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article imageAre plants conscious? No, say researchers

By Tim Sandle     Jul 4, 2019 in Science
New insights by botanists about how plants can respond to their environment has resulted in some scientists to hypothesize this is a sign of conscious awareness. This has been challenged by other researchers.
According to a new opinion paper, while plants have the ability to respond to their external environment, this is not a sign of conscious awareness. In this new review, scientists counter that plants “neither possess nor require consciousness.”
The reason why some researchers have shifted their position towards plants having a consciousness relates to a recent discovery: plants seem to be able to communicate environmental signals, and to adapt growth behaviors to factors like overcrowding, or by mobilizing their defences in relation to threats, such as insects.
An example of the plants are conscious champions is offered by evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano. She argues that plants display traits like habituation (learning from experience) and classical conditioning, which meet the criteria for consciousness (as might be applied to an animal). This is on the basis that electrical signaling within plants is analogous to having a brain or nervous system.
This approach has been challenged as reductionism, by Lincoln Taiz from the University of California at Santa Cruz, who writes in journal Trends in Plant Science ("Evidence for complex, collective dynamics and emergent, distributed computation in plants"). In the paper Taiz acknowledges a degree of plant intelligence, such as being capable of solving problems like needing to adjusting stomatal apertures to allow sufficient carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis while preventing excessive water loss. However, this cannot meet any acceptable definition of consciousness.
Expanding on his paper, Taiz tells Gizmodo why the idea of plant conscious is a fallacy: "Since the ‘plant neurobiology’ group emerged back in 2006, claiming that plants have their own nervous systems and many of the same features of consciousness and volition as animals, it has been the subject of a veritable feeding frenzy in the media not seen since the publication of Secret Life of Plants in the early ‘70s."
Taiz's assertion is that plants do not have sufficient neurological requirements for subjective awareness.
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