Vegetarianism and veganism have been on the rise in recent years, and adherents often cite consideration of animal rights as a motivation. But what if they heard that plants can also feel pain? It is already well-known that plants respond to external stimuli such as sunlight, air quality, and other basic factors, but a mysterious CIA study said to have been conducted in the late 1960s reportedly found that plants also “listened” and responded to the actions and even thoughts of those around them, including displaying signs of stress and pain on witnessing violence against themselves or other life forms. Although this research has since been discredited by several expert plant scientists, it sparked the imagination of the nation and provoked a lively public debate on the issue. A controversial 2006 article published in a plant science journal attempted to explain what scientists know about so-called “plant neurobiology:”
Plants are able to sense and optimally respond to so many environmental variables—light, water, gravity, temperature, soil structure, nutrients, toxins, microbes, herbivores, chemical signals from other plants—that there may exist some brainlike information-processing system to integrate the data and coordinate a plant’s behavioral response. The authors pointed out that electrical and chemical signalling systems have been identified in plants which are homologous to those found in the nervous systems of animals. They also noted that neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate have been found in plants, though their role remains unclear.
The scientific community in general acknowledges that plants have advanced sensory systems, and there have been several intriguing experiments which provide a window into plants’ chemical “communication” systems and even evidence that plants can “learn” behaviors within their lifetime. However many see the anthropomorphizing of plants as being an embarrassment to the field of plant study as a whole, and “the use of the word “neurobiology” in the absence of actual neurons was apparently more than many scientists could bear.” However an incorrigible fascination with “plant intelligence” stretching all the way back to Charles Darwin to continues to fuel interesting research on the subject.
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