Episode Information

CMS: Mr. Smarty Plants
Aired:
03/16/2010
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In this episode:

Can plants think? Are they self-interested? Do they communicate with each other?

 

Episode Audio

49:30 minutes (23.76 MB)
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The idea that plants are pretty much inert seems to prevail everywhere but in science fiction -- and sci fi comedy -- where Triffids and Killer Tomatoes and Audrey II and Pod People are just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

A few years ago "The Happening" laid an eggplant at the box office, but we shouldn't forget its fundamental premise: that all the plants on earth sort of turned against us and decided to put Earth on kind of a detox program, purging itself of most of those nasty humans collecting in its spleen.

This is not to say that plants are malevolent. Just that you couldn't blame them if they were ...

But real science seems to be catching up with the question. If plants can develop a taste for meat, send each other signals and respond to their environments, don't they at least have something like a central nervous system? Could they be self aware? Self-interested? Maybe they do hate us.

You can join the conversation. Do you think plants are smart? Self-interested? Do you talk to your plants? Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.

 


 
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plants, nervous system, meat

Hi,

as an herbalist,  I think that plants communicate with man in some undiscovered way

They do communicate to each other through chemicals sent through roots....

They do not "develop"  a taste for meat  if they didn't start out that way,  unless there is some new science that i don't know about.

Their equivalent of a nervous system maybe  a complex,  system of chemical messengers that they mobilize in danger and in other situations,  for growth etc.

 

 

Listener E-mail from Mary

I listen to your show nearly every day, and caught the one with Jonathan Safran Foer as a guest, which is why I was disappointed to hear the tone of the teasers and read the promo for the Mr. Smarty Plants show (which I think has since been edited) suggesting that plants can think and that vegetarians are committing murder in their salad bowls.  While I know this was intended to be humorous, unfortunately there are people who will miscontrue it to be true, which does a disservice to science and to those who empathize with farm animals (not to mention the animals themselves).

Today's show, while informative, treaded the line between fact and science fiction.  You suggest, "If plants can develop a taste for meat, send each other signals and respond to their environments, don't they at least have something like a central nervous system?"  The statements of your educated guests proved otherwise; nonetheless, the message that came across is that this is still ambiguous.  It's not.  As a gardener for over 20 years, I know that plants are complex living entities and I enjoy learning about their biological qualities, but they do not have brains or central nervous systems, which is why, unlike animals, they cannot think, feel, or experience emotions. 

Listener E-mail from Drew

Should a vegitarian feel self conscious eating carnivorous plants?

Are these plants eatible?