PLANTS, CONSCIOUSNESS, AND RATIONES SEMINALESDecember 10, 2019
Regular readers here are aware that I'm fascinated by consciousness studies and the relationship of consciousness to the brain. These studies actually began in the 19th century, and typically were done by spiritualists or other "New Agers" of the era as a reaction to the Victorian age's galloping materialism and "mechanism" cosmology. World War One shattered much of that, and consciousness studies moved into private research or, in the cases of a few begrudging universities, into the academy. The rise of quantum mechanics in physics also provided a huge impetus to the effort, since the Uncertainty Principle prioritized the role of the Observer in experiments. As the 2oth century proceeded, more data was amassed, and increasingly it looks as if the brain-consciousness, or brain-mind relationship is not as ironclad nor materialistically biased as it once appeared. Cases began to be documented of people living normal lives, with almost no brain, or significant parts of their brains missing (see https://www.iflscience.com/brain/man-tiny-brain-lived-normal-life/). Neuronal structures have been discovered in the human heart, perhaps indicating a kind of "distributed brain", and perhaps buttressing the more ancient idea that human reason is inclusive of, rather than exclusive of, human emotions and passions, and is not mere Cartesian ratiocination. If that idea sounds a little crazy, then consider the octopus (one of my favorite animals). These creatures are demonstrably intelligent; they not only learn, but can learn by observing other octopi performing tasks and solving problems and puzzles. They have nine brains: a central one, and one in each of their tentacles, yet their actions show that there is one "entity" inside of all of that. Crows have been documented solving multi-step puzzles, and so on.
As the stories about people without significant portions of a normal brain might also indicate, size is apparently no factor either. I've told the story of a friend of mine, Dr. Scott DeHart, who owns an African gray parrot named Murray. When leaving his presence, I used to say, "You be a good bird, I'll be right back." On one occasion, however, and much to my and one of Dr. DeHart's son's surprise, Murray spoke before I could give my customary farewell statement, and he stated "I'll be a good bird." It was a sentence he had never heard before, composed on the spot, with proper grammar and apposite to the context! Needless to say, our jaws were on the floor.
That brings me to today's article shared by V.T., and to today's high octane speculation, and it concerns life forms with no brains at all, plants:
There's something in this article that caught my eye, and it forms the context for my high octane speculation of the day, and it's this:
When it comes to plants, I’ve always thought that they were living, thinking, breathing, conscious beings. Grover Cleveland Backster Jr., was an interrogation specialist for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who became well known for his experiments with plants using a lie-detector machine. Through his research, he believed that plants feel pain and have extrasensory perception (ESP). Author Michael Polan describes his experiments quite well in a piece he wrote for the New Yorkera few years ago regarding plant intelligence:
(Cleve) hooked up a galvanometer to the leaf of a dracaena, a houseplant that he kept in his office. To his astonishment, Backster found that simply by imagining the dracaena being set on fire he could make it rouse the needle of the polygraph machine, registering a surge of electrical activity suggesting that the plant felt stress. “Could the plant have been reading his mind?” the authors ask. “Backster felt like running into the street and shouting to the world, ‘Plants can think!’ ”
Backster and his collaborators went on to hook up polygraph machines to dozens of plants, including lettuces, onions, oranges, and bananas. He claimed that plants reacted to the thoughts (good or ill) of humans in close proximity and, in the case of humans familiar to them, over a great distance. In one experiment designed to test plant memory, Backster found that a plant that had witnessed the murder (by stomping) of another plant could pick out the killer from a lineup of six suspects, registering a surge of electrical activity when the murderer was brought before it. Backster’s plants also displayed a strong aversion to interspecies violence. Some had a stressful response when an egg was cracked in their presence, or when live shrimp were dropped into boiling water.
And then there's this:
Poland also describes the work of Monica Gagliano, a thirty-seven-year-old animal ecologist at the University of Western Australia. He describes an experiment she conducted with the plant Mimosa pudica, a fast moving plant that can be seen by the naked eye, kind of like the Venus Fly Trap.
Gagliano potted fifty-six of these plants, and had a system that dropped them from 15 centimetres every five seconds. When they are in danger, these plans curl up, and close their leaves. The plants did this after a few drops, but then realized that the drops weren’t really harmful so they remained open after that. It wasn’t just fatigue either, when the plants were shaken they closed up, and furthermore, the plants retained this knowledge because Gagliano tried again a month later and got the same response.
Gagliano said, imagining these events from the plants’ point of view. “You see, you want to be attuned to something new coming in. Then we went back to the drops, and they didn’t respond.” Gagliano reported that she retested her plants after a week and found that they continued to disregard the drop stimulus, indicating that they “remembered” (source)
Clearly, they learn, remember and apply that knowledge. These are all factors associated with consciousness and thinking. There has to be something or someone in there that’s responsible for that learning. (Emphasis added)
These things made me remember an ancient doctrine of some of the philosophers, which was picked up by many of the Church Fathers, and which persisted all the way up to such people as St. Maximus the Confessor in the 7th century. The doctrine is that of the rationes seminales (in the Greek, logoi spermatikoi), the "seminal reasons". Maximus went as far as to say in one of his works (the seventh Ambigua, if you're interested), that "The One Logos", meaning Christ, "is the many logoi, and the many logoi are the one Logos." These "seminal reasons" were the rational principles, in "small" or "seedlike" form, that existed in all things as their raison d'etre, so to speak, and particularly in living things. This idea makes short shrift of the modern notions of ancient ideas, the notion that the ancients viewed only mankind as rational, and all other things, especially living things, like animals, as irrational. Rather than being some sort of dialectical opposition between man(rational) and other living things (irrational), it was rather a sliding continuum of rationality, with perhaps different types of rationality and consciousness being exhibited in specific cases. (The idea went so far that in the Middle Ages, there are records of animals actually being put on trial, and the idea perhaps persists in a new guise in modern laws regarding the destruction of dangerous animals by court order.) The metaphor of plants is in evidence in the choice of words used to describe the metaphor itself: seeds of rational principles. Maximus, by stating what he stated, is not only implying some underlying consciousness to things, but also tying that consciousness in his case to the one Logos underlying them all, implying that they live and move in that "meta-consciousness" so to speak.
Which brings me to my high octane speculation of the day: are we looking at the beginning of a modern scientific confirmation of a very old idea? Perhaps, for I cannot help but think that had certain Stoic philosophers, or for that matter, certain Church Fathers - a Maximus or an Augustine or a Justin Martyr - would have immediately recognized these modern studies of plants as examples of what they were all calling "seminal reasons." And that raises yet another intriguing speculative possibility. Is that ancient doctrine of seminal reasons yet another holdover of a high science of a high civilization lost in the mists of "pre-history"? For my part, I think so, and I'd be willing to bet on it.
See you on the flip side...