Plants have been discovered to think and remember information according to an experiment conducted at a Polish laboratory in the Warsaw University of Life Sciences. Those familiar with intelligent plants from “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Day of the Triffids” fame may be shocked by the revelation that experiments conducted on plants have shown this interesting tidbit of information.
The final word on whether plants think or not will require future experiments, but scientists are still excited by this rare opportunity to show that even the grass beneath our feet may have an opinion of our shoes. Of course the primitive thinking process is nothing approaching conspiratorial, so there is no need to worry about the potential for violence from violets or a rosebush revolution. Still, to these scientists the old phrase “as exciting as watching the grass grow” is considered short sighted indeed. The intelligence may not be advanced enough to contemplate the meaning of existence, but it certainly is enough to prioritize resources to fight off infection. The research found that plants have a purely reactive sort of intelligence that works solely within the self. Electrochemicals are carried through the plants allowing them information with which to process a course of action.
The research suggests that plants were more prone to fight off infection if a beam of light had passed over them than if the beam of light had not been present. As a result, the plants were able to solve one simple problem presented to it. Professor Stanislaw Karpinski related his findings to several world news agencies including the BBC during a presentation where he made his findings public. According to Karpinski, the plants (in this case a breed of Arabadopsis plant) would process information contained in the light in order to determine if an infection may be present in its current environment, and would then use this information, effectively remembering it, to decide if action should be taken using energy and resources to fight off the potential infection. The results were astounding, indicating both memory and learning.
So if plants can learn on such a simple scale, are there plants that can actually learn more complex behaviors? Alternately, could a plant be developed that performs simple tasks with the information it is provided based on its environment? If the research were taken to the next level, could we actually use the same chemical processes to bring about larger changes in plant physiology and anatomy that could allow them to perform tasks not only for human benefit, but simultaneously allow them to clean up their own environment from known toxins and other elements harmful to plants and humans? Such proposals were on the table for researchers long before plants were demonstrated to have the abilities Dr. Karpinski’s research suggests. But imagine a world where a sufficiently advanced plant could actually be “trained” to grow in a certain way. Even simple tasks, such as growing in a way that would allow it to mimic shelter or make nearby water supplies more potable would have a major impact on the world. And with the gulf oil spill making headlines every day, it seems a plant that could process oil and still keep itself protected is an equal potential application.
But what else does this tell us about the world around us? It seems there’s a philosophical revelation here that goes beyond the mere biological one. If the plants we know are able to remember and even think in even the most basic of ways it shows that the entire world we know is constantly teeming with not only life, but also information processing. And to find even a simple plant is to find something that can react to its environment.