Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. BY STEHPEN HARROD BUHNER . Is life in the slow lane worth less than life on the fast track? Here in Germany, we have planted spruces to replace the beech trees. The only trace of life is the mysterious buzzing of unseen insects. Trees also send chemical signals through the air when they are attacked by insects. In fact, in 1981, I and Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner published a paper in Science showing that even pigeons were capable of certain aspects of self-awareness. Basically, the article argued that to lose consciousness, one must have consciousness—so if plants seem to lose consciousness under … This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. These discoveries have led to “plant neurobiologists” to claim that “plants possess many of the same mental features as animals, such as consciousness, cognition, intentionality, emotions, and the ability to feel pain.” Of course, media love plant neurobiology, which got started in 2006. “Plants don’t have brains or nerve cells,” he says, but Gagliano counters that plants do have a nervous system of sorts. I made this discovery myself, and later learned that other foresters have observed this happening as well. Plants have senses that put humans to shame. If they keep them on too long, they may get caught in an early snowstorm and the weight of the snow can break their branches. e360: How exactly do trees cooperate with one another? _____Yale Environment 360: You write in your book: “When I began my life as a forester, I knew as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about animals.” Peter Wohlleben: Forestry students are taught how to harvest wood, what machines to use, how to sharpen the blade of a chainsaw, how to sell the timber, what price to expect — that’s about it. You slaughter their mother and the young trees will grow very fast, but they will be unhealthy and have short lives. e360: You have been criticized for attributing emotions to trees. We think of time -- and thus consciousness -- in human terms. The Sng’oi people call upon their intuition to know which child trees have sprung from which parent trees. Flies and insects have eyes, so they are a bit higher, but not so high as monkeys and apes and so on. Wohlleben: If sick trees die, they fall, which open gaps in the canopy. On the eve of the big battle, the protagonist Jake communicates via a neural connection with the Tree of Souls, which intercedes on behalf of the Na'vi. In this episode, Captain Kirk beams down to a planet and finds a beautiful but empty metropolis. This hierarchical ranking of living beings is totally unscientific. The Times was all but alone among top-tier outlets in framing this paper as a question of plant "consciousness." As a young forester I was told to make clear-cuts, to use insecticides, and so on. The movie suggests that we don't understand the conscious nature of the life that surrounds us. Plant biologist Lincoln Taiz from the University of California, Santa Cruz, is both underwhelmed by Gagliano’s data, and quick to point out that plants simply don’t have the hardware for consciousness. Scientists at Cornell University discovered that when a hornworm starts eating sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), the wounded plant will send out a blast of scent that warns surrounding plants -- in the case of the study, wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata) −- that trouble is on its way. We say plants are the lowest caste, the pariahs because they don’t have brains, they don’t move, they don’t have big brown eyes. People on their home plots make the same mistake: They cut down some trees to encourage the growth of others. Also, in my childhood, I remember staring at the fire, and feeling as if it had consciousness and it was actually like a temporary existence or maybe a … But there was more to it than that. My kitchen merges into a conservatory, a mini-rainforest with palms and ferns. As I sat in the kitchen that day, the early-morning sun slanted down through the skylights, throwing the entire room into gleaming brightness. The cells of these fast growing trees actually become bigger and more susceptible to fungi. I thought— “Wait, I am someone who wants to protect nature, and here I am being asked to destroy it!” I visited some other districts that were operating in an eco-friendly way, and I thought, that’s the way woods should be managed. "This could be a crucial mechanism of plant-plant communication," he said. Some plants even know when ants are coming towards them to steal their nectar and have mechanisms to close up when they approach. Wohlleben: That’s right, we use horse-drawn carts to remove the wood. Human military forces destroy their habitat despite objections that it could affect the bio-network connecting its organisms. Well, lets define first consciousness; sometimes people misunderstand consciousness with being self-aware but you will understand in a second that that is not entirely true. Tweet; Plants are often thought of as inanimate objects, not living beings. Don’t use heavy machinery and cut out pesticides and other toxic chemicals that kill off beneficial insects and microorganisms in the soil. