Are Plants Aware?

Plants may experience consciousness, albeit in a different fashion from us.

Robert Lanza M.D., Biocentrism, Posted Mar 11, 2017, Share

In the movie Avatar, humans mine a lush moon inhabited by blue- skinned extraterrestrials, the Na’vi, who live in harmony with nature. Human military forces destroy their habitat, despite objections that it could affect the bio-network connecting its organisms. On the eve of the big battle, the protagonist Jake communicates via a neural connection with the Tree of Souls, which intercedes on behalf of the Na’vi. We think of time and consciousness in human terms. But like us, plants possess receptors, microtubules, and sophisticated intercellular systems that likely facilitate a degree of spatio-temporal consciousness. The movie suggests that we don’t understand the conscious nature of the life that surrounds us.

Although I saw the movie three times, I still cringe whenever someone tells me that a plant has consciousness. As a biologist, I can accept that consciousness exists in cats, dogs, and other animals with sophisticated brains. Studies show that dogs have a level of intelligence — and consciousness — on par with a two- or three-year-old human child. In fact, in 1981, Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner and I published a paper in the journal Science showing that even pigeons were capable of certain aspects of self- awareness. But a plant or a tree? To consider the possibility seemed absurd — until the other day.

My kitchen merges into a conservatory, a mini-rainforest with palms and ferns. While having breakfast, I looked up at one of my prize specimens, a Queen Sago tree. For the last several months, I’d been watching it send up new fronds, which, since the winter solstice, have been repositioning themselves towards the shifting sun. During that time, I also watched it respond to an injury to its trunk by sending out air-roots in search of new soil to re-root itself. It was a clever life-form, but clearly not conscious in any known biological way.



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