Scientific American FSG Books


What a Plant Knows

What a Plant Knows

Daniel Chamovitz


Boston Globe talks with Daniel Chamovitz

The long, strange quest to detect plant consciousness

By Latif Nasser

A carrot is strapped to an examining table. After the experimenter wires it up to an especially sensitive galvanometer, he pinches the vegetable with forceps. The machine registers “infinitesimal twitches, starts, and tremors,” according to one report. The year is 1914, the scientist is named Jagadish Chandra Bose, and a journalist in the room writes, apparently without irony: “Thus can science reveal the feelings of even so stolid a vegetable as the carrot.”

Today, that conclusion—and the entire experiment—seems absurd. Whatever is happening inside a carrot, it’s not a “feeling” in any sense we’d understand. For that, a carrot would need a brain, or at least a central nervous system, which it most certainly does not have. The scientific consensus is clear: Plants do not experience the world the way we do.

“We can’t equate human behavior to the ways in which plants function in their worlds,” writes Daniel Chamovitz, who runs a plant biology lab at Tel Aviv University and surveys the field in a new book about plant sensations, “What a Plant Knows.” (He considers that title a kind of literary shorthand, even a provocation, rather than a serious suggestion that plants can think.)

Read more at the Boston Globe


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