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at "Plants definitely have several different forms of memory, just like people do," said Chamovitz. Their consciousness extends to feeling energies and frequencies around them. We recognize them as marvelous beings. To me, to consider the possibility that a plant might have consciousness seemed absurd -- until the other day. We destroy tree social structures, we destroy their ability to react to climate change. The scientific consensus is that plants do not have the kind of cognitive faculties necessary to support a consciousness that includes things like self-awareness, theory of mind, or complex emotions. Some argue that plants may have awareness and intelligence, while detractors persist. They also exercise independent judgments, which can differ. Wohlleben: We just see them as oxygen producers, as timber producers, as creators of shade. Is that a good thing? I do get plants have a consciousness. Perhaps we create these artificial barriers between humans and animals, between animals and plants, so that we can use them indiscriminately and without care, without considering the suffering that we are subjecting them to. Each one was growing its branches turned away from the other rather than toward each other, as is more usually the case. Trees might not have the same sort of consciousness as us, but it is the perfect consciousness that is needed in order to flourish as a tree. If they grow too fast in the beginning, they will waste all their energy in the rapid growth and will be out of breath, exhausted, and die early. But the majority of plant scientists would, I think, agree that to draw any conclusion about “consciousness” from this experiment, as the Times would have us do, is tricky at best. Wohlleben: We have this essentially arbitrary caste system for living beings. Scientific Evidence of Plant Consciousness. Wohlleben: Well, that is one mistake introduced by foresters. In Germany now, for example, trees are growing 30 percent faster than decades ago. In the past, those who have suggested that plants have senses, thoughts, and feelings have been labeled as hippies, tree-huggers, and crazies. Scientist, theoretician and author, 'Beyond Biocentrism'. Those plants, in turn, prepare chemical defenses that send the hungry critters in the opposite direction. Wohlleben: We know that trees also exchange information. Natural systems, with a variety of species, are much more resilient. Like us, plants possess receptors, microtubules and sophisticated intercellular systems that likely facilitate a degree of spatio-temporal consciousness. e360: Can foresters help protect forests from climate change and other environmental threats? If so, how advanced, and how different is it from our human consciousness? These are the keys to maintaining a successful and long-lived forest. Answer to: Do trees have consciousness? Unlike us and other animals, plants do not have nociceptors, the specific types of receptors that are programmed to respond to pain. A tree is conscious of its surroundings. November 16, 2016. The woodland has gone from a money-losing operation to a profitable one. But the animals are unhealthy. During that time I also watched it respond to an injury to its trunk by sending out air-roots in search of new soil to re-root itself. Trees in a forest of the same species are connected by the roots, which grow together like a network. e360: You’ve said that there are “friendships” between trees. Certainly, Says German Forester, Amid Tensions in Myanmar, An Indigenous Park of Peace Is Born, At Sea and in Court, the Fight to Save Right Whales Intensifies, How Small-Scale Loggers Can Help Save Africa’s Tropical Forests, As South Africa Clings to Coal, A Struggle for the Right to Breathe, Equitable Retreat: The Need for Fairness in Relocating Coastal Communities, Learning How to Talk: What Climate Activists Must Do in the Biden Era. The trees pay for this service by supplying the fungi with sugars from their photosynthesis. Neurobiologists have discovered that plants also have rudimentary neural nets and the capacity for primary perceptions. But as I’ve said, faster growth makes trees less healthy and more susceptible to illnesses. The world is trying to limit warming from climate change to 2 degrees, but undisturbed forests can do even better than that. Forests create their own microclimate. Even without thoughts, you would still be conscious, although the image of a person or tree would have no meaning. This is why plants … Without your eyes, ears or other sense organs, you would still be able to experience consciousness, albeit in a radically different form. Back in real time, Spock and Dr. McCoy figure out that the strange buzzing is the hyper-accelerated conversations of aliens that exist outside normal physics. But a plant or a tree? Today, he manages the forest without using insecticides or heavy machinery, and the trees are harvested by hand and hauled out by horses. More about Richard Schiffman →, Never miss a feature! Consider your own consciousness. Not only do they hear (yes, it's true) and smell, they can also sense the presence of water, and even … Instead of generating a pattern of colors, the particles of light bouncing off a plant produce a pattern of energy molecules -- sugar -- in the chlorophyll in its stems and leaves. They know that if you see such a couple, they are really like a human couple; you have to chop down both if you chop one down, because the other will die anyway. His latest book is a collection of nature-inspired poems entitled "What the Dust Doesn't Know." We recommend growing only tree species that are natural to the area. I also started reading the latest scientific research that began to present me with a new picture of trees as highly sensitive and social beings. The idea that plants have some degree of consciousness first took root in the early 2000s; the term "plant neurobiology" was coined around … e360: Trees are growing faster now because of more CO2 in the air. Then I remembered the episode of "Star Trek" called "Wink of an Eye." Wohlleben: Trees have just as much character as humans do. e360: You speak about trees as if they had personalities. But after joining a German forestry agency and managing a community forest, he soon became disillusioned with practices like clear-cutting, chemical use, and mechanical harvesting that put short-term profits before sustainability. Robert Lanza, M.D. T he deep intelligence possessed by plants has been explored and discussed by many people of note over the past several centuries, including Goethe, Luther Burbank, George Washington Carver, Masanobu Fukuoka, Jagadis Bose, … It is similar to industrial meat production where a pig, for example, is fed too much so that it grows prematurely and in five or six months it can be sold and slaughtered. