Plant Consciousness?

Have you ever thought about what consciousness plants have? If any at all? ‘Plant perception’ is a term used to describe plants being able to perceive their environment and react in ways that could be regarded as some form of ‘intelligence’. Not like intelligence you or I have but one that is unique to their existence and has been formed through evolution and survival. There have been several experiments done, most notably by Indian Scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose and Cleve Backster who was a Polygraph specialist in the 1960’s. Mythbusters also did similar experiments to Cleve Backster with surprising results. Results have been varied though, with many sceptics keen to debunk.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose starting experimenting with the reaction of plants the early 1900’s. He used electromagnetic waves, electricity, fire, water, chloroform and sound to test how plants responded to certain stimuli. He invented a highly sensitive instrument called the ‘Crescograph’ for the detection of minute responses by living organisms to external stimuli which enabled him to anticipate the parallels between animal and plant tissues noted by later biophysicists.

He was ridiculed at the time but his intention was to test perception. He was interested in what plants perceive but more importantly he was interested in what we perceive about them and what we can learn about perception itself. They are quite obviously not going to feel pain like humans as they don’t have a central nervous system but the reaction could be similar, as Cleve Backster went on to theorise later.

Venus Fly Trap
Venus Fly Trap

Backster was a polygraph interrogation specialist with the CIA and his research with plants connected to polygraphs led him to believe that plants were trying to communicate with us. ‘Primary perception’ or Bio-communication is the idea that plants are sentient, that they respond to humans in a manner that amounts to ESP and that they experience pain and fear. The theory is dismissed by scientists because plants lack a nervous system.

Backster’s experiments were considered to be not controlled enough although it is interesting to see the needle jumping around on the polygraph after he exposes the plant to purely an idea, a thought of setting the plant on fire. Mythbusters thought it interesting enough to check out also.

Plants appear to have the ability to perceive the environment around them and their reactions are defence mechanisms. These mechanisms, like the leaves of the sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica, that close up rapidly in response to direct touch, vibration, or even electrical and thermal stimuli are a testament to plants ability to react to external stimuli. Maybe this is where the term “shaking like a leaf” comes from.

Another example of possible ‘plant perception’ is the woody vine or Boquila trifoliolata. Endemic to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first documented example of a plant that exhibits mimetic polymorphism, which is the ability to mimic multiple different host species. Researchers found that when this vine was climbing a tree it was able to imitate the host leaves in terms of size, shape, color, orientation and even vein conspicuousness. All this without having eyes to perceive what it is mimicking.

 Example of Boquila Trifoliolata
Example of Boquila Trifoliolata

Considering that Bose was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to receive a U.S. patent, and is considered one of the fathers of radio science, alongside such notables as Tesla, Marconi, and Popov, and Backster being one of the leading polygraph examiners for the CIA, these guys weren’t flashes in the pan.

I don’t believe the theory so easy to dismiss. I’m not sure about plants reading minds but there is certainly an indicant that plants may feel ‘pain’. Essentially, these studies just push our boundaries of perception a little out of our comfort zone. I suppose it makes Vegetarians a little less smug though?


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