You must have read this title and thought “Wow, that’s absurd”, but hear me out on this one. One night my two friends and I were outside and we were looking around at the stars and all the plants around us and suddenly my one friend Rachel piped up and proposed the question of if plants can feel pain. My other friend immediately started laughing and joking, but I thought maybe that is not as crazy of a question as it sounds. After all, plants are living beings.
image from here
Okay, so maybe plants do not necessarily feel pain the way that humans do, but scientist Kevin Pollan suggests they are more intelligent than the human species has ever considered. According to Pollan, although plants do not feel pain the way a human would if you were to pinch them or something, they do react to threats and anesthetics. In the article, Pollan even goes as far as revealing that plants actually posses senses such as touch, taste, hearing, and even some sense that we as humans do not posses. Which is absolutely insane to think about considering how lowly we as a society view plants on the intelligence scale.
Most people’s first thought would be how is that even possible plants do not have a brain or anything in which they can process thoughts or emotions? Some of the earliest and one of the few success stories when it comes to experiments regarding plants emotions were performed by a man named Cleve Backster. According to Pollan, after accidentally realizing the plant Cleve had in his office reacted to stimuli of threat, he and his fellow scientists decided to run some experiments on a variety of different plants to see if he was indeed onto something huge in the botany field. They used a polygraph machine which is the machine with all the lines that are used on lie detector tests to detect stress and or lying. Therefore, they would be able to tell if the plants became stressed or disturbed when presented with certain scenarios. The results came back to basically say that the plant did not necessarily feel pain but it did secrete a certain substance that indicated it was stressed by threatening scenarios such as having a caterpillar on its leaves or having a shrimp cooked in front of it. It was a brilliant idea really, but also I think it could be borderline inaccurate because often times polygraphs are inaccurate when it comes to lie detector tests. With that being said, I think it that there is evidence that plants may have more emotions or thoughts than we have ever thought, but I also do not think this experiment itself PROVES beyond a shadow of doubt that plants feel pain. The results may very well be due to chance considering the unreliability of polygraphs or some third variable such as what type of plant it is or that the plant is just simply reacting to having something stuck to its leaves and automatically retreats or sends distress signals to remove it like it is a parasite or something. It even could be that the presence of humans in such a close proximity to the plant could be what is causing it to be stressed, not the actions they are proposing in front of it. The plants themselves may view humans as predators of some sort and automatically release stress and or defensive hormones to help ward off danger. The best way to provide the truth behind this hypothesis would be to run more experiments obviously but maybe try the experiment on a wider variety of plants like trees or bushes for example because if all types of plants or at least a majority of a large sample or the plants show the same signs than that would provide more accurate evidence. I would also try to find a way to remove humans from the situation completely as their presence may be a confounding third variable causing misleading evidence. Either way one thing is clear, plants are definitely more intelligent than we ever realized. Even if it is not pain they are feeling, they are feeling some kind of emotion in order to be able to secrete defensive/stress hormones in order to keep themselves out of harms way.
Who knows, maybe people who sing and talk to their plants aren’t so strange after all.
image found here