Monday, October 29, 2012

Setting the Record Straight

Geez, how a simple statement can be misconstrued!

In a recent NPR piece entitled, "Recognizing the Rights of Plant To Evolve", the author writes:
Plants display remedial types of memory and possess "anoetic consciousness" — the ability of an organism to sense and to react to stimulation — writes Daniel Chamovitz in his 2012 book, What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses.
This article then goes on to question whether plants should enjoy legal and moral protection, similar to that claimed for animals.  Accordingly, in numerous blogs and talk-backs, my book has been associated with such calls for "plant rights", and I've received a fair bit of mail asking how I can support such nonsense.

A careful reading of WHAT A PLANT KNOWS reveals that I do NOT subscribe to the notion that plants are just green animals. When discussing consciousness, I wrote the following:
But as stated in a recent opinion article, 'The lowest level of consciousness characteristic for procedural memory - anoetic consciousness - refers to the ability of organisms to sense and to react to internal and external stimulation, which all plants and simple animals are capable of.'
The fact that plants may display anoetic consciousness does not imply that they have inherent rights or dignity. Indeed, as I wrote in later part of the book:
...anthropomorphism of plant behavior left unchecked can lead to unfortunate, in not humorous, consequences. For example, in 2008 the Swiss government established an ethics committee to protect the 'dignity' of plants.
Being brainless, a plant likely does not worry about its dignity!

Do you think this bush feels violated?
Indeed, my clear take on this matter is that in the absence of a brain, plants should not be included in the discussion of "dignity" and "rights". This type of anthropomorphism is just another attempt of humans to define their place in nature.

Making comparisons is apparently in our nature. As individuals we compare ourselves with other people. As an ethnic group, we often seek feelings of superiority in comparisons with other ethnic groups. As a species we seek out human-like characteristics in chimps and dogs. So perhaps these attempts at bestowing rights and dignity on plants are just another manifestation of humans coming to terms with our place in nature.

But once with attempt has been made, lets leave the plants out of it. They really don't care.



  1. True enough, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a plant doesn't have the right to exist. C. D. Stone argued (Should trees have standing, 1972) that certain natural objects, indeed the natural environment itself, had the legal right to exist. It's an interesting essay.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Do you have the link to the assay? Of course "rights" are human construct.

    2. Link? I read the book back in 1972; it's on my book shelves.

  2. Hello Danny, here is one interesting link about the decline of old tress:



    1. Thanks Alex for the input and link. Very interesting! Interested in writing a guest blog about this?

  3. I think you made awesome when you picked up this subject of the article over here. Do you generally compose your blog posts on your own or maybe you work with a partner or a helper?