Understanding interdisciplinary perspectives of plant intelligence: Is it a matter of science, language, or subjectivity?

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Jennifer Khattar, Paco Calvo, Ina Vandebroek, Camilla Pandolfi and Farid Dahdouh‑Guebas

Khattar J., Calvo P., Vandebroek I., Pandolfi C. and Dahdouh‑Guebas F., Understanding interdisciplinary perspectives of plant intelligence: Is it a matter of science, language, or subjectivity?, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-022-00539-3


Abstract Background: Evidence suggests that plants can behave intelligently by exhibiting the ability to learn, make associations between environmental cues, engage in complex decisions about resource acquisition, memorize, and adapt in flexible ways. However, plant intelligence is a disputed concept in the scientific community. Reasons for lack of consensus can be traced back to the history of Western philosophy, interpretation of terminology, and due to plants lacking neurons and a central nervous system. Plant intelligence thus constitutes a novel paradigm in the plant sciences. Therefore, the perspectives of scientists in plant-related disciplines need to be investigated in order to gain insight into the current state and future development of this concept.

Methods: This study analyzed opinions of plant intelligence held by scientists from different plant-related disciplines, including ethnobiology and other biological sciences, through an online questionnaire.

Results: Our findings show that respondents’ personal belief systems and the frequency of taking into account other types of knowledge, such as traditional knowledge, in their own field(s) of study, were associated with their opinions of plant intelligence. Meanwhile, respondents’ professional expertise, background (discipline), or familiarity with evidence provided on plant intelligence did not affect their opinions.

Conclusions: This study emphasizes the influential role of scientists’ own subjective beliefs. In response, two approaches could facilitate transdisciplinary understanding among scientists: (1) effective communication designed to foster change in agreement based on presented information; and (2) holding space for an interdisciplinary dialogue where scientists can express their own subjectivities and open new opportunities for collaboration. Keywords: Plant intelligence, Traditional knowledge (TK), Plant sciences, Western scientific knowledge, Interdisciplinarity

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine