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Now It’s Plant "Intelligence"

Wesley J. Smith


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

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 is supported by Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

Now they are promoting “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.

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 as follows (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 [plant “neurobiologist” Stefano] 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 animals’ 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 Discovery Institute are exploring a heterodox scientific theory about potential causes for that.

But to say that plants are “intelligent” is to empty words of their meaning and attempt to craft a moral premise that they are more like us. It is to subvert humanity’s exceptional status, toward possible destructive policy ends such as nature rights.

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

Image by Arne and Bent Larsen or A./B. Larsen [CC BY-SA 2.5 dk], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Human Exceptionalism.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



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