Speaking of extra senses….

Denyse at MindMatters cites a fascinating new study on plant intelligence.

TL-DR: Climbing bean plants can sense where a vertical pole is without having to feel around. No trial and error, no obvious negative feedback. The tendrils just drive straight toward the nearest vertical thing.

The researchers are trying to use this as evidence of consciousness. Nope, irrelevant. The only statement we can logically make about awareness is that either (1) I’m the only aware entity in the world, or (2) Everything is aware. There’s no logical basis for any statement between those extremes. One specific sensing ability has no possible correlation with consciousness.

This study is interesting because it implies a brand new form of sense.

We know plants can sense light, and bend or grow toward light, but plants don’t have eyes with retinas. So they can’t form a 2d image of the scene, analyze the 2d image, decide that this area of different color is a pole, and grow toward it.

We know plants can sense moisture and grow or bend toward moisture. Roots can find water hundreds of feet away. It’s a remarkably delicate sense, but not relevant to locating a pole. A stem or tree can be more wet or less wet or equally wet compared to the surrounding air.

We know plants can sense sound, and may be able to use petals like a cochlea to distinguish frequencies. Sound is able to localize a narrow object, but would require the plant to emit sound and process the reflections, like a bat.

Electrostatic fields and gravity are also weapons in a plant’s sensorium.  Plants do emit and sense static fields in their communication with bees.  A sonar-like system for static fields would need to form a 2d image of impedance, scanning back and forth to locate a zone of greater or lesser absorption.   Seems unlikely but not impossible.

By elimination, this pole-finding ability would need an entirely unknown sensory mechanism, unless electrostatic sonar turns out to be possible.

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Broader thought: I don’t see why ‘panpsychism’ is considered radical and new. Looking back at all of humanity over the 50k years when we can find written or preserved oral evidence, essentially everyone felt that the whole world is alive and aware. Reserving awareness for humans is recent and geographically narrow, basically starting with the Greek and Christian thinkers 2k years ago. Older tribes are still animist.

Everyone starts with animism. It’s innate, so it’s probably true. Church and school propaganda work hard to eliminate animism. I never abandoned it.

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