Author Topic: Antropocentricism: The Most Dangerous Ideology in the World  (Read 1422 times)

$@#! Lawn mower!

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What Plants Are Saying About Us
Your brain is not the root of cognition.
“Who knew plants do stuff?” I marveled. Suddenly plants seemed more interesting. When the pandemic hit, I brought more of them home, just to add some life to the place, and then there were more, and more still, until the ratio of plants to household surfaces bordered on deranged. Bushwhacking through my apartment, I worried whether the plants were getting enough water, or too much water, or the right kind of light—or, in the case of a giant carnivorous pitcher plant hanging from the ceiling, whether I was leaving enough fish food in its traps. But what never occurred to me, not even once, was to wonder what the plants were thinking.
To understand how human minds work, he started with plants.

I was, according to Paco Calvo, guilty of “plant blindness.” Calvo, who runs the Minimal Intelligence Lab at the University of Murcia in Spain where he studies plant behavior, says that to be plant blind is to fail to see plants for what they really are: cognitive organisms endowed with memories, perceptions, and feelings, capable of learning from the past and anticipating the future, able to sense and experience the world.

It’s easy to dismiss such claims because they fly in the face of our leading theory of cognitive science. That theory goes by names like “cognitivism,” “computationalism,” or “representational theory of mind.” It says, in short, the mind is in the head. Cognition boils down to the firings of neurons in our brains.

And plants don’t have brains.

“When I open up a plant, where could intelligence reside?” Calvo says. “That’s framing the problem from the wrong perspective. Maybe that’s not how our intelligence works, either. Maybe it’s not in our heads. If the stuff that plants do deserves the label ‘cognitive,’ then so be it. Let’s rethink our whole theoretical framework.”
But Calvo wasn’t convinced. Computers are good at logic, at carrying out long, precise calculations—not exactly humanity’s shining skill. Humans are good at something else: noticing patterns, intuiting, functioning in the face of ambiguity, error, and noise. While a computer’s reasoning is only as good as the data you feed it, a human can intuit a lot from just a few vague hints—a skill that surely helped on the savannah when we had to recognize a tiger hiding in the bushes from just a few broken stripes. “My hunch was that there was something really wrong, something deeply distorted about the very idea that cognition had to do with manipulating symbols or following rules,” Calvo says.
Plants can distinguish self from non-self, stranger from kin.
Plants’ abilities to sense and respond to their surroundings lead to what seems like intelligent behavior. Their roots can avoid obstacles. They can distinguish self from non-self, stranger from kin. If a plant finds itself in a crowd, it will invest resources in vertical growth to remain in light; if nutrients are on the decline, it will opt for root expansion instead. Leaves munched on by insects send electrochemical signals to warn the rest of the foliage,2 and they’re quicker to react to threats if they’ve encountered them in the past. Plants chat among themselves and with other species. They release volatile organic compounds with a lexicon, Calvo says, of more than 1,700 “words”—allowing them to shout things that a human might translate as “caterpillar incoming” or “*$@#, lawn mower!”

Their behavior isn’t merely reactive—plants anticipate, too. They can turn their leaves in the direction of the sun before it rises, and accurately trace its location in the sky even when they’re kept in the dark. They can predict, based on prior experience, when pollinators are most likely to show up and time their pollen production accordingly. A plant’s form is a record of its history. Its cells—shaped by experience—remember.

Chat? Anticipate? Remember? It’s tempting to tame all those words with scare quotes, as if they can’t mean for plants what they mean for us. For plants, we say, it’s biochemistry, just physiology and brute mechanics—as if that’s not true for us, too.

Besides, Calvo says, plant behavior can’t be reduced to mere reflexes. Plants don’t react to stimuli in predetermined ways—they’d never have made it this far, evolutionarily speaking, if they did. Having to deal with a changing environment while being rooted to one spot means having to set priorities, strike compromises, change course on the fly...
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