Are plants conscious?

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by Musika, Mar 26, 2018.

  1. someguy1 Registered Senior Member

    By observables, do you mean what Scott Aaronson calls meat chauvinism? "My neighbor looks like me so he's conscious. A head of lettuce doesn't look like me, so it's not conscious."

    Isn't that a slippery slope? "That person has a different skin color than me therefore they are less human than I am." Such reasoning has been employed in the service of great evil throughout history.

    Can you explain what observables I should look for to determine whether my neighbor is conscious? Observables that could not equally well be used by a racist, for example, to deny someone's humanity.

    I don't mean to hijack the discussion from the original question of whether a head of lettuce may be conscious. I only mean to ask how I may determine, without relying on superficial appearances, how anything at all outside my own mind is conscious.

    See of course Alan Turing's brilliant 1950 analysis of this question.

    Of course Turing considers machines that may be hooked up to teletypes so as to communicate with people without giving away their physical appearance. But even that doesn't go far enough. Perhaps heads of lettuce don't communicate the same we we do, but have some sort of inner mental or emotional life.

    I did for a time reside in a rural area where I was obliged to learn a lot about insects, in order to keep them out of the house. I have no doubt in my mind that every insect in the world has a desire to live. If a being has a desire to live, it has some form of consciousness, however rudimentary.

    Plants strive to reach the sky. They wither and die without water. Can we call that desire? Are we so sure that it's not?
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2018
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  3. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Are Trees Sentient Beings? Certainly, Says German Forester

    One thing is that mother trees suckle their children, they feed the young tree just enough sugars produced by its own photosynthesis to keep it from dying. Trees in a forest of the same species are connected by the roots, which grow together like a network. Their root tips have highly sensitive brain-like structures that can distinguish whether the root that it encounters in the soil is its own root, the root of another species, or the roots of its own species. If it encounters its own kind, I don’t know if scientists yet know how this happens, but we have measured with radioactive-marked sugar molecules that there is a flow from healthy trees to sick trees so that they will have an equal measure of food and energy available.
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  5. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Turing's test involves dissemblance, or hiding one's nature, as a model for intelligence. So if a man and a woman could communicate via written words to another man and convince him they were both women, that is the evidence he is intelligent. And if a machine, through its own automated processing responses can jump through the same hoops, that is the evidence it can do the same. In both cases, they are hiding their actual natures. If they can fool someone, they are intelligent. Or are they?

    Another important aspect of intelligence is to see through dissemblance - to spot the fake. In otherwords, it can spot the nature of something concealing its nature. So we may be able to be duped by a turing test, but we can process other information to understand that we have been duped, and see it for what it is. It's an interesting question : I can be fooled by the external performance of things, making something illusory take the appearance of reality. But by what resources or skillset do I again pull myself back from illusion?
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  7. billvon Valued Senior Member

    So I guess either they are sentient beings intelligently directing their resources due to a feeling of love and compassion, or osmosis works.
  8. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Another argument that modern cars are conscious.
  9. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    What exactly do you mean by "necessary laws of cause and effect"?
    Are you suggesting billiard balls act in, say, a deterministic manner, whereas those with choice do not?
    If so, is this not just a matter of how things appear rather than what is actually going on?
    What do you mean by "choice"?
    Can you define it without bringing in the notion of consciousness?
    If not, surely identifying something as conscious or not because it displays choice or not is simply to beg the question?
    This might just be a matter of complexity.
    When something is relatively simple it doesn't attract the same interest as the more complex.
    But this doesn't mean that the same underlying principles are not at play for both.
  10. spidergoat pubic diorama Valued Senior Member

    They are complex multicellular creatures, just like you are. The triggering mechanism of a Venus flytrap may be simple in principle, but that doesn't mean the plant is. What plants generally lack is the need for immediate predator avoidance, so a sense of a self that can be in danger is less important. I don't think our present computers are as complex as the simplest neural network in a bug.
  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    No, I mean, when I say "Hey you", it looks at me. And when I tell it "Here's the 20 bucks I owe you", it smiles.

    Radishes and ants don't do that.
  12. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Or something in between, since neither of those extremes can adequately explain what is being observed.
  13. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Maybe. I am a believer in Occam, so the answer will probably be pretty close to the "osmosis" side.
  14. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Yes, determinism means necessary laws of cause and effect.

    Describing life in terms of determinism remains a description, not an observation. More than one physicist has ran away screaming from the field of psychology or even biology (and vice versa).

    Choice means it has the power to resist being acted upon and reacting accordingly according to necessary laws.

