If cognition is essentially an organism being able to respond effectively to its environment, then a drooping its...

If cognition is essentially an organism being able to respond effectively to its environment, then a drooping its…

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If cognition is essentially an organism being able to respond effectively to its environment, then a drooping its branches at night to conserve energy could be said to be an early form of it.

Here’s research showing how trees have a kind of ‘pulse’ that works on a much slower timescale than those of animals.

Check out the interesting conversation about veganism and suffering on Eli Fennell’s original post.

Originally shared by Eli Fennell

Trees May Have A (Very Subtle) Pulse

It is often thought that plants are almost wholly quiescent creatures. In reality, though, if one pays close enough attention, one finds that plants are very active and busy creatures, which are both reactively and proactively responsive to their environment, and which can ‘move’ (often via directed growth patterns) albeit slowly in ways both dramatic and clever, at times almost animal-like when observed at an accelerated rate of time (e.g. Time Lapse Video). Some plants even have neuronal structures and systems, which are in some ways brainlike, and some also even engage in sophisticated biocommunication with other plants.

Now we may have another thing to add to the list: a pulse. New evidence published in Plant Signalling and Behavior argues that trees display subtle movements, following subcircadian rhythms, of their trunks and branches caused by movement of water through the tree by differential water pressure forces in the trunk and branches.

These movements are phasic, taking place over many hours (making them hard to observe), and are not linked to circadian (i.e. sleep or sleep-like; Day-Night related) water rhythms which have previously been noted.

Although popular reporting is comparing this with a heartbeat, the better comparison, used by the researchers themselves, would be to a pulse. A heartbeat would require a heart, after all, some central organ for driving the pulsation, but no such organ is being proposed here.

It is also worth considering that this may not be an entirely unique observation. Hints that such a thing were noted even in ancient times may be hidden in literary references and folk traditions dismissed as religiomagical, metaphysical, esoteric, or protoscientific, and it may fairly be said that a special reverence for trees has been common in human belief systems. Observations of the subtle movements of trees, following circadian and subcircadian rhythms, may well have influenced these.

#BlindMeWithScience #SecretLifeofPlants #Botany



  1. And I’ll say it again: plants don’t have brains, they’re parts of that brain.

    The forest is the brain.

  2. The Pulse of Life!!

  3. It appears that we have way more in common with plants than previously thought. The calcium ion channels that are key in cell-to-cell communication are present there as well as proteins that act as neural communicators (even though plants lack a central nervous system) – new research here: phys.org – A new model for communication in plant cells

  4. That’s pretty cool, David Amerland. Life finds a way. And when it does, it often sticks.

  5. Gideon Rosenblatt yes! And it doesn’t always follow an anthropomorphic path.

  6. David Amerland There’s only so much readily-available signalling chemistry to go ’round.

  7. Eli Fennell makes sense given the extent of the microbiome within our bodies.

  8. Thanks for this article, years before I have already done that kind of observation.But my observation is not written in any case. Again thanks for this good news.

  9. Eli Fennell hahahahaha, I can see there are certain parts of the U.S.A. where you, my friend, will be tied to a stake and burnt at midnight. 😉

  10. cognition is essentially an organism being able to respond effectively to its environment

    What is the relationship between cognition and consciousness in this formulation? The definition of cognition above is a quite common behavioralist formulation, namely, that consciousness is as consciousness does. If a thing behaves as if it is conscious of its environment, that’s equivalent to saying it is conscious of its environment.

    I myself don’t give much weight to that. As conscious creatutes, we all know what it’s like to be conscious – to have a feeling of consciousness. To actually experience the world.

    Is there anything like that going on in plants, even if they “behave” as if they are responding to stimulus? I don’t know, but the behavior isn’t enough evidence to conclude so.

    This also plays into a philosophical debate around AI. If we believe that plants are undergoing cognition on evidence of their behavior, why not an image classification algorithm? It’s responding to input in ways that seem meaningful. Perhaps we should call it conscious.

    Very interesting discussion!

  11. Eli Fennell Another element is that certain systems seem to work in very specific fashions. Dendritic structures most especially, across numerous variants: lightning, waterways, plant and tree structures, brain neurons.

    So, yes, there’s the chemical signalling component and medium / channel, and there’s the structures themselves.

    The first is chemistry, and evolution will find and use that along evolutionary history.

    But the characteristics of dendritic systems are arrived at only through scale. You don’t find these progressing through evolutionary trees, but instead they are the common destination those trees (another topic of discussion) arrive at.

    (AI/ML seem to be doing similarly.)

    Geoffrey West at Santa Fe Institute’s been working on this for decades, has a new book out.

  12. Eli Fennell hahahahaha! Well played.

  13. Edward Morbius interesting point about the dynamics (and commonalities) of dendritic structures and they are owed to the constraints of physics and the crystallization synergetics of alloy behaviour in a nonequilibrium environment. In plainer speak, given a specific, finite, initial stimulus and the need to achieve a specific outcome that requires the creation of a dendritic structure in an environment of inherently unequal energetic states, the tree-like pathways appear to be an optimized solution favoring speed and outcome over quality. Nature’s way of applying satisficing in its decision-making.

