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Plants Can Count and Communicate Without a Brain

If you have one of those annoying Vegan/Buddhist friends who keep yammering about how they don’t eat meat because “animals have a mind of their own”, show them this video of Neuroscientist Greg Gage demonstrating many of the ‘sentient’ properties of plants, just to piss them off:

Granted, Gage’s arguments about the ‘intelligence’ of plants are explained through electrochemistry, hence they are deeply rooted (no pun intended) in material Science. “Plants don’t get depressed” he mentions, which would probably be objected by MANY proud plant owners who swear by the benefits of talking in a nice tone of voice to their beloved leafy children while watering them. What we know for certain is that plants do have the ability to feel pain, detect the presence of predators AND even alert other neighboring plants about nearby dangers –all that without a need for Twitter or a Facebook account…

And there’s that ground-breaking –hence highly controversial– book The Secret Life of Plants which described experiments attempting to prove whether plants could respond to music or even ‘feel’ whether they were going to be hurt by the experimenters.

Stuart P. Hameroff M.D., who’s been argumenting about the involvement of ‘micro-tubules’ in the cell structure for the ’emergence’ of Consciousness through quantum physics –yet another controversial idea– points out how a paramecium is a single-celled organism devoid of a brain, yet it’s capable of moving through water searching for food, detect light and other attributes shared by ‘brained beings’. You can listen to Hameroff discuss these ideas with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove in this episode of New Thinking Allowed:

The point is that as we learn more about the abilities of ‘lower’ forms of life, we keep expanding our interpretations about what exactly constitutes Life and Intelligence –could we, for example, recognize an extraterrestrial life form whose chemistry is not based on Carbon, like ours is? –and we may sooner or later realize not having a brain does not necessarily mean being devoid of Consciousness. A plant may not share the same consciousness as a bear or a human being, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be able to ‘communicate’ with them in some form.

 

Maybe if we did, we would eventually realize we monkeys only think we’re running things

  1. “If you have one of those annoying Vegan/Buddhist friends who keep yammering about how they don’t eat meat because “animals have a mind of their own…”’

    Whoa, dude. Not cool.

    The point that you seem to be awkwardly trying to make is that vegans and Buddhists should just shut the hell up and stop making you feel guilty about your cheeseburger because the plants they eat may feel, suffer, and have consciousness too. So they are just as guilty of propagating suffering!

    I am both a vegetarian and a Buddhist. I do not eat meat, but I do not have a problem with people who do. In fact, most people who know me don’t even know that I am a vegetarian unless they study what I eat and ask questions.

    What I do have a problem with is the sophomoric notion that mindful living that attempts to minimize suffering of other living things is invalid and worthy of ridicule because everyone causes suffering, regardless of how they live. This is logically absurd and akin to saying that because I inadvertently broke one window in the house (or one of the fingers on my hand), I should just go ahead and break all of them. So more suffering is the same as some suffering?

    I agree it is quite likely that plants are aware, experience suffering, and have a mind. But just because that is (likely) true, I do not get how that possibly negates a vegetarian’s desire to reduce suffering by not eating animals that absolutely *do* suffer when we choose to eat them.

    If you don’t care about where your cheeseburger came from or how much suffering a sentient being went through (and unless you know exactly where your meat came from and that it was raised and slaughtered humanely-A LOT) so you can choke it down, fine. Good for you. But how about not making an attack on the basis of a false equivalence on people who do actually care? Including some of the people who support this website?

    I think you were perhaps trying to be humorous, but it seems to me that – much like the Dauphin’s gift of tennis balls – it is a jest that would savor but a shallow wit, when thousands more would cry than laugh at it.

    Jason

    1. Sorry about the ‘cheap jab’, Jason. Truth of the matter is that I have a cousin to converted into Buddhism some years ago, and we had these loooong debates on why Buddhists don’t consume the meat of animals. He didn’t talk about ‘minimizing suffering’ inasmuch as just parroting away what they taught him in his Buddhist center: That animals are conscious beings, whereas plants aren’t. When I tried to protest this simplistic notion –even bringing Ayahuasca visions– he flatly refused to concede the possibility plants may be just as conscious than us humans.

      THOSE ‘holier than thou’ people are the ones I tried to make fun of.

      FWIW I completely agree with you about trying to ‘minimize the suffering’ of all beings. Hence, in light of what the video I linked to shows, that should ALSO be extended to plants, IMO 😉

  2. Wow, RPJ(?), thank you for such a thoughtful, un-egoic, and introspective response. Given the context that you describe, I can understand better why you opened up the article the way you did.

    I think any system of ethics or morality, no matter how well-meaning-can easily fall into rote categorizations while missing the essence behind the principles. It sounds like your cousin and others like him (including vegans I know) have fallen into this. Given the issue you took with his categorization of animals having “souls” and being worthy of compassion versus plants not making the cut, so the speak, I would have to agree firmly with you! Buddhism at its heart is supposed to be about compassion for all life caught in the wheel of suffering, and excluding any life prone to suffering seems to me to miss the point in a big way.

    I am happy that, as you expressed in your article, we have reached the point of scientific discovery that we can start to appreciate and relate to the sentience and probable consciousness of plants, and I hope as a society we can somehow use that knowledge to consider their suffering (and how to alleviate it as well) rather than just continue to exploit the hell out of them like we do with most living things. Hopefully we will work this out well before we encounter sentient stalks of broccoli from Tau Ceti who have mastered fusion energy, the babel fish, and anti-gravity drives. 😛

    I just want to apologize if my response came on rather strongly. I am used to dealing with folks, both on the internet and in person, who take issue with veganism etc. because they are callous to suffering, not because they think our definitions of suffering don’t go far enough. So, thanks for that! I realize that I assumed you were in the former camp rather than the latter. That was my error.

    And as a final comment, all in all, I really did enjoy the article and the connection you made to Stu Hammeroff’s work on microtubules. I had a similar notion about plants and consciousness when I first read his Orch-OR theory several years ago. Nice to see you connecting the dots between that and this more recent research!

    All the best,
    Jason

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