The definition of Consciousness from the online Merriam Webster dictionary:
1a: the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself
b: the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact
c: AWARENESS especially : concern for some social or political cause. The organization aims to raise the political consciousness of teenagers.
2: the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought : MIND
3: the totality of conscious states of an individual
4: the normal state of conscious life regained consciousness
5: the upper level of mental life of which the person is aware as contrasted with unconscious processes.
The primary aspect of consciousness and the quality we can most relate to is awareness. From a very practical perspective, awareness becomes the functional definition of consciousness. If a person is essentially unaware of what is happening around them, then that person’s level of consciousness is demonstrably low. On the other hand, if a person is acutely aware of multiple activities around them, especially if that awareness exceeds the average level of other people in their vicinity, that becomes a demonstration of a much higher level of consciousness. There is a direct correlation between consciousness and awareness. In general terms; the higher the level of consciousness, the higher the level of awareness.
We will use this correlation in the examples we examine since consciousness is something that is difficult to measure directly. Where we have awareness, we also have consciousness. The higher the level of awareness, the higher the indicated level of consciousness is.
A level of universal consciousness exists that has no physical reality. I refer to that state of universal consciousness as the Prime Dimension. Whatever ultimately takes physical form in our dimension exists within universal consciousness first. There is a process of transformation as something that exists within universal consciousness takes on the outer appearance of mater. Even individual atoms and subatomic particles exist in universal consciousness first. They take physical form in our dimension as their consciousness becomes clothed in material reality.
The nature and experience of universal consciousness is very broad. The above definition was developed to describe primarily the human experience of consciousness, but what we eventually come to understand is that there are many different expressions of consciousness that all stem from universal consciousness. Human consciousness is but one of many different expressions of consciousness. An elementary form of consciousness exists within inanimate substances such as minerals and metals. Plants and animals have their own expressions of consciousness. The environment is another expression of a system of consciousness. Other expressions of consciousness experienced by some humans include Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), paranormal activity, and remote viewing.
Consciousness is a controversial subject. The classic explanation is that consciousness arises from the physical brain. The spiritual explanation is that consciousness is universal and non-local. As such, each person possesses an individual identity that represents a small, individualized portion of the universal consciousness. The brain is perceived as a translator between the non-local consciousness and the perception of the physical world around us. It functions as a transceiver, passing information back and forth between our consciousness and our physical perception of the world. From the spiritual perspective, the body is temporary, but the non-local consciousness continues after the death of the physical body.
I’m going to pause here to provide a critical explanation regarding debunking ideas. The root word, bunk, is a relatively recent word meaning false, or untrue. Ideally, proper, verifiable evidence is used to dispute a false concept. The problem is that anyone who expresses an opposing idea is socially deemed to have debunked what they oppose even if no legitimate evidence has been presented. Many claims regarding spirituality are commonly said to be debunked simply because someone doesn’t believe the claim and speaks out against it. What I propose is an examination of actual evidence on both sides of the discussion, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. I will be presenting more evidence on the side of spirituality for two reasons: I am well experienced in the spiritual side, and the anti-spiritual side is well presented by others.
One other note: beware of the binary argument. What I mean by that is many people present an argument that is drawn in extremes; either it’s one hundred percent this way, or it’s one hundred percent the other way. There is no middle ground. That is not how the real world works. There are often thousands of identifiable points between the two extremes, and many more options than are presented in the binary argument. The argument often states that either my statement is correct and the other side is wrong, or I am wrong and the other side is correct. Both sides cannot be correct. While that may be true, please keep in mind both sides can be wrong. That happens more often than you might think.
The headline of the article is, “Harvard May Have Pinpointed the Source of Human Consciousness.” The article is authored by June Javelosa and Kristin Houser and was published November 8, 2016. The article is available at https://futurism.com/harvard-may-have-pinpointed-the-source-of-human-consciousness/
Michael D. Fox, MD, PhD, is the director of the Laboratory for Brain Network Imaging and Modulation and the Associate Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). He stated, “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness.” He also said, “A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”
The discovery reveals that a small portion of the brainstem, when damaged, restricts, or obstructs the flow of consciousness. The article goes on to say, “If the researchers are right and they’ve identified the areas of the brain responsible for human consciousness, the knowledge would prove invaluable to patients in comas and vegetative states and their families as it could lead to new treatment options.”
