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Plants may be more rational then humans!!!


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Fascinating Mike,


Here is the graphical abstract from the free full text of the paper the article you point to references:




It shows that when the "constant" green pot is nutrient-rich, the pea plants sunk a lot of roots into it and not much into the red pot where the nutrients were variable (sometimes high and sometimes low - from one plant to the next - note there was no within-plant learning or adaptation over several trials with different nutrient mixtures). But when the "constant" green pot is nutrient-poor, the pea plant sinks relatively more roots into the red pot containing a variable level of nutrients. 


The authors seem to interpret this has something to do with risk aversion. This seems like a silly explanation, when a much simpler one will do (Occam's Razor): In fact, unless I'm missing something, a (dead) kitchen sponge will behave exactly the same way. Take a bunch of kitchen sponges and bend them in half. Put each of the halves over the lips of two glasses - one with a "constant" amount of water (either always full, or always nearly empty). On average (across a bunch of sponges), the sponges will soak up more water from, and expand in volume into, a constantly "water-rich" glass than the "variable glass", which is sometimes nearly full (like the "water-rich" glass) and sometimes nearly empty. Conversely, if the constant glass is "water-poor", then on average the half of the sponge in the constantly water-poor glass will soak up less water, and expand less in volume, than the half of the sponge in the "variable" glass, which sometimes is full and sometimes nearly empty, but on average will have more water to soak up than the constantly water-poor glass. 


Despite this apparently "intelligent behavior", I hope the researchers wouldn't claim that the dead kitchen sponge is also 'rational' and making sophisticated risk reward calculations...


This appears to me to once again be a game of telephone. A researcher publishes a result. One news organization (the New York Times) picks up on the study, interviews the authors who are all too willing to go along with the NYT's writer and make exaggerated statements about the content and implications of their study, realizing their colleagues won't be reviewing their bogus statements, and hey, they get their 15-minutes of fame in the NYTs (or the WSJ for that matter), so you know, what the heck. And so the NYTs publishes a story, exaggerating and spinning the result of the study to make it interesting for readers (i.e click-bait), with an provocative, and very misleading but not horribly inaccurate title "Lacking Brains, Plants Can Still Make Good Judgments About Risks".


Then an even less credible news organization like Gizmodo, looking for a story to attract its own views/clicks, picks up on the NYT's article and blows it even further out of proportion with their story, with the total insane title "Plants Can Make Some Decisions Better Than Humans." More clickbait. Then some naive reader (no offense Mike) comes along and takes the bait. He reads the headline and posts a stupid quip about "rational plants" and "vegans are being cruel" without bothering to look into the actual research at the bottom of this inverted-pyramid of exaggerations and misstatements. 


Even if there is some biochemical process mediating the root resource allocation in the plants (as opposed to the strictly hydro-mechanical explanation for the dead kitchen sponges), this does not strike me as suggesting the plants have any sort "inner life" deserving of moral regard. To paraphrase the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, there is nothing it's like to "be a plant" from the inside. Hence they aren't sentient, and don't suffer when we kill and eat them, unlike sentient animals we use as food. More than anything else, it's the suffering that counts Mike.



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I have to wonder if Dean reads this will he have some pangs of guilt devouring all those rational plants as he does while condemning those who eat meat!


Just kidding, but not entirely:-)

Thanks, Dean. Your response is erfectly stated: omnivores like to just-kidding-not-really engage in this nonsense to say oh high falutin' vegans ain't perfect either because plants, well, plants are cool, too. As if any of us vegans don't love plants, too, and as if we're attempting perfection here on troubled earth.


Meanwhile, anthropomorphism is always a special treat. And for what it's worth, many vegans do despise killing and eating plants. Plants are just as cool as animals, and as the great filmmaker David Attenborough showed us in a long time ago: plants are kinda like slow-moving animals when seen through a different lens, in time lapse, with a more enlightened eye, a more sensitive perception. But that's probably also antbropomorphizing.


Some vegans become fruitarian for just this reason: eating a grapefruit doesn't kill the grapefruit tree.


Frankly, personally, maybe ridiculously, I really struggle with eating both plants and mushrooms. Fungi are closer to animals than plants -- but I kill and eat them anyway.

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Attenborough (if anyone deserves longer, healthier life it's Dear David Attenborough -- who is a treasure, a beautiful soul) here he is twenty years ago teaching whoever will listen and watch about plants who eat animals:



Yeah, and also take note of how effortlessly he teaches you. No need for made up, exclusive language designed for self-importance. Career scientists are reminding me more of career lawyers: let's create our own language and then use it as a barrier to keep everyone else out. Here, Attenborough, who's honest and sincere about attempting to understand nature and pass that understanding along to EVERYONE who bothers to pay attention, delivers the message very plainly and without all the huffing and puffing big shot bull shit.

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Hi Dean, I was certainly not takin in by the article. Not for a minute did I think of it as wow plants have consciousness. Although Some physicists are arguing that consciousness is primary contrary to the current scientific paradigm's insistence that matter is. That is born out of some very mysterious contradictions currently prevailing in quantum physics which are inconsistent with the current reductionist paradigm. IAC, I thought it was funny and took a poke at you:-) just for laughs!


But I will say, reflecting what Sthira suggests, I really love plants. I have lots of house plants and a garden which I am devoted to. Hiking is a real pleasure because I love the fauna and identifying it and watching how and when it responds to the seasons.


Plants are so cool!

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Instead of being brutal vegetarians or vegans, one should look into becoming breatharians. It is my understanding that it's the very healthiest (and of course the most ethical) - although data on breatharian longevity compared to vegan are lacking, because under "diet", the breatharian is compelled to enter "nothing", which makes it hard to put on charts, and so, mostly breatharians are omitted from such statistics. 

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