Can Plants Think And Feel..?
Or do they?
There are around 300,000 plant species on this earth and to survive in this environment they need highly developed senses. And since they have been surviving and living in this environment there is no doubt left that they have this senses developed. But does that mean plants have the ability to think.
How aware are plants? This is the central question behind a fascinating new book, “What a Plant Knows,” by Daniel Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University. A plant, he argues, can see, smell and feel. It can mount a defense when under siege, and warn its neighbors of trouble on the way. A plant can even be said to have a memory. But does this mean that plants think — or that one can speak of a “neuroscience” of the flower? Chamovitz answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.
1. Do plants communicate with each other?
At a basic level, yes. But I guess it centers around how you define communication. There is no doubt that plants respond to cues from other plants. For example, if a maple tree is attacked by bugs, it releases a pheromone into the air that is picked up by the neighboring trees. This induces the receiving trees to start making chemicals that will help it fight off the impending bug attack. So on the face of it, this is definitely communication.
2.You say that plants have a sense of smell?
Sure. But to answer this we have to define for ourselves what “smell” is. When we smell something, we sense a volatile chemical that’s dissolved in the air, and then react in someway to this smell. The clearest example in plants is what happens during fruit ripening. You may have heard that if you put a ripe and an unripe fruit together in the same bag, the unripe one will ripen faster. This happens because the ripe one releases a ripening pheromone into the air, and the green fruit smells it and then starts ripening itself. This happens not only in our kitchens, but also, or even primarily, in nature. When one fruit starts to ripen, it releases this hormone which is called ethylene, which is sensed by neighboring fruits, until entire trees and groves ripen more or less in synchrony.
3.Do plants have a memory?
There are some plants which also have memory. Who hasn’t heard of and never tried to play with one of the amazing plant i.e. the touch me not plant – mimosa. Mimosa plant has a great memory. Scientists have proved with an experiment that when this plant is dropped from a height of 15 cm and when it touches the ground it would close. This is the same behavior that it normally does but what is different is when this is done more than 4-5 times it stops closing itself on hitting the ground. This is because the plant has realized it isn’t harmful and this effect lasted for weeks. This means the plant had memorized this effect.
4.Would you say, then, that plants “think”?
No I wouldn’t, but maybe that’s where I’m still limited in my own thinking! To me thinking and information processing are two different constructs. I have to be careful here since this is really bordering on the philosophical, but I think purposeful thinking necessitates a highly developed brain and autonoetic, or at least noetic, consciousness. Plants exhibit elements of anoetic consciousness which doesn’t include, in my understanding, the ability to think. Just as a plant can’t suffer subjective pain in the absence of a brain, I also don’t think that it thinks.
Plants may not have the same organs or brain as we humans have but the next time we see a plant or a tree we know plants can think and they are incredibly smart.