While new treatments for coma are certainly welcome, the idea that they’ve identified the areas of the brain responsible for human consciousness is a bit presumptive. It is based on the assumption that consciousness is a function of biology and the brain. While that idea may have a lot of support among the scientific community, it can also be equally valid that the particular section of the brain is a critical part of the translator, and when damaged, consciousness cannot flow from the non-local source of consciousness to the perception of our outer awareness, nor can our perception of the outer world flow through the damaged part of the brain to the non-local consciousness.
I am presenting this particular case as a demonstration of the nature of the subject matter we will be encountering. Multiple conclusions can be drawn based on the general assumptions we have made about the subject in the past. If our assumption is that consciousness is local to the brain, then the evidence supports that assumption. But, if we assume that consciousness is non-local and the brain is a translator between consciousness and the physical body, then the evidence supports this assumption as well. We can also restate the assumption-conclusion relationship to show that many times the assumption determines the conclusion by selectively interpreting the evidence.
My point is that much of the evidence we will be examining is not definitive in proving one side of the discussion or the other. I am presenting the information with the belief that each side of the discussion is valid from a particular perspective, and that ultimately, we get to choose which perspective best suits us and the level of experience we want in our life.
We only have a choice of perspectives when we understand that there are multiple levels of perspectives, or multiple points of view, to choose from. If we hold to the idea that our level of education supports only one level of perspective, insisting that this is the correct perspective, then we miss the opportunity to explore other perspectives and deepen our understanding of not only ourselves, but of the world around us. Most people are aware that their level of education is the primary determining factor in their level of perception. What I am suggesting is that an education in the reality of spirituality will make even higher levels of perspective and perception available to us, if we choose to pursue those higher levels.
The non-local nature of consciousness implies that our consciousness is not confined to the physical body. If that is the case, we would expect our consciousness to be affected by the consciousness of other people. That has been my experience: both higher and lower levels of consciousness do affect other people (and animals as well).
Part of the problem is that the study of consciousness is in its infancy and is currently dependent on anecdotal rather than rigorous evidence. This is just where we are in our scientific understanding of the nature of consciousness.
Dr. Fox’s conclusion in the Harvard study does, however, demonstrate that our assumptions tend to determine our conclusions as long as the basic facts lead us in that direction. While the scientific evidence was rigorous, the assumption that consciousness arises out of biology, not the facts themselves, was the determining factor in the conclusion.
My point is that from a scientific perspective we need to step back and totally re-evaluate both our assumptions and our concepts about the nature of consciousness. I can help this process along by sharing what I currently understand about the nature of consciousness.
Animals have what we refer to as simple consciousness. They are aware of their surroundings and environment and act accordingly. They don’t seem to have a realistic sense of themselves as individuals. People have what we refer to as self-consciousness. We are aware of ourselves as individuals in addition to our environment and surrounding conditions. Both simple consciousness and self-consciousness exist within the consciousness of separation. So let’s examine some examples of various forms and effects of consciousness and see what we can learn.
Near-death experiences (NDEs) have been with us for a very long time. For the most part science has not investigated the subject in any real depth, preferring instead to dismiss these experiences as random firing of neurons as the brain is shutting down. Recent evidence indicates that may not be the case.
Part of the problem with near death experiences is that much of the evidence is anecdotal. I’ll start with a simple example.
My father was hospitalized for heart problems, specifically, he had a bone infection in his leg that flared up and damaged a valve in his heart. He was on a heart monitor, alone in his hospital room. According to his description to me, he suddenly found himself standing in his hospital room looking at his body lying on the bed. The alarm on the heart monitor next to his bed was sounding. The line on the screen that showed his heart pulse had flatlined. He was very intrigued with what was happening. He walked out into the hall and saw a doctor and several nurses running toward his room with a cart. He followed them back into his room and watched as they tried to revive his body. He was peaceful. He felt no pain or anxiety. He could see and hear everything that was taking place. Mostly he was just curious. He saw them perform CPR and use the paddles to try to restart his heart. The second time they used the paddles he felt a sharp pain in his chest and he was back in his body.
Following this experience he lost his fear of death.
