The question of whether plants can think might seem ridiculous, but it should not be dismissed. In this article, we look at how plant consciousness compares to that of humans and other mammals.
“What can plants do that cheetahs can’t? They can regenerate when 90 percent of their bodies have been eaten away. They can have sex at long distances and communicate with approximately 20 more senses than an animal has.” Richard Mabey, author of The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination.
Humans And Consciousness
Humans are a complex life form. The reason that we have been able to evolve like no other life form is our ability to think
critically. We have the ability to solve the challenges that we face or problems which we want to overcome.
Each development in human history, from the discovery of fire to the invention of the smartphone, is a result of our thinking abilities. People can put their gray matter to the test in order to find a solution to a problem.
Humans experience a wide range of emotions. Those emotions are constantly being triggered due to the constant situations we face in our everyday life. How often have you felt a tightening in your stomach when someone failed to return your phone call? This happens because a variety of emotions such as confusion or anger are triggered by endorphins in the brain.
Animals And Consciousness
We tend to think of plants and animals as being “less intelligent” life forms than ours. However, even though wild animals rely on instinct much more than humans, they still have the capacity for thought and emotions. For example, creatures such as elephants are known to shed tears and mourn the loss of their offspring who have died. Creatures, including otters and bats, are known to form monogamous relationships much in the same way that humans do.
Charles Darwin recognized the fact that animals were capable of thought. He stated that if humans, as evolved apes, were able to experience feelings, then other species would be able to do the same. The first piece of legislation to acknowledge that animals are capable of thought was the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon. The treaty came into force on 1 December 2009. It recognizes that animals are sentient beings and calls on member states to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals” in agriculture, fisheries, transport, research and development, and space policies.
Plants And Consciousness
It has been established that animals can think, but what about plants? In 1966, CIA polygraph expert Cleve Backster noticed that a house plant seemed to be responding to his thoughts when he hooked it up to a galvanometer. He observed that the plant appeared to be shrinking away when he imagined burning it.
The scientific community largely rejected Backster’s hypothesis that plants are sentient beings. Yet, his work inspired Chris Bird and Peter Tompkins to write a bestselling book called The Secret Life Of Plants. The book tells of experiments which appeared to show that plants are capable of feelings on a certain level.
In terms of modern research, ecologist Richard Karban has talked about an inbuilt defense mechanism which allows plants to communicate with each other, especially when they are under attack. Plumes of volatile chemicals are released by damaged plants. These chemicals appear to influence the behavior of other plants in the area. He cites an experiment where insects were released onto a partially-eaten sage bush. The damaged part of the bush released chemicals, which appeared to influence the behavior of surrounding plants. In fact, six months later, the uneaten part of the sagebrush was completely unharmed.
What Does This Mean For Humans?
The food that we eat has a direct impact on our surroundings. Many people argue that it is immoral to eat animals because they are sentient beings who are unnecessarily used as food. Also, people argue that the amount of energy used to produce meat has a negative impact on global climate change. Gandhi claimed that “the greatness of a nation can be measured in the way it treats its animals.”
Concepts such as vegetarian and veganism have become common practice. Yet, in previous decades these diets were seen more as a minority lifestyle choice. An increasing movement which encourages people to “grow your own” is designed to get people thinking about alternatives to mass-produced food.
Research by the likes of Richard Karban poses an important question. If we are starting to see evidence of plants as sentient beings with some form of consciousness, will this make vegetarians and vegans reconsider their diets?
Hopefully, this article will inspire you to do your own research into the consciousness of plants.
Join in the debate about plant consciousness on our Facebook page here.
The Secret Life of Plants, Clive Beckster
Interview with author Richard Mabey in National Geographic magazine, “There is such a thing as plant intelligence”: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160221-plant-science-botany-evolution-mabey-ngbooktalk/
European Union’s Treat Of Lisbon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lisbon
Richard Karban TED Talk “Can plants talk to each other?”: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/can-plants-talk-to-each-other-richard-karban
Botanic Gardens Conservation International, “Darwin the botanist”: http://www.bgci.org/education/article/0659/
Mahatma Gandhi attributed quote: http://www.peta.org/features/gandhi/