Are plants sentient?

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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Sun Apr 17, 2011 10:32 pm

Well, if we put Buddhism aside for a moment and just study the definition of Sentient, which is:

1. Having the power of perception by the senses, conscious.

2. Characterized by sensation and consciousness.


Based on the definition as I understand it, I would conclude that although a plant or other living thing may have a nervous system of sorts, if it does not also have a brain, it cannot be capable of sensation AND consciousness, thus, not sentient.

I raise chickens, and so the development of an embryo was very important for me to know. I was afraid that if I ate a fertilized egg, I would essentially be killing a sentient being. About 24 hours after fertilization, the digestive tract appears and the eyes, brain and nervous system begin to form. About 25 hours after fertilization, the embryo's heart begins to form. So to me, taking or eating a day old egg that could possibly be fertilized, was risky. Some buddhist might say that's getting too technical, but for me personally, it is a concern. I eventually read enough on the topic to conclude that taking an egg several hours after it being laid (if in fact it was even fertile) would be okay; that it had not yet reached the point of being considered "sentient". But waiting a couple of days would give the opportunity for the brain, heart and nervous system to develop, and that, I would THINK, would create the ability to be sentient. Now on rare occasion, if I am ill or cannot collect the eggs on the same day of being laid, I am in the position where I must take them away, because I don't want chicks! This is still a predicament in which I struggle. So what I do in that rare case is bring the eggs in, set them on my alter, and do my own form of meditation for them, wishing them well in a future life, etc. and then do not eat them. It's the only thing I can think to do at this point, and I try and take comfort in knowing I didn't deliberately cause harm.

It's a technical thing, to know exactly what is and isn't sentient. Rather than being consumed with the fear of not knowing, I simply avoid killing any living thing if at all possible, and if I do accidentally, I meditate on it and try to have a good frame of mind and intention in 'sending it off'. I think our intention here is the biggest thing to worry about. Deliberately doing harm is more of a concern than accidentally doing harm based on a lack of knowledge on the complexity of what is or is not sentient, in my opinion.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Sherab » Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:45 am

Padme,

It would appear to me that you are saying that sentience and consciousness are emergent phenomena of the brain. In Buddhism, at the very least, mind and brain are interdependent, neither being an emergent phenomenon of the other.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:37 am

Sherab wrote:Padme,

It would appear to me that you are saying that sentience and consciousness are emergent phenomena of the brain. In Buddhism, at the very least, mind and brain are interdependent, neither being an emergent phenomenon of the other.


No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm not saying anything about what sentient is really, other than copying and pasting the dictionary definition, which is:

1. Having the power of perception by the senses, conscious.

2. Characterized by sensation and consciousness.


My interpretation of that definition implies that both sensation and consciousness are need to qualify as sentient. I would imagine that would require both a nervous system and a brain, but that's an uneducated guess. As I said at the beginning of my post, that's putting Buddhism aside and just trying to understand what "sentient" means by standard definition. I was merely posting how I interpreted the dictionary definition.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Sherab » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:02 am

Personally, I like Śāntarakṣita's take on sentience: it is the reflexivity of consciousness that differentiate sentience from insentience. In other words, you are conscious only if you are conscious that you are conscious. It is this aspect of consciousness that differentiate sentience from insentience. Based on this, a computer is not sentient. Hence, even though a very clever programmer may be able to write a program so sophisticated that it can fool people in general into thinking that they are interacting with a sentient being, it is still not sentient. A plant can be viewed as a sort of sophisticated computer program that allows it to interact with its environment and survive to the best of its abilities and yet not be sentient.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:01 am

Sherab wrote: In other words, you are conscious only if you are conscious that you are conscious.


Is there any other kind of conscious?

Sherab wrote:
It is this aspect of consciousness that differentiate sentience from insentience. Based on this, a computer is not sentient. Hence, even though a very clever programmer may be able to write a program so sophisticated that it can fool people in general into thinking that they are interacting with a sentient being, it is still not sentient. A plant can be viewed as a sort of sophisticated computer program that allows it to interact with its environment and survive to the best of its abilities and yet not be sentient.


I agree. I don't know of any computer that is sentient. I would be amazed to learn if others actually think there are such computers.

I don't know of any sentient plants either. If I found out otherwise, I would surely starve to death.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:30 am

I don't know of any computer that is sentient.

Image :tongue:
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby muni » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:35 am

Interesting. Plants have also surviving systems, isn't? If we need a test, we can walk through a wood or jungle in naked skin. There are those who eat insects, sea "plants" who are animals and so on.
People examine what we call "alive" and "sentient" from own labeling systems.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktIGVtKdgwo

Examinations goes to deeper insights.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:56 am

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article I read a while back. The article happens to be referring to veganism, but the remarks about plants and sentience apply here and are interesting.

"...One of the questions most frequently asked of any vegan is: “what about plants?”

Indeed, I do not know any vegan who has not gotten that question at least once and most of us have heard it many times.

Of course, no one who asks this question really thinks that we cannot distinguish between, say, a chicken and a head of lettuce. That is, if, at your next dinner party, you chop a head of lettuce in front of your guests, you will get a different reaction than if you were to carve a live chicken. If, while walking in your garden, I step on a flower intentionally, you may quite correctly be annoyed with me, but if I intentionally kicked your dog, you would be upset with me in a different way. No one really thinks of these as equivalent acts. Everyone recognizes that there is an important difference between the plant and the dog that make kicking the dog a morally more serious act than stepping on a flower.