Several things are worth noting: He was conscious, aware, and outside of his body. According to general medical consensus, the brain shuts down within twenty to thirty seconds after the heart stops beating. According to what he told me, the whole episode of his resuscitation took three to five minutes. Whatever was being done to his body was not registering to him personally. He could see what they were doing, but there was no sensation to him as he watched. When he did feel the sharp pain in his chest, he was suddenly back in his body.
If consciousness arises out of biology how was he able to be aware and conscious when his body was not? It’s a fundamental question that so far doesn’t have an adequate scientific answer.
In 2008 a study, (the Southampton Study) subsequently published in the journal Resuscitation, (December 2014, volume 85, issue 12, pages 1799-1805) involving 2060 patients from 15 hospitals in the United Kingdom, United States and Austria was launched. The AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study examined the broad range of mental experiences in relation to death. Researchers also tested the validity of conscious experiences using objective markers for the first time in a large study to determine whether claims of awareness compatible with out-of-body experiences (OBE’s) correspond with real or hallucinatory events.
The study concluded:
- The themes relating to the experience of death appear far broader than what has been understood so far, or what has been described as so called near-death experiences.
- In some cases of cardiac arrest, memories of visual awareness compatible with so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events.
- A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.
- Widely used yet scientifically imprecise terms such as near-death and out-of-body experiences may not be sufficient to describe the actual experience of death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than ill-defined medical states sometimes referred to as ‘near-death’.
- The recalled experience surrounding death merits a genuine investigation without prejudice.
Dr. Sam Parnia, Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Director of Resuscitation research at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, USA, and the study’s lead author, explained: “Contrary to perception, death is not a specific moment but a potentially reversible process that occurs after any severe illness or accident causes the heart, lungs and brain to cease functioning. If attempts are made to reverse this process, it is referred to as ‘cardiac arrest’; however, if these attempts do not succeed it is called ‘death’. In this study we wanted to go beyond the emotionally charged yet poorly defined term of NDEs to explore objectively what happens when we die.”
Among 2060 CA (cardiac arrest) events, 140 survivors completed stage 1 interviews, while 101 of 140 patients completed stage 2 interviews. 46% had memories with 7 major cognitive themes: fear; animals/plants; bright light; violence/persecution; deja-vu; family; recalling events post-CA and 9% had NDEs, while 2% described awareness with explicit recall of ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ actual events related to their resuscitation.
One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest. Dr. Parnia concluded: “This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.
“Thus, while it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness, (due to the very low incidence (2 per cent) of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBEs), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”
Plants don’t think, they grow: The case against plant consciousness.
This article by Theresa Machemer, Cell Press, appeared in the July 03, 2019 edition of Trends in Plant Science.
“Feinberg and Mallatt concluded that only vertebrates, anthropods, and cephalopods possess the threshold brain structure for consciousness. And if there are animals that don’t have consciousness, then you can be pretty confident that plants, which don’t even have neurons, let alone brains, don’t have it either,” says Lincoln Taiz, professor emeritus of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz.
The topic of whether plants can think, learn, and intentionally choose their actions has been under debate since the establishment of plant neurobiology as a field in 2006 (10.1016/j.tplants.2006.06.009). Taiz was an original signer of a letter, also in Trends in Plant Science (10.1016/j.tplants.2007.03.002), arguing against the suggestion that plants have neurobiology to study at all.
“The biggest danger of anthropomorphizing plants in research is that it undermines the objectivity of the researcher,” Taiz says. “What we’ve seen is that plants and animals evolve very different life strategies. The brain is a very expensive organ, and there’s absolutely no advantage to the plant to have a highly developed nervous system.”
Plant neurobiology proponents draw parallels between electrical signaling in plants and nervous systems in animals. But Taiz and his co-authors argue that the proponents draw this parallel by describing the brain as something no more complex than a sponge. The Feinberg-Mallat model of consciousness, by contrast, describes a specific level of organizational complexity of the brain that is required for subjective experience.
Plants use electrical signals in two ways: to regulate the distribution of charged molecules across membranes and to send messages long-distance across the organism. In the former, a plant’s leaves might curl up because the movement of ions resulted in movement of water out of cells, which changes their shape; and in the latter, an insect bite on one leaf might initiate defense responses of distant leaves. Both actions can appear like a plant is choosing to react to a stimulus, but Taiz and his co-authors emphasize that these responses are genetically encoded and have been fine-tuned through generations of natural selection.
