Are You Smarter Than a House Plant? Maybe Not – A Natural and Artificial Intelligence Topic

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Okay so, what is intelligence? Consider if you will the debate over natural intelligence and artificial intelligence along with the Turing Test dilemma for AI. Next consider the debates amongst scientists and the public over finding intelligent life on other planets, and all of the thoughts encompassing Drake’s Equation. If we are to engage in these debates then we must define intelligence.

Still, some, including myself do not believe that human intelligence ought to be the baseline, personally, I don’t find humans all that intelligent, yes, that means you human. You folks have completely underwhelmed me unfortunately. Many would say that natural intelligence is the ability to solve short-term complex problems that the individual of the species encounters, as the long-term problems are generally solved by survival of the fittest and other aspects of evolution, solve the problem or perish – adapt or die motif.

Well, if we use that last definition for intelligence then one could say that plants are intelligent, and they do solve problems all the time, think about it. You move a house plant backwards away from the light and within days all the leaves turn and face the other direction. It’s a rotten trick you did, but the plant solves the problem and turns all the leaves, perhaps a stressful situation, but it still solves the challenge presented doesn’t it?

Now then, There is a fascinating philosophical debate and research paper on this topic titled; “Green plants as intelligent organisms,” by Anthony Trewavas -Institute of Molecular Plant Science, Kings Buildings, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK EH9 3JH – TRENDS in Plant Science Vol.10 No.9 September 2005. The abstract stated:

“Intelligent behaviour, even in humans, is an aspect of complex adaptive behaviour that provides a capacity for problem solving. This article assesses whether plants have a capacity to solve problems and, therefore, could be classified as intelligent organisms. The problems that many plants face and that need solution are briefly outlined, and some of the kinds of behaviour used to solve these problems are discussed. Plants exhibit the simple forms of behaviour that neuroscientists describe as basic intelligence.”

If we place a bunch of rocks in the soil and put all the water below the rocks the roots will find their way through the rocks to get to the soil. If there is another tree, plant, house, wall, vine, or whatever in the way, the plants will adapt and seek a space to grow, get sunlight, water, or whatever they need. Isn’t that what humans do, well most of the time? If we are looking for intelligent life on other worlds, maybe we should be rethinking our skewed perception of what natural intelligence actually is, and consider all this.

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