'The gardening gloves are off. Frustrated by more than a decade of research which claims to reveal intentions, feelings and even consciousness in plants, more traditionally minded botanists have finally snapped. Plants, they protest, are emphatically not conscious.
The latest salvo in the plant consciousness wars has been fired by US, British and German biologists who argue that practitioners of “plant neurobiology” have become carried away with the admittedly impressive abilities of plants to sense and react to their environments.
While plants may curl their leaves in response to touch, grow faster when competitors are near and spring traps when prey wanders into them, the vexed biologists argue that is no reason to believe they choose their actions, learn along the way or occasionally get hurt in the process, as some plant neurobiologists assert.
Bothered by claims that plants have “brain-like command centres” in their root tips, and possess the equivalent of animal nervous systems, the critics counter there is no proof of sentient vegetation or structures within plants that would grant them what the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has called “the feeling of what happens”.
Writing in the journal Trends in Plant Science, where plant neurobiology made its debut in 2006, Lincoln Taiz, a botanist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and seven like-minded researchers state: “There is no evidence that plants require, and thus have evolved, energy-expensive mental faculties, such as consciousness, feelings, and intentionality, to survive or to reproduce.”
Taiz told the Guardian: “Our criticism of the plant neurobiologists is they have failed to consider the importance of brain organisation, complexity and specialisation for the phenomenon of consciousness.”'
Read more: Group of biologists tries to bury the idea that plants are conscious
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