“I feel a special responsibility to take a public position because I’m a co-author of a plant physiology textbook,” he says. “I know a lot of people in the plant neurobiology community would like to see their field in the textbooks, but so far, there are just too many unanswered questions.”
Taiz and his co-authors hope that further research will address the questions left unanswered by current plant neurobiology experiments by using more stringent conditions and controls.
On the other side, we’ll start with Grover Cleveland Backster Jr. and the “Backster Effect.” Cleve Backster worked for the C.I.A. and helped develop the modern-day polygraph machine.
From a New York Times (NYT) article (Dec 21, 2013), titled, “Cleve Backster Talked to Plants. And They Talked Back.”
“But this was all a prelude to Backster’s real life work, which began in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 1966. Backster had been up all night in his office on West 46th Street and had just poured himself a cup of coffee when he noticed a houseplant, a Dracaena fragrans his secretary bought to brighten the office. On a lark, Backster, who had a playful streak that belied his military background (he studied astrology, dabbled with LSD and supposedly spent a summer as a stunt driver in a circus), decided to hook the plant up to his lie-detection machine.
“In human subjects, a polygraph measures three things: pulse, respiration rate and galvanic skin response, otherwise known as perspiration. If you’re worried about being caught in a lie, your levels will spike or dip. Backster wanted to induce a similar anxiety in the plant, so he decided to set one of its leaves on fire. But before he could even get a match, the polygraph registered an intense reaction on the part of the Dracaena. To Backster, the implication was as indisputable as it was unbelievable. Not only had the plant demonstrated fear, it had also read his mind.”
“Backster concluded that plants had some heretofore undiscovered sense (he called it ‘primary perception’) that could detect and respond to human thoughts and emotions. When he publicized his findings, the so-called Backster effect became a pop-culture hit. There was a TV program hosted by Leonard Nimoy and a best-selling book “The Secret Life of Plants” inspired by Backster’s research. Backster was interviewed by Johnny Carson, Art Linkletter, Merv Griffin and David Frost. Even Backster’s old employers at the C.I.A. investigated the possibility of human-plant communication.”
But, as with many new discoveries, things were more complicated than they first appeared. From “The Secret Life of Plants” (TSLOP) by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird (copyright 1973 – Published by Harper, New York), pages 7-8, “Under normal circumstances, plants may be attuned to each other, said Backster, though when encountering animal life they tend to pay less attention to what another plant may be up to. ‘The last thing a plant expects is another plant to give it trouble. So long as there is animal life around, they seem to be attuned to animal life. Animals and people are mobile, and could need careful monitoring.’ ”
“If a plant is threatened with overwhelming danger or damage, Backster observed that it reacts self-defensively in a way similar to an opossum—or, indeed, to a human being—by ‘passing out,’ or going into a deep faint. The phenomenon was dramatically demonstrated one day when a physiologist from Canada came to Backster’s lab to witness the reaction of his plants. The first plant gave no response whatsoever. Nor did the second, nor the third. Backster checked his polygraph instruments, and tried a fourth and a fifth plant; still no success. Finally, on the sixth, there was enough reaction to demonstrate the phenomenon.
“Curious to discover what could have influenced the other plants, Backster asked: ‘Does any part of your work involve harming plants?’ ”
“ ‘Yes,’ the physiologist replied. ‘I terminate the plants I work with. I put them in an oven and roast them to obtain their dry weight for my analysis.’ ”
“Forty-five minutes after the physiologist was safely on the way to the airport, each of Backster’s plants once more responded fluidly on the graph.”
Plant consciousness is distinctly different from human consciousness, and the problems don’t stop there. Basic scientific principle calls for a detached observer to run the experiment so there is no bias involved in the result. This may preclude any results at all when dealing with plants. This is a prime example where the observer must establish a relationship with the plants before any results can be obtained, and the consciousness of the human is a determining factor in the experiment.
