Week 7 Insect and Plant Consciousness by Roger Call

This past week in class focused on consciousness, and all aspects pertaining to it.  The lecture began as attempting to define consciousness.  In short, coconsciousness was defined as “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself” or “the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact” or simply put, “awareness.”  As humans we are by definition conscious beings, and we assume all other humans are conscious beings.  This definition of consciousness is universally extended to animals, who we believe have a sense of self and are “aware.”  To a lesser extent, we associate consciousness with insects, tiny creatures that have minuscule brains, yet seem somewhat of their surroundings.  However, we do not rarely associate consciousness with plants.  Do plants actually have a conscious?  Are plants aware of their surroundings?

First off, do insects have a conscious?  How do insects think?  According to Nicholaus Strausfield, a neurobiologist at the University of Arizona, insects possess “the most sophisticated brains on the planet.”  Through meticulous dissection of a variety of insects, Strausfield and his graduate research students have picked through countless brains of insects using microscopes and other pieces of sophisticated technology.  Cell by cell they have sifted through the various levels of insect brains, discovering areas of higher cognitive function thought not to have existed in insects.  Yet another researcher, Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at Caltech University now states, “Most people say, ‘For heaven’s sake, a bug isn’t conscious.’ But how do we know? We’re not sure anymore. I don’t kill bugs needlessly anymore.”  Insects have hundreds of thousands less brain cells than humans do, but they have evolved in such a way that these brain cells are packed more densely together than any mammal in existence today.  As research continues and we discover more about how insects actually function, one day we may be able to determine if insects possess a conscious or not.

The research I accumulated in regards to plant consciousness was categorized into two main groups, scientific and supernatural.  Plant consciousness is not a wide topic of discussion and is often associated with “mystics” or other such supernatural plant related healing efforts.  Researchers have determined that plants are able to communicate with one another, even amongst different species.  Whether this is proof of consciousness or not, has yet to be determined, but researchers at Cornell University claim that they, ”have discovered that when a hornworm sets about eating it, a sagebrush will send out a blast of scent that alerts surrounding plants—in the case of the study, wild tobacco—that evil is afoot.”  These plants, not necessarily sage brushes themselves, can then begin preparing a chemical defense to the invasive horn worms.  Clearly the sagebrush was aware that the horn worm had begun to devour it, and for some reason, conscious or instinct relayed the message to the surrounding plants in warning.  Much research remains to be done before plants will be proven to have a conscious or not, and this question still remains a mystery we await the true discovery of a plant’s consciousness.

http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jan/cockroach-consciousness-neuron-similarity

Roger Call

Section C

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