The Secret Life of Plants

Many, many years ago, I read an article in a magazine I recall as being fairly credible — National Geographic, maybe? — about a study done where they hooked up a polygraph to a couple of house plants. Don’t recall the names but they looked like a Dieffenbachia. The plants were left alone in a room. Presently a nasty human entered and hacked one of the plants to pieces. As this was happening, the other plant registered distress on the polygraph machine. Having destroyed the victim plant, the nasty human left with his axe.

After awhile the surviving plant calmed down. Thereafter a series of humans entered the room and left. With each person, the remaining plant showed no reaction. But then… dun dun duuunnnn…. the nasty human entered and recognizing the plant murderer, the surviving plant freaked out, fearful of becoming the next victim…

All of this to show, supposedly, that plants are more sentient than we think. I recall being skeptical at the time, but it brought home to me, especially during my cell biology class, that when you eat plants you are indeed crushing cells and killing them one by one and if you want to anthropomorphize them, then you can imagine them screaming in agony as you bite down. (I obliquely referred to this in a previous post, Life Needs Death.)

And then you will eat nothing but perhaps beans or rice…and eventually die of malnutrition. (Vegetarians are not fond of this study and consider it bunk, btw, a ploy by meat eaters to cast aspersions on vegetarianism and defend their own “evil” ways.)

Update: Then again, perhaps the vegetarians are right. Upon further research I am pretty sure this story is associated with a best-selling book from the 70’s called The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Birds, neither of whom are actual scientists. I know that I did not read the book, so it was probably an article based on one of the experiments it recounts.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on The Secret Life of Plants, “One of the book’s claims is that plants may be sentient despite their lack of a nervous system and a brain. [It]includes unscientific experiments on plant stimuli, as through a polygraph, a method which was pioneered by Cleve Backster. The book is regarded as pseudoscientific by skeptics and many scientists.”

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