Human Exceptionalism

Science! Now It’s Plant Ph.Ds

Good grief, here we go again. I wrote previously about a professor (of course!) promoting “pea personhood” in the New York Times and a book.

Switzerland includes the “intrinsic dignity” of individual plants in its constitution.

“Nature rights” is the law in two countries, more than thirty U.S. municipalities, and supported by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

Now, advocacy for “plant intelligence.” From, “Why Don’t We Consider Plants Smart?” in the New Scientist:

Clearly, we will never play chess with a rose, nor ask the orchid on our windowsill for advice. But that is the point: humans are guilty of serious parochialism, of defining intelligence in terms of a nervous system and muscle-based speed that enables things to be done fast, say all three authors.

Parochialism? Really?

Sure plants react to their environment. We’ve all seen a flower open in response to the sun. But is that “intelligence?” No. Intelligence is defined thusly (my emphasis):

[The] capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

Let the anthropomorphizing begin! 

Now microelectronics and the analysis of volatile compounds at picogram concentrations are revealing the complexities of plant behaviour as never before. So much so that Mancuso can write: “Plant lives unfold in another dimension of time” and that they are “considerably less passive than they appear, and are in fact wily protagonists in the drama of their own lives”.

The “drama of their own lives?” “Behavior?

They are not “behaving.” They are reacting without sentience.

We are moving from imagining animal internal lives to creating one for plants?

Plants, say the authors, are highly responsive, attuned to gravity, grains of sand, sunlight, starlight, the footfalls of tiny insects and to slow rhythms outside our range. They are subtle, aware, strategic beings whose lives involve an environmental sensitivity very distant from the simple flower and seed factories of popular imagination.

Being “strategic” requires intentionality. Plants are incapable of that.

All life is very sophisticated, complex, and astonishingly diverse. My friends and colleagues at the Discovery Institute are exploring a heterodox scientific hypothesis about potential causes for that. (Let the screaming begin.)

But to say that plants are “intelligent” is to enervate words of their meaning and attempt to craft a moral premise that they are more like us.

It is to subvert human exceptionalism, toward possible destructive policy ends such as nature rights.

So sure, explore how plants interact with their environment. But use proper, non-personal language. They are plants.

#SCIENCE!

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