Monday, January 18

Food for thought? French Bean Plants Show Signs of Intent, Scientists Say | Plants

They have given us company and purpose during the darkest days of the confinement, not to mention the lighting of our Instagram feeds. But the potted cacti, yucca, and Swiss cheese plants that we have received into our homes are completely passive guests. It is not like this?

Research suggests that at least one type of plant, the French bean, may be more sensitive than we think – that is, it may be intentional.

The question of whether or not plants choose their actions and possess feelings or even consciousness is a thorny question for many botanists, and the more traditionally minded strongly dispute any notion of sensitive vegetation. Although plants clearly perceive and react to their environment, this does not mean that they possess complex mental faculties, they argue.

Others, like Paco Calvo, from the minimal intelligence laboratory at the University of Murcia in Spain, have a more open mind. Intrigued by the ability of climbing beans to detect structures like garden reeds and make them grow, he devised an experiment to investigate whether they deliberately aimed at the cane or simply collided with those structures as they grew and then exploited them. . “The question is, are they displaying goal-directed behaviors consistent with anticipating and fine-tuning their movements as they approach?” Calvo said.

Together with Vicente Raja at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy in London, Canada, they used time-lapse photography to document the behavior of 20 potted bean plants, grown in the vicinity of or without a support pole, up to the tip of the outbreak. made contact with the post. Using this footage, they analyzed the dynamics of shoot growth, and found that their approach was more controlled and predictable when there was a pole. The difference was analogous to sending a blindfolded person into a room that contained an obstacle and telling them about it or letting them trip over it.

“We see these complex behavioral signatures, the only difference is that it is not nerve-based, as it is in humans,” Calvo said. “This is not just adaptive behavior, it is flexible, anticipatory and goal-directed behavior.”

The research was published in Scientific reports. “While the research seems solid, it’s not clear that it teaches us much about plant sensitivity or intelligence,” said Rick Karban, who studies plant communication at the University of California, Davis. “For more than a century, scientists have known that plants perceive aspects of their environment and respond to, and understand how plants [do this] it is an active area of ​​current research. Whether you choose to view these processes as sensitivity or intelligence depends entirely on how you choose to define these terms. “

Calvo acknowledges that this experiment alone does not prove intention, much less consciousness. However, if the plants really had intention, it would make sense. All biological organisms need the means to cope with uncertainty and adapt their behavior to pass on their genes, but the time scale in which they operate makes this particularly imperative for plants: “They do things so slowly that they cannot afford to try again if they fail, ”Calvo said.

One possibility is that this “consciousness” arises from the connections between the vascular systems of plants and their meristems, regions of undifferentiated dividing cells at the root and tips of shoots and at the base of leaves.

in a separate paper, Calvo and his colleagues established a theory of plant consciousness based on Integrated Information Theory (IIT), a leading theory of consciousness, which posits that we can identify the level of consciousness of a person (or of any system) to starting from the complexity of the interactions between its individual parts.

Others refute such claims. IIT is based on the assumption that everything material has an element of consciousness, even complex lifeless systems: “It cannot have any special meaning for plants,” said Jon Mallatt of the University of Washington, USA. believes that claims about sensitive plants are misleadingand risk diverting scientific funding and government policy decisions.

Calvo said he was happy to be refuted, but experimentally, rather than on theoretical grounds. In another article to be published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, he proposes a series of experiments that can solve the matter once and for all. “If successful, these experiments could position plants as the next frontier in the science of consciousness, and prompt us to rethink our perspectives on consciousness, how to measure it, and its prevalence among living things,” he said. The gardening gloves are out.

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