Thursday, September 18, 2014

Do Plants Think?

We all know many plants grow toward light or, in the case of those such as sunflowers, literally turn toward the sun. But researchers are discovering that plants have the ability to react to their environments in other ways:

Plant Intelligence

Some can "hear," sort of—they respond to threatening noises by secreting defensive chemicals. Roots have been found to sense the presence of obstacles and change their direction of growth in advance. Some anesthetics that work on human beings also affect plants. One experiment described in the article suggests that plants can "remember" and in a sense "learn." While they don't have brains, "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."

Do adaptations such as these qualify plants to be labeled "intelligent," even without brains and neurons? Depends on your definition of intelligence, of course. If intelligence simply means problem-solving or the ability to "process information" and act on it, maybe they meet the criteria.

So maybe people who talk to their plants have a point, even if the plants don't talk back. And this research may hint that we could eventually meet the sentient or even sapient vegetable aliens of science fiction. (Not like Triffids, I hope!) Their view of reality would doubtless be very different from ours, however. For one thing, they would probably live—and think—at a much slower pace.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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