Thursday, August 26, 2010

Plants can Think?

From a recent BBC article Plants can Think and Remember
Plants, scientists say, transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems.
These "electro-chemical signals" are carried by cells that act as "nerves" of the plants.
Not that surprising, but indeed neat. Makes Avatar that much more plausible.

Though yeah, I guess I was already convinced by Godel Escher Bach than an ant colony is not that different than a brain, and by Sum that consciousness is not limited to what goes on in brain cells.

The psychologists at Cornell and elsewhere are all excited about this idea of embodied cognition or environmental cognition, citing recent studies that find that things like the temperature of the cup we are holding or the weight of the clipboard affects how we judge situations (like how nice people are or how serious people are) and make decisions. Some interpret this to mean that we "think" using not just our brain but things outside the body, which I think is taking it too far, but it is an interesting redefinition of cognition.

It also makes one rethink about the ethics of being a vegetarian.

There was an interesting article about that in the New York Times a few months ago. Contemplating the ethics of killing a cow for food compared to killing a broccoli and why it is not clear one is better than the other. I don't buy it. For me it is easy to see why killing a broccoli is better than killing a cow. But still worth asking the question. The question I ask in class is why is it ok to commit genocide against the species Variola (aka the smallpox virus) but not ok to do the same to the spotted owl. The economist Martin Weitzman calls this a bias toward charismatic megafauna.


James Lin said...

Spotted owls don't kill lots of humans. Even if they did, since they aren't invisible to the naked eye, they're easily avoidable without going to extreme measures.

If you had cute space aliens hellbent on wiping out humanity, I don't think the "charismatic megafauna" thing would fly. People would want to wipe them out too.

(And we didn't completely eradicate smallpox anyway; samples of it still exist in WHO research labs.)

HoBs said...

fair enough. though what about animals that do kill humans? like bears? or the firefighters that died trying to save endangered birds, like npr reported on recently, or the economic costs that could have been spent on saving people instead.