    Regardless of one's views on the extent that a deterministic view encapsulates everything in this world or not, at a certain point, the skillset of a physicist retreats to make way for the skillset of a behavioral scientist (and vice versa). Of course physicists can examine the body of an organism, but as far as its movements are concerned, that is a different field.
  15. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Since desire is an ambiguous term, there's nothing really stopping you from calling it that.

    Thing is, plants can't not strive to reach the sky. So, it kind makes the word "desire" meaningless in any way but metaphorically.
  16. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    While I agree that plants cannot think, they seem to be aware of their environment and will grow towards the light even if this light is some distance away.

    An experiment involving 2 trees was performed.
    Trees have a defense against caterpillar attack by producing tannin randomly distributed among its leaves. This forces the caterpillar to change its internal chemical digestive system, which takes energy and inhibits the growth of the caterpillar.

    Caterpillars were purposely introduced in one tree, and sure enough it began to produce additional tannin.

    The remarkable result of the experiment was that the second nearby uninfected tree somehow "knew" of a threat and also began to produce tannin, though it had no physical contact with the infected tree.

    How did this "communication" happen?
  17. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    Well that worked for Descartes, sort of ....
  18. Write4U Valued Senior Member


    Would osmosis still work without a permeable membrane, i.e. no contact at all? Air?
  19. Xmo1 Registered Senior Member

    The largest life form on the planet lives on the West Coast of the U.S. It has information (knowledge) about it's surroundings. It can talk (communicate). It +knows+ you if you approach it, or enter into it. Plants are not as intelligent as birds - so I think, but who knows how smart a whale is. Maybe they are talking to the plants. Elephants eat plants, so the plants adapt. Elephants and plants exist within separate social systems, but they keep an eye (nose) on each other. Is that consciousness? Are they self-aware? Of course. Self-recognition is not so important to the larger diversity of life. It just tells us that we have a brain, and we hope that's a plus for us.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
  20. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    And you can show that "choice" is to against the necessary laws of cause and effect?
    Or is it possibly just a case of not having the knowledge of what the actual causes are, thus losing capability of even identifying that the action taken is perhaps deterministic?
    Whether deterministic or not, you are describing choice as going against it, so feel free to provide some evidence, detailing how you know that this goes against the necessary laws of cause and effect, please?
    Complexity has the habit of doing that.
    Example, please.
    And in your example, please state what you see as the cause, what you see as the deterministic effect that should result, and what you see as choice allowing?
    Such things are what we might call an emergent property, that only arises at a certain level of complexity, and can be understood at that level.
    But do not be confused that the underlying nature of what gives rise to such things remains the same above and below that level.
    When talking of the "necessary laws of cause and effect" - these apply to the micro-level, to the individual molecules, atoms, and smaller.
    Unless you can know all the causes acting upon a body, you can not possibly say that the resulting action is necessary or not.
    Thus to speak of consciousness allowing us to resist being acted upon and reacting according to necessary laws is, quite frankly, wrong.
    Consciousness is merely complex enough that it is no longer possible to say what the actual causes are, and as such it is not possible to say that the effect goes against the necessary laws.
    The causes we can claim to know are only those we are conscious of, but they are not only incomplete but rather gross in the grand scheme of things, compared to the scale at which those necessary laws act.

    And this is assuming that the laws of cause and effect are indeed necessary, which is another question entirely.
    But whether necessary or not, the principles above still apply.
  21. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    That would be for further controlled testing to determine, I would imagine.
    E.g. they can ensure that the two trees have no physical contact (do not have contacting roots, do not share the same air etc) and thereby start to limit the possible means and identify the cause.
  22. Musika Last in Space Valued Senior Member

    The division of biology from chemistry and/or physics (as opposed to being a sub branch of such things) shows it nicely.

    Perhaps the first step along that path would be explaining how arriving at such a conclusion could be philosophically possible.

    If you can't successfully encapsulate biology within the disciplines of physics and chemistry it's self evident.

    So does trying to go beyond the fundamental limits of empiricism.

    Also do not be confused that you are just talking about what might be the case. Talking about a detetministic universe and proving it are completely different things ... especially when one can talk about proving a detetministic universe being logically impossible.

    Thats a problem for the physicists. Professionals in biology and behaviour can still do their thing.

    Begging the question much?
    (Your discussion just went from "might" to "actual")

    So just a recap.
    In order to prove the universe is not complely detetministic, one must first prove that it is deterministic. This may be a problem however because it appears to be not only logically impossible but also plagued by the possibility that deterministic phenomena need not be driven by necessary cause and effect.

    At least in pin the tail on the donkey, it has a backside.
  23. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    Then tell me what bio-chemistry is all about?
    I have posted this before, but perhaps warrant refreshing. start the presentation at 25:10

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