AI, Plants, and Panpsychism: Interrogating the Meaning of Consciousness

25 Jun 2024

A plant is a living thing. Humans are living too. Humans have consciousness.Might plants too be somewhat conscious? There are animals that have consciousness ascribed to them that do not have human language, reasoning and several other qualities. Might there be deductions to the extent that plants might be fairly conscious?

All matter has molecules and atoms, including all organisms and non-organisms. Panpsychism says there is a mind-like quality to matter—or that objects might have some form of consciousness. What is the difference between molecules and atoms in living organisms and those in non-organisms?

All organisms have cells. Non-organisms do not. So, the mechanism of atoms and molecules in the presence of cells carries a quality of mind, consciousness, and life, aside from atoms and molecules everywhere else, conceptually.

Large language models appear to have some reasoning. If compared with human consciousness, they appear to have some form of language consciousness or sentience, in aspects of memory [appearing to know about things], but they do not have emotions and feelings. Humans can show their consciousness digitally, through texts, audio, images, or videos. This consciousness is a fraction of what was produced in the brain. If AI can do the same on digital, does it not have expressions of human consciousness, relative to the production in the brain?

Candidates for consciousness, according to the action potentials—neurotransmitter theory of consciousness, include living organisms, and just one non-living organism, AI—with respect to language and displays. Consciousness is defined as the grading of the functions of the mind. Experiences result from the qualification of functions. Simply, functions are memory, feelings, emotions, and regulation of internal senses. Consciousness is a collection of features that grade those functions, conceptually. Features include attention, awareness, subjectivity, self, and intent, or free will. There is no subjective experience without attention or at least awareness.

There is a recent feature on Aeon, Do plants have minds?, stating that, "In 2006, 30 years after The Secret Life of Plants, a bold group of scientists published an article calling to establish the field of ‘plant neurobiology’ with the goal of ‘understanding how plants perceive their circumstances and respond to environmental input in an integrated fashion’. In other words, how plants might have something like minds. [Plants] delight in the sun as we might delight in a wholesome meal. Panpsychism, which holds that all things have a mind or mind-like quality, is an ancient theory."

There is a recent interview in Scientific American, Do Plants ‘Think’? We Might Not Know Enough about Consciousness to Be Certain, stating that, "What we’re really talking about is whether or not plants are far more active and responsive to their environments. Plants—in terms of, like, hierarchy of complexity and responsiveness—as somewhere, like, above rocks but below most animals. You can etherize a plant—diethyl ether works on plants. So in general, plants are moving around all the time, slower than we mostly can see. But in time-lapse, like, a little pea plant will be, like, waving its tendrils around all the time and curling and uncurling them. And if you put a pea plant under a bell jar with diethyl ether, they will, like, grind to a halt when researchers remove ether, within 15 minutes, they kind of go back to dancing around again. And what’s happening there, they found in other plants, like Venus flytraps, is that their electrical pulses are reducing, which is also what we see in ourselves: the electrical activity in our bodies also goes down when we’re under the influence of anesthetics."