Natures wonders: Plant 'intelligence' (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, February 25, 2016, 01:13 (1424 days ago) @ David Turell

Another book explains plant intelligence. Note the author helpfully makes the point, lost on some, that we are here discussing intelligence as the use of information, not intelligence as a synonym for consciousness. dhw note!

"What the new botany is suggesting is that plants are sensitive and problem-solving but bypass the need for self-consciousness and brain activity that we assume is necessary for intelligence. People who think this are often accused of being anthropocentric, believing that plants are behaving like humans. The philosopher Daniel Dennett marvelously riposted that critics of this theory are "cerebrocentric," believing intelligent behavior is not possible without the infinitely superior human brain. What the new work shows is that plants, by means we do not yet fully understand, are capable of behaving like intelligent beings. They are capable of storing—and learning from—memories of what happens to them.


"What Gagliano did was simulate the touch action by dropping these potted mimosas a fixed distance to the ground, so they received a mild physical shock. To start with, all of them closed their leaves in the proscribed fashion. On the second and third drop, rather less did. And by the end of a large number of drops, none of them were closing up.

"Conventional botanists who saw the experiment said, “They're just tired!” [Laughs] But she repeated the experiment with the same plants a week, and then a month, later. They all responded in the same way: They didn't react to being dropped by folding up their leaves. But when they were simulated in the conventional way, like being grasped by a hand, they all immediately closed up.

"By comparison, bees can only retain memories of places to find honey for three days. But the mimosa plants appeared to be able to "remember" the difference between an apparent and a real threat, and retained this discrimination in their memory.


"Messages about predators are also being sent. If a tree is attacked by insects, pheromonic chemicals are distributed through the mycorrhizal fibers beneath the soil, as well as being blown through the air by the trees, to warn other trees that an insect attack is imminent and to prepare themselves by producing more tannin in their leaves.


"One of the discoveries being made is that Lamarck's theory, which was discredited for a century, is now being shown to be true. Acquired characteristics can be inherited. The new science of epigenetics is finding that a number of changes produced in organisms during their own lifetime are passed on to their offspring. So far, it's a limited number. But stresses due to climate, virus invasion or changes in soil can actually change the genome of the organism.

"The automatic assumption that plants are victims, incapable of learning how to cope with new conditions, is an insult and runs contrary to the new evidence."

Comment: Note. Per Dennett, the plants are not thinking.

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