First steps towards a plant-lover’s utopia
The investigation of plant intelligence and sentience is here to stay. Plants have traditionally been the green backdrop to the drama of human activity. They are seen as resources – for food, raw materials and ecological engineering services – without agency or value of their own. Contrary to common belief, plants are not merely acted upon. Plants do not passively build photosynthate; they rather take action autonomously according to their own needs. Plants are intelligent insofar as they behave adaptively, flexibly, anticipatorily, and in a goal-directed manner. Our ‘plant blindness’ stems from the biases of our sensory systems and from our deeply enculturated attitudes to non-animal life. In my talk I shall build on recent research into plant cognition to argue for an urgent and dramatic re-framing of plants as actors, not objects. As we shall see, the excitable vascular system of plants forms a complex information-processing network that allows plants to coordinate and integrate information signaling from root to shoot, and to take appropriate action as the need arises. The potential for such excitable network to form mental states is currently unknown, and yet exciting. Today we know that plants are subject to reversible anesthetic treatment. The case of plants under anesthesia constitutes a specially promising avenue of research. Science cannot rule out non-animal forms of life having structures that promote awareness. A first step towards a plant-lover’s utopia is thus Education: helping future generations see our role in the biosphere very differently and motivating change to a truly sustainable existence. This will be vital to long-term solutions to the anthropogenic ecological crisis.
Paco Calvo (PhD, University of Glasgow, 2000) is a Professor of Philosophy of Science, and Principal Investigator of MINTLab (Minimal Intelligence Lab— http://www.um.es/web/minimal-intelligence-lab) at the University of Murcia (Spain).
His research interests range broadly within the cognitive sciences, with special emphasis on plant intelligence, ecological psychology and embodied cognitive science.
He uses time-lapse photography to explore perception-action and learning in plants. His scientific articles have appeared in Annals of Botany, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, Frontiers in Psychology, Journal of the Royal Society, Plant, Cell & Environment, Plant Signaling & Behavior, Scientific Reports, and Trends in Plant Science, among other journals. He is currently working on a book project, Planta Sapiens, coming out in 2022 with Norton in the US, and Little, Brown & Co., in the UK.