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, The essential guide to taking care of your mind and body. Trees are known to absorb negative energies and give back healing energies. The Plant Kingdom is supported by a Divine Intelligence, and although most humans do not think of plants, flowers or trees as having a brain, these beings make intelligent decisions constantly. Science often takes these words out, but then you have a language people can’t relate to, that they can’t understand. Wohlleben: Trees have just as much character as humans do. So I use words of emotion to connect with people’s experience. Botanists who do think plants have cognitive abilities such as perception, learning, and consciousness have performed experiments suggesting plants are able to learn from past experiences and can be classically conditioned. Consider your own consciousness. "They have short-term memory, immune memory and even transgenerational memory! Part of HuffPost Wellness. That is a pity because trees are badly misunderstood. Wohlleben: In about one in 50 cases, we see these special friendships between trees. I also advise not to make any clear cuts, don’t kill the mother trees that are protecting their children, leave the families intact. The Queen Sago tree and I were both "happy" the sun was out. Wohlleben was eventually hired by the local mayor to look after the same forest in an eco-friendly way. When he returns to the ship, the crew continues to hear the same strange buzzing sound. It’s the same thing with monoculture tree plantations. Simard, it should be noted, has never claimed that trees possess consciousness or intention, although the way she writes and talks about them makes it sound that way. Nearby trees receive these messages and have time to prepare their defenses. e360: Social beings? In my mind, I could easily accelerate the plant's behavior like a botanist does with time-lapse photography. It is highly likely that insects or fungi will kill these plants because there is just one species. Suddenly, Kirk notices that the movements of the crew slow down to a stop, as if time itself were being manipulated. Light-stimulating chemical reactions in one leaf cause a chain reaction of signals to the entire organism via vascular bundles. Wohlleben: This one beech tree was cut four to 500 years ago by a charcoal maker, but the stump is still alive — we found green chlorophyll under the thick bark. When we thin forests, the temperature rises, the humidity goes down, evaporation increases, and all the trees begin to suffer. Sign up for the E360 Newsletter →, Are Trees Sentient Beings? e360: How do the healthy trees that feed their sick companions benefit? They do not treat all other trees the same. How did you first get interested in this topic? Research has demonstrated that paper birch trees transfer carbohydrate to stressed Douglas fir trees through mycorrhizae fungal strands. Wohlleben: We humans are emotional animals. In their own way, plants can see, hear, smell, feel and it is possible they even have a memory. Wohlleben: Yes, they are working well all over the world — in the Amazon, even in the U.S, some forest owners are working with these methods. The tree has no leaves to create sugars, so the only explanation is that it has been supported by neighboring trees for more than four centuries. But the problem is I was still thinking of trees as a commodity, as something to sell, not as living beings. It only exists relative to the observer. Plants process information just as animals do, but for the most part they do this much more slowly. Trees can communicate with each other too; using mycorrhizal fungi, their roots exchange information and even goods to other trees in need. Although it is not commonly discussed for various socio-political reasons, there is an ample amount of scientific evidence that has proven that plants do indeed have some sort of consciousness. As a student in forestry school, Peter Wohlleben was trained to look at trees exclusively as an economic commodity. Scientists usually avoid such language. Wohlleben: Humans are weakening ecosystems by indiscriminately cutting timber. Without your eyes, ears or other sense organs, you would still be able to experience consciousness, albeit in a radically different form. Trees should grow very slowly in the first 200 years, which we can call their youth. I see that is why when people sing or talk to their plants, the plant actually grows better. If they keep them on too long, they may get caught in an early snowstorm and the weight of the snow can break their branches. This suggests that plants are able to remember this information and modify their behavior based on environmental cues, “a form of learning [that] is ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.” These experiments raise questions of whether plants do have consciousness, and if so, how much or what it looks like.

do trees have consciousness

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