Consciousness, Plant Intelligence, and The Interconnectedness of All Things
Human beings really are amazing creatures. We have achieved an awful lot. We are inventors, entrepreneurs, builders, explorers, and designers. We have an amazing capacity for compassion, joy, community consciousness and care for others. We are also flawed. One of our flaws in particular is something that has put us at odds with our world, creating an 'us versus them' dynamic. This flaw has been responsible for untold destruction of people, places, and things. I am referring to our belief that we are somehow separate from the rest of the world, that we are above it and that we can control it. Many of us even believe that we were meant to control it. The idea that we are masters of the plant and animal kingdoms is regarded as fact, but the problem goes far beyond that. We have forgotten that we are also a part of this world, that we are connected with all of it in many subtle, sophisticated and beautiful ways, and that by respecting and nurturing our surroundings, we are respecting and nurturing ourselves as well. There is no separation, there is no mastery, or ownership or control.
While our species often finds it profitable to act as though we are the only intelligent beings on the planet, most people do have some understanding that animals possess intelligence, memory, and emotion. We need only to look into the eyes of our beloved pets to see the emotions they feel. We can observe packs of wild dogs hunting in cooperation as an organized unit and thereby witness their intelligence. We have come to regard Elephants as having powerful memory and even wisdom. But, what about plants? Is it possible that they are sentient, intelligent and sensitive beings as well?
Consider this quote from Stephen Harrod Buhner's Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm:
"Because all life-forms, irrespective of their nature, must, to survive, have a sense of not me, they all have a sense of self, they are in fact self-aware. Because all life-forms, irrespective of their nature, must, to survive, be able to analyze the nature of the not me that approaches them and, further, must be able to determine its intent, and further, be able to craft a response to that intent, all life-forms are, by definition, intelligent. Because all life-forms have to determine the intent of the not me that approaches them, they also have to be able to determine meaning. In other words, all living organisms can not only process data, they also engage in a search for meaning, an analysis that runs much deeper than linear cause and effect. Thus three capacities - self-awareness, intelligence, and the search for meaning - that have (erroneously) been ascribed as belonging only to human beings, are in fact general conditions of every living organism."
While many plant scientists argue that there is no evidence for structures such as neurons, synapses or a brain in plants, the simple fact that they are exploring 'plant behavior' and describing plants' decision-making processes speaks volumes about what that branch of science already understands. Clearly there is something more than our own human neural anatomy at work here. Perhaps there are ways of communicating with the outside world that we humans don't yet understand, or have overlooked in our reductionist approach to biology.
Taken from the mission statement of the Society of Plant Signalling and Behaviour (http://www.plantbehavior.org/about.html):
"Plants are dynamic and highly sensitive organisms that actively and competitively forage for limited resources both above and below ground. Plants accurately compute inputs from the environment, use sophisticated cost-benefit analysis, and take action to mitigate diverse environmental insults. Plants are also capable of refined recognition of self and non-self, and are territorial in behavior. This view sees plants as information processing organisms with complex, long-distance communication systems within the plant body and extending into the surrounding ecosystem."
The concept of a long-distance communication system in plants was first discussed publically in the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, and while much of the science described within has been discredited, the exploration of this subject continues today. In fact, carefully controlled experiments are currently taking place which are confirming that plants can send and receive messages between one another by means of chemical, electrical and even molecular pathways. So, while plants lack a brain or a human-like structured nervous system, they can still attack, defend, move, communicate, hibernate, interpret, react, and a host of other sophisticated behaviours. The fact is clear. Humans are not as separate from our world as we think, and there is evidence all around us that we have much more in common with our surroundings than we would like to believe. But what is it? What is the fabric that binds everything together, that thread that connects it all?
Peter Russell has an interesting and powerful suggestion. In this accompanying video, this mathematician, theoretical physicist, experimental psychologist, and meditation teacher discusses the nature of consciousness. He explains that this is something that is at the core of the very fabric of the Universe. All matter, including things we normally recognize as being inert, such as water, exhibit consciousness. Watch this video and ponder the implications. Perhaps, if we can bring ourselves to recognize the consciousness in all things, it will be easier to live our lives with reverence and respect, with gratitude and humility.