By guest writer Sarenne Wallbridge – University of Edinburgh Cognitive Science student.
As a member of the Edinburgh Cognitive Science Society I recently attended a talk by Dr. Paco Calvo, Department Chair and Professor from the University of Murcia, Spain – PLANT COGNITION: THE NEXT REVOLUTION
Human cognition is something we have experience thinking about and, as a Cognitive Scientist, modeling. Plant cognition, however, it a completely new concept that many of us (myself included!) have never even considered, even though I have worked in a company, Vivent Sarl, that measures electrical signals in plants. Although humans’ dependence on plants stretches back as far as history allows, the field of plant cognition is so new that researchers are only just creating a vocabulary for it.
Dr Calvo outlined a road map for the establishment and development of a new subject—the Philosophy of Plant Neurobiology—, an innovative field of research emerging at the intersection of the philosophy of cognitive science and plant neurobiology. Listening to him talk about the neurobiology of plants seemed odd as, according to my high school biology teacher, plants do not have nerves, however Dr. Calvo and his team are discovering evidence that plants can not only think, but also communicate with each other and learn. Consider the climbing vine from South America (Boquila trifoliolata) that can alter the shape of its leaves to match those of its support plant.
Dr Calvo talked about the challenges of creating a whole new field of research and also suggested new ideas for experimental research In this field. For me this was the most inspiring part of the presentation as it caused me to really broaden the ideas I am considering for my 4th year project.
Although the field of research is still in early stages, the findings of Dr. Calvo and his colleagues make plant cognition hard to dispute – be it the sometimes invisible, but fierce social competition, or the hive mentality used to direct root growth (covered recently in a New Scientist article). I’m not sure if plant cognition will be the next revolution but Dr Calvo’s presentation was fascinating and left all of us at his talk considering how we view the intelligence of other species, especially plants, in the natural world.