Daily Archives: September 15, 2017
Modern science is only beginning to catch up to the wisdom of the ancients: plants possess sentience and a rudimentary form of intelligence.
Plants are far more intelligent and capable than we given them credit.
In fact, provocative research from 2010 published in Plant Signaling & Behavior proposes that since they cannot escape environmental stresses in the manner of animals, they have developed a “sophisticated, highly responsive and dynamic physiology,” which includes information processes such as “biological quantum computing” and “cellular light memory” which could be described as forms of plant intelligence.
Titled, “Secret life of plants: from memory to intelligence,” the study highlights one particular “super power” of plants indicative of their success as intelligent beings:
“There are living trees that germinated long before Jesus Christ was born. What sort of life wisdom evolved in plants to make it possible to survive and propagate for so long a time in the same place they germinated?”
According to the researchers, plants “plants actually work as a biological quantum computing device that is capable to process quantum information encrypted in light intensity and in its energy.”
This information processing includes a mechanism for processing memorized information. For example:
“plants can store and use information from the spectral composition of light for several days or more to anticipate changes that might appear in the near future in the environment, for example, for anticipation of pathogen attack.”
According to the study, “plants can actually think and remember.”
Moreover, plant not only possess a mechanism for information gathering and processing, but appear to exercise agency or “choice” vis-à-vis different scenarios:
“different group of chloroplasts and cells in the same leaf under identical constant and stable light, temperature and relative humidity condition have different opinion “what to do” in such conditions and tests different scenarios of possible future development.”
The study also offers an explanation for why plants absorb more light energy than is needed for photosynthesis alone:
“Another possible answer to the above question is a light training of young naïve leaves. Let’s imagine when young leaf or flower is emerging out of a plant, it would be nice for that leaf or flower to know about the conditions in which it is going to emerge.
“Older, more experienced leaves that actually are acclimated to outside conditions can train naïve emerging young leaves with the PEPS [photoelectrophysiological signaling ]and cellular light memory mechanisms.
“This explains why plants possess a natural capacity to absorb more light energy than that required for photosynthetic CO2 assimilation. They need this absorbed energy in excess for optimization and training of light acclimatory and immune defenses.”
The authors leave us with the provocative conclusion:
“Our results suggest that plants are intelligent organisms capable of performing a sort of thinking process (understood as at the same time and non-stress conditions capable of performing several different scenarios of possible future definitive responses), and capable of memorizing this training.17
“Indeed leaves in the dark are able to not only “see” the light,8,34 but also are able to differently remember its spectral composition and use this memorized information to increase their Darwinian fitness.”
Why is this discovery important?
There are many reasons why recognizing the sentience and intelligence of plants may have positive implications for the future of humanity.
For one, it helps us all to transcend the dominant worldview that non-human life forms are best defined in strictly mechanistic terms, and that attributing a “life essence” or consciousness to them is a form of magical thinking.
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Pointy called this world view the “Great Object,” namely, that everything in the universe is compromised of material objects externally related to one another, and with consciousness merely an ephemeral subjectivity found only in humans.
To the contrary, if we open ourselves to the possibility that we are all participants in an interconnected web of life, as many indigenous peoples believed and actually experienced things to be, destroying the natural world simply to serve the essentially suicidal infinite economic growth model will be identified for the insanity that it is.
If we recognize, as biologist James Lovelock proposed, the Earth as a whole should be looked upon more like a self-regulating organisms (Gaia hypothesis), or as mycologist Paul Stamet envisions, that there is a fungi-based internet within the ground connecting all living things on the planet in an information-sharing network, we will be less likely to both perceive and to treat the natural world as “other” to be dominated.
Recognizing that plants, for instance, have consciousness, or that their simple presence in our environment has healing effects, reintroduces an element of wonder and mystery back into the experience of the natural world.
A perfect example of this can be found in the singing plants of the sacred forest of Damanhur. Damanhurian researchers in the mid-70’s reported using custom equipment to capture electromagnetic changes on the surface of leaves and roots and transforming them into audible signals.
The researchers also observed that the plants learned to control their electrical responses, indicating they had some rudimentary awareness of the music they were creating.
By Sayer Ji / Humans Are Free
There are plenty of advice columns, self-help books, and loosely spiritual twenty-somethings devoted to extolling the virtues of living in the present. The advice is intended as an antidote to life spent scrolling absentmindedly through twitter or planning next weekend, while failing to appreciate each momentary experience.
While it’s certainly well meaning, the catchphrase alone offers limited guidance. After all, a life spent entirely dedicated to making sure the present moment was enjoyable would never go anywhere; no one would subject themselves to New York’s subway, for example. And neuroscience suggests that, while it may be unfashionable, humans’ ability to mentally transport ourselves into the future is one of the key distinguishing features of our species.
Dean Buonomano, behavioral neuroscience professor at UCLA and author of the recently-published Your Brain is a Time Machine, says that the human brain is an inherently temporal organ. “Not only does it tell the time, it also allows us to mentally project ourselves into the past and the future,” he says.
To a certain extent, all animals have a basic ability to predict and prepare for the future. Even worms have circadian rhythms and so instinctively know when it’s daylight and when predatory birds are more likely to be around. But humans have a far more sophisticated ability to conceive of the future—to “sculpt and create futures that we imagine,” says Buonomano.
“What’s fairly unique about humans is this aspect of mentally projecting ourselves into the past or the future—the degree to which humans can engage in what we call mental time travel,” he explains.
Not all future-orientated activities rely on this projection; humans have hardwired habits just like all other animals. Sex, for example, has potentially significant future consequences; as Buonomano says, we “engage in fairly complex behaviors without thinking about what will happen nine months from now.”
But our more elaborate ability to envisage the future is key to most human successes. Building houses, cultivating agriculture, studying, and saving for retirement are all done with an eye to the future.
“That’s a strange concept for anyone to plant the seed and come back years later. It uses our ability to link events that are separated by days, weeks, and months,” says Buonomano. Without this skill, he says, homo sapiens (Latin for “wise men”) simply wouldn’t be sapiens—“it’s what makes us wise.”
It’s not clear exactly which parts of the brain enable this distinctly human activity. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for higher-level cognitive function, is certainly involved. But the thought process is so complex—involving a conception of the past, imagining the future, and a sophisticated understanding of time—that it inevitably relies on many functions in the brain.
But while the ability to connect present activity with future outcomes is uniquely human, we’re not always good at this skill. “In the 20th century, 100 million people died due to cigarette related causes,” says Buonomano. “If cigarettes caused cancer a week after people start smoking then that never would have happened. It would have been easy for people to believe that connection.” The fallout from climate change is another major example of humans failing to adequately focus on the future.
Another downside, as those who focus on living in the present are well aware, is that our ability to mentally time travel can be draining. “Spending too much time reliving the past, focusing on slights or reasons we’re angry, is not productive,” says Buonomano.
The neuroscientist says there are certainly benefits to mindfulness (the meditative practice has a rich history that cannot be reduced to a simple slogan.) Living in the present, he says, can be a valuable call to focus on enjoying current activities, even when they’re done with an eye to future outcomes. And mindfulness should involve being mindful of our mental activities, so that we’re aware of when projecting ourselves into the future is productive and when it’s damaging.
In other words, it’s entirely healthy to focus on enjoying the present moment. But failing to invest in the future simply wouldn’t be human.
By Olivia Goldhill / Quartz