If a person doesn’t care about plants, the plants will essentially ignore the person. A number of scientists have been unable to duplicate Backster’s results. The apparent reason is that they have not established a personal relationship with the plants. Plants will develop a relationship with the person who takes care of them and respond to emotional events that happen to that person. The connection between a plant and its caretaker is not generally subject to restriction due to distance. Nor is it diminished by isolating the plant from any and all forms of energy transfer, such as sound, light, and electromagnetic waves. Careful time tracking reveals that there is no time-loss in the response of a plant to its caretaker. What this means is that the communication between a plant and its caretaker is not delayed by increasing distance. The communications are instantaneous no matter the distance.
Backster was also able to demonstrate that this relationship and response extended down to the cellular level and included more than just plant cells. From TSLOP pages 11-12, “Backster’s medical consultant, the New Jersey cytologist Dr. Howard Miller, concluded that some sort of ‘cellular consciousness’ must be common to all life.
“To explore this hypothesis Backster found a way of attaching electrodes to infusions of all sorts of single cells, such as amoeba, paramecium, yeast, mold cultures, scrapings from the human mouth, blood, and even sperm. All were subject to being monitored on the polygraph with charts just as interesting as those produced by the plants.
“Sperm cells turned out to be surprisingly canny in that they seemed to be capable of identifying and reacting to the presence of their own donor, ignoring the presence of other males. Such observations seem to imply that some sort of total memory may go down to the single cell, and by inference that the brain may be just a switching mechanism, not necessarily a memory storage organ.
“ ‘Sentience,’ says Backster, ‘does not seem to stop at the cellular level. It may go down to the molecular, the atomic and even the subatomic. All sorts of things which have been conventionally considered to be inanimate may have to be re-evaluated.”
The NYT article above stated that, “No one could reproduce Backster’s results . . .” This is an oft repeated phrase. The problem is it just isn’t true.
From the book, “The Secret Life of Plants” a number of other researchers not only duplicated Backster’s results but expanded on them. A common recognition among the researchers was that plants respond to intentions much more strongly than they do to actual actions. The intent to harm a plant generates a significant state of stress, or anxiety, in the plant. The actual act of harming the plant is met often with passing out or a deep faint.
Marcel Vogel, a research chemist working with International Business Machines in Los Gatos, California, got involved in plant consciousness research. His focus was on training people to project their consciousness into a plant. From his practice and experience, (TSLOP page 24) “Vogel concluded that a Life Force or Cosmic Energy, surrounding all living things is sharable among plants, animals, and humans. Through such sharing, a person and a plant become one. ‘This oneness is what makes possible a mutual sensitivity allowing plant and man not only to intercommunicate, but to record these communications via the plant on a recording chart.’ ”
From TSLOP page 27, “Adults, according to Vogel, are much less successful than children, which leads him to surmise that many scientists are not going to be able to repeat his or Backster’s experiments in laboratories. ‘If they approach the experiment in a mechanistic way,’ says Vogel, ‘and don’t enter into mutual communication with their plants and treat them as friends, they will fail. It is essential to have an open mind that eliminates all preconceptions before beginning experiments.’ Indeed, Vogel was told by one doctor working at the California Psychical Society that he had had not a single result, though he had worked for months. The same is true for one of Denver’s most renowned psychoanalysts.
“ ‘Hundreds of laboratory workers around the world,’ says Vogel, ‘are going to be just as frustrated and disappointed as these men until they appreciate that the empathy between plant and human is the key, and learn how to establish it. No amount of checking in laboratories is going to prove a thing until the experiments are done by properly trained observers. Spiritual development is indispensable. But this runs counter to the philosophy of many scientists, who do not realize that creative experimentation means that the experimenters must become part of their experiments.’ ”
From TSLOP page 28, “Vogel says that even when a person can affect a plant, the result is not always a happy one. He asked one of his friends, a clinical psychologist, who had come to see for himself if there was any truth to the plant research, to project a strong emotion to a philodendron fifteen feet away. The plant surged into an instantaneous and intense reaction and then, suddenly, ‘went dead.’ When Vogel asked the psychologist what had gone through his mind, the man answered that he had mentally compared Vogel’s plant with his philodendron at home, and thought how inferior Vogel’s was to his. The ‘feelings’ of Vogel’s plant were evidently so badly hurt that it refused to respond for the rest of the day, in fact, it sulked for almost two weeks. Vogel could not doubt that plants have a definite aversion to certain humans, or, more exactly, to what those humans are thinking.”
