” Pollan explains. “They have ways of taking all the sensory data they gather in their everyday lives … integrate it and then behave in an appropriate way in response. And they do this without brains, which, in a way, is what’s incredible about it, because we automatically assume you need a brain to process information.”

And we assume you need ears to hear. But researchers, says Pollan, have played a recording of a caterpillar munching on a leaf to plants — and the plants react. They begin to secrete defensive chemicals — even though the plant isn’t really threatened, Pollan says. “It is somehow hearing what is, to it, a terrifying sound of a caterpillar munching on its leaves.”

Pollan says plants have all the same senses as humans, and then some. In addition to hearing, taste, for example, they can sense gravity, the presence of water, or even feel that an obstruction is in the way of its roots, before coming into contact with it. Plant roots will shift direction, he says, to avoid obstacles.

So what about pain? Do plants feel? Pollan says they do respond to anesthetics. “You can put a plant out with a human anesthetic. … And not only that, plants produce their own compounds that are anesthetic to us.” But scientists are reluctant to go as far as to say they are responding to pain.

How plants sense and react is still somewhat unknown. They don’t have nerve cells like humans, but they do have a system for sending electrical signals and even produce neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin and other chemicals the human brain uses to send signals.

“We don’t know why they have them, whether this was just conserved through evolution or if it performs some sort of information processing function. We don’t know. There’s a lot we don’t know,” Pollan says.

And chalk up another human-like ability — memory….

Pollan describes an experiment done by animal biologist Monica Gagliano. She presented research that suggests the mimosa pudica plant can learn from experience. And, Pollan says, merely suggesting a plant could learn was so controversial that her paper was rejected by 10 scientific journals before it was finally published.

Some of these plant neurobiologists believe that plants are conscious — not self-conscious, but conscious in the sense they know where they are in space … and react appropriately to their position in space.”  www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/23/the-intelligent-plan

 

About Nan Mykel

I used to think I would be a child prodigy, but then I got old. Formerly I had fantasies of rubbing elbows with cultural and academic leaders but that did not come to pass because I did not become a cultural or academic leader or any other kind of leader, for that matter. I am not even an "Alpha Dog," a term learned from a friend who had to become "Alpha Dog" in order to influence her own pet. (When gazes lock, she never looks away.) For years I expected to become a published author, but in passing I could not avoid the fact that I had little to contribute to the world's bulging dumpsters. I'm embarrassed to report that I also considered my primary process artistic productions powerful, rather than mildly neurotic. Which is not to say that I disrespect myself, only that I am beginning to doubt my potential for making a mark on the world. If I focus on strict self discipline I may be able to keep my garbage removed on a weekly basis, to keep the kitty box changed, the clothes cleaned, the dog watered, fed and walked, but that just catches me up to the starting mark again. When writing I physically grapple with words, wrestling them from their indifference into attempted chunks of awareness. I sit heavily on my chair; I breathe in artificially cooled air; my ear drums note the tap tap of the keyboard and the steady uninterrupted sound of the air conditioner, What is that sound? The roar of the ocean from 30 yards away...Inside, my thoughts are are balls in an electronic game machine, bouncing hither and yon from lever to lever. I am a little grim and intent until I recall a dream related by a black man in the prison where I once worked. He said that when he was a small boy, back home, he dreamed he was standing on his front porch pissing, and that he suddenly found himself pissing stars...
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