The remarkable ability of plants to respond to their environment has led some scientists to believe it’s a sign of conscious awareness. A new opinion paper argues against this position, saying plants “neither possess nor require consciousness.”
Many of us take it for granted that plants, which lack a brain or central nervous system, wouldn’t have the capacity for conscious awareness. That’s not to suggest, however, that plants don’t exhibit intelligence. Plants seem to demonstrate a startling array of abilities, such as computation, communication, recognizing overcrowding, and mobilizing defenses.
“There is no evidence that plants require, and thus have evolved, energy-expensive mental faculties, such as consciousness, feelings, and intentionality, to survive or to reproduce,” the authors write in the study. “Plant development and behavior can be regarded as a series of [unintentional] consequences emerging from internal and external signaling networks that have evolved through natural selection.”
Nature has value, whether it’s a mammal, fish, bug, plant, or even a river. Just because something is not conscious doesn’t mean we’re justified in treating it poorly. At the same time, however, we need to recognize actual consciousness because it enables us to recognize the presence of pain, discomfort, and anguish.
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