Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: Is it true that plants can understand our emotions?

Krishna: Plants may not have feelings but they are indeed alive and have been described as sentient life forms that have “tropic” and “nastic” responses to stimuli. Plants can sense water, light, and gravity — they can even defend themselves and send signals to other plants to warn that danger is here, or near.
While  plants don't “feel” emotions as humans do, plants do show signs of “sensing” their surroundings. Now researchers are working to see what we can discover about the possibility that plants exhibit intelligence in their adaptations to their environment and changes within it.  


 Here are a few characteristics of intelligent life that have been used in the context of plant activity:

 Perception of the surrounding environment

  • Adaptation to environmental conditions
  • Communication (in the case of plants, through chemical secretions)
  • Social interaction (by sending and receiving chemical information) and cooperation for mutual health and safety
Projecting our feelings and self-awareness onto plants can be a trap. Although we have evidence that plants possess a type of awareness (spatial being one example), there is no scientific evidence that plants exhibit self-awareness. Plant intelligence skeptics tend to believe that all plant behaviour is mechanistic, at best. They would argue that anthropomorphic language is better understood as a metaphorical way of describing awareness and intentionality in plants and trees.

Reassuringly (especially to plant eaters), plants are not enough like animals to “feel” the same way we do. Animals have nervous systems that transmit sensations to pain receptors. Plants do not. Plants may exhibit reactions to stimuli, and we sometimes interpret these responses as defensive behaviour, but we’re really talking about successful adaptations to their environment.

Plants have neither nervous systems nor neuro-transmitting pain receptors. While it’s accurate to say that plants can feel, or sense, their surroundings, that is a far, unbridged distance from claiming that plants feel like we do.  

Plants can't “decide” like we do. Rather, what the evidence shows is that plants react and adapt. In evolutionary terms, all plants are hard-wired to survive and pass on their genes to future generations, and adaptation is the means to accomplish that.

Plants “fight” for territory. They “seek” food, “evade” predators, and “hunt” and capture prey. These processes are inherent in plant cell responses. They seem to grow “with purpose,” so they have a spatial awareness. And they “know” how to grow in community and be responsible community members, contributing to the common good. But let’s not fall into the anthropomorphic trap and attribute more human-like traits to plants than they support.  

In 2014, a team at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland showed that when a caterpillar attacks an Arabidopsis plant, it triggers a wave of electrical activity. It is because of the role played by molecules called glutamate receptors. Glutamate is the most important neurotransmitter in our central nervous system, and it plays exactly the same role in plants, except with one crucial difference: plants do not have nervous systems.

 Do plants feel? Yes, and no. For us, the more important part of that answer is no. They don’t feel like we feel. 

Trees — and all plants, for that matter — feel nothing at all, because consciousness, emotions and cognition are hallmarks of animals alone, scientists recently reported in an  article (1). They don't  think  plants are smart,  they a re just complex

No, plants don't understand our emotions.



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