  14. Eli Fennell You’ll also find that in Western Phil (though I mean to check with Eastern and other schools).

    From Stanford’s Philosophy of Technology page (I was surprised to find there was such a thing):

    “Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes — material, formal, efficient and final — can be regarded as a third early contribution to the philosophy of technology. Aristotle explained this doctrine by referring to technical artifacts such as houses and statues (Physics II.3). These causes are still very much present in modern discussions related to the metaphysics of artifacts. Discussions of the notion of function , for example, focus on its inherent teleological or ‘final’ character and the difficulties this presents to its use in biology. And the notorious case of the ship of Theseus—see this encyclopedia’s entries on material constitution, identity over time, relative identity, and sortals — was introduced in modern philosophy by Hobbes as showing a conflict between unity of matter and unity of form as principles of individuation. This conflict is seen by many as characteristic of artefacts. David Wiggins (1980: 89) takes it even to be the defining characteristic of artifacts….”

    (Italics indicate links, these four being particularly interesting.)

    The page also turned me to Vetruvius’s De Architectura (also: Vitruvian Man), a whole ‘nother matter. Or form.


    plato.stanford.edu – Philosophy of Technology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

  15. Eli Fennell I guess my question is: can we talk about “cognition” without talking about the hard problem of consciousness?

  16. Eli Fennell that’s the first satisfying response I’ve gotten on consciousness in a long time!

  17. Agree, plants have a sort of intelligence and cognition. An example is the Ficus tree. This tree is well known to send adventitious roots hanging down in a timely manner to support its expanding crown in an accurate calculated steps.

  18. Awesome conversation!

  19. Eli Fennell You’ve got me thinking about Jung’s original experiment… He was just a young MD at a mental hospital BEFORE there was anything we would call “psychology.” ( There was Pavlov’s dog prior to 1900, I think… ) But he designed an empirical experiment, using a list of “bland” words (milk, tree, cat, etc.e.g.). And he asked each patient to give an association, then TIMED (the empirical part) how long it took each person to answer. The next day he went back to each patient and asked them what they were thinking about when they were asked about the word where they had the longest delay (say, for example (not sure it was used), the word “tree”) and he discovered the archetypes: mother, father, child, etc.

    From there he developed the “complexes.” People have completely misconstrued this term…he meant it like a complex of buildings that one had to get around in order to get to where one was trying to go ( why it took longer to get an association ). In other words, there were associations of energies (archetypes are NOT the images, but the energy surrounding the images), energies that he began to see had been “projected” onto the blank slate of the starry night skies for millennia (hence the astrological stories that had the archetypes as their main themes).

    Those stories are what engender the quality of human life according to Jung: he says we can live without anything except we cannot survive without stories.

    As the AI imitation of cognition goes forward, we will (I think) begin to see the limitation of not having the associative, (intuitive if you will) part of cognition. We will have mere cognition, always the great fear of all civilizations throughout history, otherwise called the “loss of soul.” (Psyche.)

    Or, I think Jung would say, ‘thinking without a thinker;’ C.S. Lewis would say, “The Brain” (without a body) ( in That Hideous Strength ).

  20. Meg Tufano wouldn’t archetypes make it easier to come up with an association, since the person already has a ready-made story about the word?

  21. Alex Kudlick A person? Yes. But AI is not a person. (And neither is a corporation.) EVERYONE has a story!

  22. Meg Tufano A person? Yes. But AI is not a person. (And neither is a corporation.) – are you referencing something from earlier in the conversation?

  23. Eli Fennell Oh, he ventured what they were all right but NO ONE can read all that! He wrote an entire shelf of books, of which I’ve read a bunch… And you can read ONE thread of his thinking here (about The Archetype of the Apocalypse drive.google.com – Understanding Apocalyptic Behaviors.pdf) but my point is that, mythologically, psychologically, and religiously, all tend toward warning us against ratiocination, against abstraction for its own sake… This tendency is real and its dangers are deeply impressed in our psyches; and equally deeply warned against through stories (Tower of Babel, The Tower (Tarot), The Two Towers (sci fi), etc.). I think of archetypal energies as guardians of our humanness, despite their ruthlessness (a person WILL become conscious even if 80 million people have to die to awaken him (Hitler and the dehumanizing “isms” that were very rational in the sense they had a logic to them)). Suffering appears to be the requirement of a conscious life, played out on a large scale in WWII. But ever present.

    [BTW, Trump scares me not because of most of the reasons (tyranny, fascism, etc.) but because his “feeling tone” is one of huge efforts to remain unconscious, and utter inanity (the sign of evil (M.Scott Peck, The People of the Lie )). That effort will be played out, hopefully not on our stage, but later, when he gets off stage… I so hope later…]

  24. Exciting conversation.

  25. Alex Kudlick Sorry, not quite THIS conversation, my apologies.

  26. Johanes Albertus Yes!!! It is!

  27. Gideon Rosenblatt thank you!

  28. The question is do trees have a heartbeat not do they have a brain. Now we can say no because they do not have a heart in human form and you cannot feel or hear a beat in a tree. Or you can say yes because they have a mechanism that acts in the same way as a heart taking sap/water/nutrition to the vital parts.

  29. Energy is within all that is on this living planet and it is most wonderful 😀

  30. Perhaps they also provided us with good litterature before reading tablets were invented, one could fall asleep on a good book and dream .

  31. Kelly James Merit Kelly James Merit good

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