The difference between the animal and the plant involves sentience. That is, nonhumans—or at least the ones we routinely exploit—are clearly conscious of sense perceptions. Sentient beings have minds; they have preferences, desires, or wants. This is not to say that animal minds are like human minds. For example, the minds of humans, who use symbolic language to navigate their world, may be very different from the minds of bats, who use echolocation to navigate theirs. It is difficult to know. But it is irrelevant; the human and the bat are both sentient. They are both the sorts of beings who have interests; they both have preferences, desires, or wants. The human and the bat may think differently about those interests, but there can be no serious doubt that both have interests, including an interest in avoiding pain and suffering and an interest in continued existence.

Plants are qualitatively different from humans and sentient nonhumans in that plants are certainly alive but they are not sentient. Plants do not have interests. There is nothing that a plant desires, or wants, or prefers because there is no mind there to engage in these cognitive activities. When we say that a plant “needs” or “wants” water, we are no more making a statement about the mental status of the plant than we are when we say that a car engine “needs” or “wants” oil. It may be in my interest to put oil in my car. But it is not in my car’s interest; my car has no interests.

A plant may respond to sunlight and other stimuli but that does not mean the plant is sentient. If I run an electrical current through a wire attached to a bell, the bell rings. But that does not mean that the bell is sentient. Plants do not have nervous systems, benzodiazepine receptors, or any of the characteristics that we identify with sentience. And this all makes scientific sense. Why would plants evolve the ability to be sentient when they cannot do anything in response to an act that damages them? If you touch a flame to a plant, the plant cannot run away; it stays right where it is and burns. If you touch a flame to a dog, the dog does exactly what you would do—cries in pain and tries to get away from the flame. Sentience is a characteristic that has evolved in certain beings to enable them to survive by escaping from a noxious stimulus. Sentience would serve no purpose for a plant; plants cannot “escape.”

I am not suggesting that we cannot have moral obligations that concern plants, but I am saying that we cannot have moral obligations that we owe to plants. That is, we may have a moral obligation not to cut down a tree, but that is not an obligation that we owe to the tree. The tree is not the sort of entity to which we can have moral obligations. We can have an obligation that we owe to all of the sentient creatures who live in the tree or who depend on it for their survival. We can have moral obligations to other humans and nonhuman animals who inhabit the planet not to destroy trees wantonly. But we cannot have any moral obligations to the tree; we can only have moral obligations to sentient beings and the tree is not sentient and has no interests. There is nothing that the tree prefers, wants, or desires. The tree is not the sort of entity that cares about what we do to it. The tree is an “it.” The squirrel and the birds who live in the tree certainly have an interest in our not chopping down the tree, but the tree does not. It may be wrong morally to chop down a tree wantonly but that is a qualitatively different act from shooting a deer.

Talking about the “rights” of trees, as some do, is to invite equating trees and nonhuman animals and that can only work to the detriment of the animals. Indeed, it is common to hear environmentalists talk about our responsibly managing our natural resources and including nonhuman animals as a “resource” to be managed. That is a problem for those of us who do not see nonhumans as “resources” for our use. Trees and other plants are resources that we can use. We have an obligation to use those resources wisely, but that is an obligation that we owe only to other persons, be they human or nonhuman...."
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby muni » Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:03 am

Very interesting Padme. :thanks:

Don't walk on a flower but on the grass.

Sentient or not, there is our interrelationship.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:14 am

muni wrote:Very interesting Padme. :thanks:

Don't walk on a flower but on the grass.

Sentient or not, there is our interrelationship.


Yes, for sure. Like the article said, a tree may not 'feel it' if you cut it down, but it may still be a wise choice not to cut it down for other reasons, for animals that live in it, to preserve our environment, etc.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby vinodh » Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:21 pm

Quoting the Vasettha Sutta:

[...]

601. Look at the grass and trees, although they are not aware,
This and the other have attributes peculiar to their births

[...]

[To repeat what others might have said ]

Plants to don't have sense of "self" in them. They are not aware of their existence

V
http://www.virtualvinodh.com

yo dharmaṁ paśyati, sa buddhaṁ paśyati

One who sees the Dharma, sees the Buddha
śālistamba sūtra

na pudgalo na ca skandhā buddho jñānamanāsravam
sadāśāntiṁ vibhāvitvā gacchāmi śaraṇaṁ hyaham

Neither a person nor the aggregates, the Buddha, is knowledge free from [evil] outflows
Clearly perceiving [him] to be eternally serene, I go for refuge [in him]
saddharma-laṅkāvatāra-sūtra
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby KwanSeum » Tue Apr 19, 2011 8:06 am

When you've finsihed with this highly metaphysical (and neverending discussion) anyone want to discus how many angels can fit on a pin head?
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Padme » Tue Apr 19, 2011 9:00 am

KwanSeum wrote:When you've finsihed with this highly metaphysical (and neverending discussion) anyone want to discus how many angels can fit on a pin head?


Well, that just seems unnecessary. You know you don't have to click and comment on a topic if it seems uninteresting to you, right?
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby KwanSeum » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:33 am

Padme wrote:
KwanSeum wrote:Well, that just seems unnecessary. You know you don't have to click and comment on a topic if it seems uninteresting to you, right?
No its interesting enough, but going nowhere IMO. People end up repeating endlessly what's been said already and there's no way forward for the two sides of opinion and people are using the same words with different meanings.
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Re: Are plants sentient?

Postby Heruka » Sun Apr 24, 2011 5:35 pm

KwanSeum wrote:
Padme wrote:
KwanSeum wrote:Well, that just seems unnecessary. You know you don't have to click and comment on a topic if it seems uninteresting to you, right?
No its interesting enough, but going nowhere IMO. People end up repeating endlessly what's been said already and there's no way forward for the two sides of opinion and people are using the same words with different meanings.


it may be old to you, but new to others.

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