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Planta Sapiens: The Incredible Minds of Plants

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Event Series Event Series: Incredible Minds

April 22, 2023 @ 6:00 pm 8:00 pm CEST

Planta Sapiens: The Incredible Minds of Plants

with Dr. Paco Calvo

Saturday April 22, 2023
9:00am PDT | 12:00pm EDT | 5:00pm BST  |  6:00pm CEST

2-hour session

The session is live and you will be sent the RECORDING.

Plants can be knocked out using the very same drug that your vet might use to put your pet to sleep. Although demonstrations of “plants under anaesthesia” provides the perfect blank slate from which to begin to view plants in an entirely new way, this just the beginning. Take sleep; do plants sleep? Or can plants suffer from jet lag? Most people would assume I am talking metaphorically in my hot off the press Planta Sapiens. And yet, planta sapiens is not unlike Harari’s Sapiens, if you see what I mean. Plants biosynthesize their own melatonin that helps them regulate their circadian rhythms, just as we do with our internal circadian clocks under the cycles of day and night. And what if plants could suffer or feel pain? Assuming otherwise is extremely convenient for the human purpose of guilt-free plant consumption, but what if plants were like “locked-in syndrome” patients? What if they happened to have their own internal experiences that are just currently inaccessible to us? We cannot possibly ignore such a possibility. Many of the chemicals that control behavior and emotions in humans and other animals such as serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline are also synthesized or have analogs in plants. Being expensive to produce, it would make no evolutionary sense to manufacture such substances without purpose. Some of these chemicals are only produced in situations when plants are stressed or injured. Plants make many substances that have pain-killing or anesthetic effects, such as ethylene. We certainly don’t know that these molecules act as painkillers in plants, but given that they are created in stressful situations, there is reason to believe that they serve to relieve suffering. From an evolutionary standpoint, the ability to perceive pain or to suffer in some way is essential. More generally, we need to consider the evolutionary importance of “feelings” beyond being an abstract distinguishing feature of humanity. Emotion and emotional behaviors might have evolved across the tree of life for very good reasons. They give the capacity to make rapid, prioritized decisions in response to the demands of a dangerous environment. We are actually far more driven by emotions than we like to think—they are powerful guides! If it makes sense to animals to “trust their gut,” it might as well pay off for plants to “trust their gut” too. It’s just unfortunate that our instincts are to ignore plants as background greenery because they don’t fit into our immediate, fast-paced attention spans. However, perhaps it’s time to rethink how we understand ourselves. Or so I’ll argue.

Planta Sapiens: The New Science of Plant Intelligence
Paco Calvo with Natalie Lawrence

Times Literary Supplement – A manifesto inviting us to think about plants and our attitudes to them in revolutionary ways

To see the Full Incredible Minds program

Paco Calvo (PhD, University of Glasgow, 2000) is a Professor of Philosophy of Science, and Principal Investigator of the MinimalIntelligence Laboratory (MINTLab) at the University of Murcia (Spain).

His research interests range broadly within the cognitive sciences, with special emphasis on plant intelligence, ecological psychology and embodied cognitive science, robotics and AI.

He uses time-lapse photography to explore perception-action and learning in plants. His scientific articles have appeared in Annals of Botany, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, Frontiers in Neurorobotics, Frontiers in Robotics and AI, Journal of the Royal Society, Plant, Cell & Environment, Plant Signaling & Behavior, Scientific Reports, and Trends in Plant Science, among other journals. He is co-author with Natalie Lawrence of Planta Sapiens (Little, Brown (UK); Norton (US)).


April 22, 2023
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm CEST