Learning to be a sensing plant

[One of the plant scientists] tells me how her lab is trying to bring this sunflower experiment indoors, into controlled conditions. “We can do this in a growth chamber too. So we’ve got LED lights turned on sequentially to mimic the sun moving. And we have a camera that can monitor the plant, and then infrared lights so we can take pictures even in the dark. And you can see that ... Even during the dark period, the plant is reorienting. So that is nice. It is that anticipation again. And that works nicely when the light/dark cycle is 24 hours. But we know for plants and animals that our clocks can’t be entrained to non 24-hour cycles. Or they are very different ... So we did this to our plants. We ran the experiment on a 32-hour cycle, which is very nonnatural. But now you can see that at night it just sits there. It doesn’t do anything. But that same plant, when we reprogram the lights ... it spends a couple days, I would say learning, being entrained by the new cycle, but then you see that anticipation again. So. Yeah. I think it is a really interesting question. Is it learning? I mean it doesn’t have a brain, obviously. I don’t think it is thinking about anything.” (…) it could be said that she is ‘vegetalizing’ the concepts of memory, anticipation, and learning. I can’t help but wonder: What might happen if we were to germinate and grow these concepts from studies of plant sensing? What difference might a vegetal epistemology make to these otherwise human terms?  (pp.61-62)


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