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Are plants conscious beings?

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Felix Krengel Aug 31, 2020
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Do only animals have consciousness and intelligence or should these concepts be applied to plants, too? If the answer is yes, do the same or fundamentally distinct basic principles underlie the development of these phenomena in both cases? And what are the ethical implications of plants being conscious beings?

Plant neurobiology emerged as a new research area about 14 years ago. It basically focuses on the question how plants perceive their environment and how they react to stimuli. Especially the claim that plant perception is based on anatomical structures and physiological processes that are similar to those of animals has been widely controverted by many plant biologists.

  1. There is no doubt that plants are able to perceive environmental stimuli and that they react accordingly by initiating internal response mechanisms. Furthermore, it has been proved that they interact with other individuals of the same, as well as distinct plant species. And it doesn’t stop here: They even communicate with microorganisms, fungi, and animals! The survival of most plants actually relies on their capacity to establish symbiotic associations with certain prokaryotic and fungal species.
  2. But can the underlying electrical and chemical signaling mechanisms really be compared to those driving animal perception? Several plant neurobiologists even go so far to ascribe some form of intelligence to plants, in spite of the fact that the latter do certainly not possess a central nervous system, not to mention a brain. And without a brain, there can be no consciousness, right? According to plant neurobiologists, the development of intelligence does not necessarily depend on the physical existence of brain structures, but can also arise from the overall organization level of an organism. But if that was true, wouldn’t plant and animal perception/intelligence be consequently VERY different?
  3. If plants really are conscious beings, what are the philosophical implications? Shouldn’t we apply the same ethical principles to them as to animals? Wouldn’t intensive crop farming be just as unethical as intensive animal farming? What about genetic modification? And if we can’t eat animals nor plants any more, where do we obtain calories from?

So what do you think? Are plants conscious beings? Are they intelligent? Do they react automatically to the environmental stimuli they receive or are they able to “plan” their actions in some way? Or can the whole debate be reduced to a problem of definition regarding the terms “consciousness” and “intelligence”?

Creative contributions

Is consciousness a product of matter at all?

Povilas S
Povilas S Sep 02, 2020
Talking about consciousness in general it’s important to mention that scientific worldview is only one way of perceiving reality, it’s a system of concepts that works for explaining phenomena and it’s only good as far as it works as an explanatory and technology driving tool. When we’re talking about consciousness, we are dealing with more fundamental questions. For example, if you search for answer to the question "what's the meaning of life?" in biology, the answer you'll get is that it's survival and reproduction, but do you want that kind of answer? Furthermore, contemporary science is based on and predominated by philosophical materialism, which has little (if any) place for consciousness in the first place. Important concerns about scientific dogmatism are raised in this brilliant (and banned) Ted talk by Rupert Sheldrake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKHUaNAxsTg. So it’s very important to consider the following – did consciousness arise only as a product of complexification of matter or could it be that it’s a deeper essence/dimension of everything that is and that various phenomena arise in it instead? After all there’s no way of perceiving reality in any other way than through our own experience (be it sensations, perceptions or thoughts and feelings) and for that you need consciousness. If plants have some form of consciousness, then is it very different from human/animal consciousness? It would be more than logical to state that yes, absolutely. Even human and animal consciousness is very different. Even babies until certain age have very different perception of reality, so what to say about plants. If plants have consciousness, can we harvest and eat them in a moral way? I’d say it’s not the question of whether plants are conscious but rather whether they perceive pain and suffering the same way (if at all) that humans and animals do. One scientific argument is that plants don’t have CNS so don’t have ways of perceiving pain the way we do. Another is simply a common sense one - you can immediately tell if an animal (having in mind higher animals) is suffering and feel compassion for it. You can feel compassion for plants too, like when trees are being cut, etc., but to tell that they are suffering would be more a product of imagination rather than direct perception.
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Consciousness of Plants is still Mystery

Mohammad Shazaib
Mohammad Shazaib Sep 06, 2020
The inner life of plants awakens the passions of even the most gentle-mannered naturalists. The controversy about plant consciousness and intelligence has raged in scientific circles for more than a century — at least since Charles Darwin discovered in 1880 that the understated flora can not rest. There is no question that the plants are highly complex. Biologists assume that plants interact with each other, fungi, and animals by releasing chemicals via their roots, branches, and leaves. Plants often send information-supplying seeds, acting as data packets. They also preserve vulnerable members of their species by supplying nutrients to their peers, which suggests a sense of parenthood. But does any of this qualify as consciousness? The answer to that question seems to depend largely on linguistics, rather than science—how humans choose to define our conceptions of the self and intelligence. Philosopher Michael Marder, meanwhile, says we’re underestimating plants. The author of Plant Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, Marder tells Gizmodo, “Plants are conscious, though in a different way than we, humans, are.” He notes that plants are in tune with their surroundings and make many complex decisions, like when to bloom. Marder concludes, “If consciousness means being ‘with knowledge,’ then plants fit the bill perfectly.” Marder points out that plant cuttings can survive and grow independently. That suggests that if plants do have a self, it is likely dispersed and unconfined, unlike the human sense of self. It’s notable, too, that many scientists and mystics argue that the human feeling of individuality—of being a self within a particular body—is a necessary illusion. Acknowledging plant intelligence could put us in an awkward position. Perhaps there is nothing we can eat that isn’t some form of murder, not even salad. Moreover, if we discover plant kinship relations are real, we’ll need to acknowledge that cutting trees down for furniture means splitting up families. More than that, expanding definitions of consciousness and intelligence could mean admitting we’ve been limited in our worldview altogether. What if everything around us is intelligent in its way, and we’re just not smart enough to see it? Reference https://qz.com/1294941/a-debate-over-plant-consciousness-is-forcing-us-to-confront-the-limitations-of-the-human-mind/
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