Are plants conscious in a similar way as animals?

Plants and ani­mals along with some oth­ers are the two types of beings which are con­sid­ered as ‘liv­ing’. Although both are liv­ing beings, the thing sep­a­rates them is con­scious­ness and aware­ness of the sur­round­ing and pres­ence of oth­er beings. 

In this blog post, we’ll dis­cuss the debate as to whether or not the con­scious­ness of plants is sim­i­lar to the con­scious­ness of ani­mals. We hope you will find it informative!

A short introduction to consciousness

While the def­i­n­i­tion of con­scious­ness varies across most indi­vid­u­als, there is a con­sen­sus that it describes an aware­ness of the out­side world. For exam­ple, indi­vid­u­als with a con­di­tion like blind­ness are not con­sid­ered to be con­scious of the world around them. Some­one who is blind can still feel and touch things, so they know they exist as objects in their world. Their con­scious­ness is focused on the task at hand, mak­ing sure they do not bump into things or trip over some­thing in their way.

Awareness of Plants?

Well, the straight­for­ward answer to this ques­tion would be “who knows after all”. But a major­i­ty of researchers, includ­ing the author of this arti­cle, believe that plants have intel­li­gence and even con­scious­ness. Plants not only sense pain, but they also per­ceive and inter­act with their sur­round­ings in com­plex ways. The abil­i­ty to feel pain, to per­ceive and respond to stim­uli, is com­plex and is asso­ci­at­ed with com­plex neur­al net­works and neu­ro­trans­mit­ters. Plants also have their own kind of com­plex brains that oper­ate on their own in ways com­pa­ra­ble to human brains.

The ques­tion of how plants per­ceive and respond to their sur­round­ings is one of the most impas­sioned sci­ence debates today. One the­o­ry sug­gests that plants are aware of the world around them large­ly through chem­i­cal reac­tions in their roots. The roots con­tain “nerves” that sense all kinds of sig­nals from the air, from light, from touch, from oth­er plants, or even from vibra­tions in our own bod­ies via things like bones or nerves. These reac­tions in the roots–known as “reactions”–are sim­i­lar to “touch” in our own body. While this process is cer­tain­ly intrigu­ing, it does­n’t explain how plants sense light, water or grav­i­ty, which is much more com­plex than sim­ply tak­ing in a par­tic­u­lar chem­i­cal scent or touch­ing a root.

The details of plant per­cep­tion can best be explained by con­sid­er­ing what plants sense and see through a lit­tle per­spec­tive. Plants have many things to which they must respond, includ­ing sun­light and air, grav­i­ty (which allows them to grow), tem­per­a­tures, water lev­els, move­ment of oth­er plants or ani­mals in the ecosys­tem and much more.

A plan­t’s roots are like an exten­sion of its brain. They con­tain a sophis­ti­cat­ed ner­vous sys­tem in which some neu­rons are ded­i­cat­ed sole­ly to sens­ing cer­tain sig­nals or activ­i­ties such as detec­tion of light, tem­per­a­ture and vibra­tion. In the root these neu­rons detect sig­nals that tell the rest of the plant whether there is an abun­dance of water or oth­er resources avail­able from the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment. A plant may be able to sense even tiny changes in air pres­sure (which affects choic­es such as when a plant can photosynthesize). 


Plants are also able to sense how their roots are touch­ing the ground. If a plant is grown in a pot and the bot­tom of the root hits the bot­tom of the pot, it will not grow any deep­er. How­ev­er, if it hits some­thing extra soft, like mud or sand, it will con­tin­ue grow­ing. This allows a plant to build a sys­tem of tubers that con­nect with the sur­face of the earth like eyes on stalks that can see where light is com­ing from. A plant also has recep­tors in its roots capa­ble of sens­ing grav­i­ty, which allows it to respond to oth­er things such as oth­er plants in its bio­me (for exam­ple, if they bend over under wind pressure).

Plants respond not just through their roots but also through their leaves. Leaves are made up of dozens of tiny cells that con­tract and expand like mus­cles and move in the same way that our own mus­cles can be excit­ed. The leaves of some plants con­tain light-sen­si­tive pig­ments, which respond to light in much the same way that our own skin does. There is even a type of plant called “human touch-me-not” whose leaves have small hairs like those on our skin which can detect pres­sure, just like human fin­ger­tips. Yet there are many oth­er types of plants that don’t even have any such sen­so­ry organs in their leaves.

Of course, the brain is not the cen­ter of intel­li­gence for plants, but their roots and leaves are the seat of most of their dis­tinct senses.

Do plants have consciousness similar to animals’? Technical View…

Consciousness

Plants some­how do have con­scious­ness sim­i­lar to ani­mals’ but it is no where near as advanced in com­par­i­son. While plants may be aware of the feel­ing that is caused by sun­light on their leaves or mois­ture on their roots, they will nev­er be able to com­pre­hend these sen­sa­tions as part of a larg­er exis­tence. They have no real sense of time and are unaware of the end goal of these sen­sa­tions. This is where the main dif­fer­ence between plants and ani­mals lies.

Sim­i­lar top­ic: How many dimen­sions of human con­scious­ness do we have?

How does the awareness of plants differ from the awareness of animals?

Unlike ani­mals, plants do not pos­sess the actu­al capac­i­ty for con­scious­ness. Despite the fact, there is no doubt that they do have some sense of aware­ness about their sur­round­ings. While they are unable to process what they feel, they do pos­sess a basic con­scious­ness that is based on instinct.

The feel­ings that plants expe­ri­ence are dif­fer­ent because they also have aware­ness of their own self-preser­va­tion. For exam­ple, when a plant is wound­ed by a knife it is able to sense that it needs to react in a cer­tain way or die. Plants can go into a state of hiber­na­tion dur­ing peri­ods of drought or extreme cold weath­er and this shows us that their aware­ness allows them to react based on circumstance.

Ani­mals take in stim­uli through their sens­es and then process it mak­ing them react at actions. They are aware of oth­er liv­ing beings and the pres­ence of envi­ron­ment around them. Plants lack this sense entire­ly though they do react to stim­uli from things such as light or gravity.


Although plants are con­sid­ered to be sim­ple organ­isms with no true sense of con­scious­ness, as we con­tin­ue to learn more about them we may find out that they do pos­sess some­thing sim­i­lar to what an ani­mal con­sid­ers itself con­scious of. This is a real­ly con­tro­ver­sial top­ic, hence the answer could vary from individual.

As far as we are con­cerned, plants pos­sess a basic lev­el of intel­li­gence. This allows them to absorb sun­light and con­vert it into sug­ar for ener­gy. This is the lim­it of their aware­ness though, and any abil­i­ty to become con­scious like ani­mals is con­sid­ered to be pure­ly a prod­uct of imag­i­na­tion. Plants can­not tru­ly process stim­uli because they lack any sort of neur­al con­nec­tion that would allow them to do so.

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