From TSLOP page 40-41, “Eldon Byrd, an operations analyst with the Advanced Planning and Analysis Staff of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Silver Spring, Maryland, has been duplicating Backster’s experiments with some success. A member of the American Society for Cybernetics and senior member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Byrd attached the electrodes of a polygraph to the leaves of a plant, and has been observing definite fluctuations of the polygraph needle as the plant responds to various stimuli. Like Backster, Byrd found that by merely thinking of harming a plant’s leaf it was possible to make the polygraph needle jump. Byrd’s experiments involved monitoring a plant’s reaction to stimuli from water, infrared and ultraviolet light, fire, physical stress, and dismemberment.
“Byrd believes the galvanometrical effect produced by a plant is not caused by electrical resistance in the leaf, but by a change of bio-potential in the cells from outside to the inside membrane, as defined by Swedish Dr. L. Karlson, who has shown that a cluster of cells can change polarity, though the energy which causes cells to become polarized is not known. Byrd believes that a voltage change in the cells is what is being measured, and that it is the mechanism of consciousness which causes the change in potential.”
In Russia science experiments involving plants and consciousness have also been expanding. In the first issue of Reports of the USSR Academy of Sciences for 1959, Karamanov published “The Application of Automation and Cybernetics to Plant Husbandry.”
According to the Izvestiya reporter, Karamanov showed that an ordinary bean plant had acquired the equivalent of “hands” to signal an instrumental brain how much light it needed. When the brain sent the “hands” signals, “they had only to press a switch, and the plant was thus afforded the capability of independently establishing the optimal length of its ‘day’ and ‘night.’ ” Later, the same bean plant, having acquired the equivalent of “legs,” was able instrumentally to signal whenever it wanted water. “Showing itself to be a fully rational being,” the account continued, “it did not guzzle the water indiscriminately but limited itself to a two-minute drink each hour, thus regulating its water need with the help of an artificial mechanism.”
It at least appears that the bean plant in question became aware of what the electronic system was doing with light and water and adapted the system to its own needs. This demonstrates a level of awareness and volition beyond what we would expect from a non-human subject.
“In the summer of 1971, an American delegation from the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE), founded by the seer and healer Edgar Cayce at Virginia Beach, Virginia, visited Russia. The Americans—four medical doctors, two psychologists, one physicist, and two educators—were shown a film by Panishkin entitled Are Plants Sentient? The film demonstrated effects produced on plants by environmental factors such as sunlight, wind, clouds, the dark of night, the tactual stimulus from flies and bees, injuries produced by chemicals and burning, and even the very proximity of a vine to a structure to which it might cling. The film showed further that the immersion of a plant in chloroform vapor eliminates the characteristic biopotential pulse normally apparent when a leaf is given a sharp blow, it also indicated that the Russians are now studying the characteristics of these pulses to establish the relative degree of a plant’s health.”
“Sedate a Plant, and it Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious?”
The headline is from a New York Times article by JoAnna Klein published Feb.2, 2018.
“Now, a study published recently in Annals of Botany has shown that plants can be frozen in place with a range of anesthetics, including the types that are used when you undergo surgery.”
“ ‘Plants are not just robotic, stimulus-response devices,’ said Frantisek Baluska, a plant cell biologist at the University of Bonn in Germany and co-author of the study. ‘They’re living organisms which have their own problems, maybe something like with humans feeling pain or joy. In order to navigate this complex life, they must have some compass.’
Plants sometimes use that compass to deal with stress, competition or development. They take in information from their environment and produce their own anesthetics like menthol, ethanol and cocaine, similar to how humans release chemicals that dull pain during trauma. These may act within the plant itself or float off in the air to affect neighboring plants.
Our anesthetics work on plants too, the study confirmed, although what exactly they’re working on is unclear.
The researchers trapped pea plants in glass chambers with ether, soaked roots of the sensitive plants and seedlings of garden cress in lidocaine and even measured the electrical activity of a Venus fly trap’s cells. An hour or so later the plants became unresponsive. The seedlings stayed dormant. And the Venus fly trap didn’t react to a stimulus similar to a bug crawling across its maw. Its cells stopped firing.
When the dope wore off, the plants returned to life, as if something had hit pause — almost like they were regaining consciousness, something we typically don’t think they possess. It’s all so animal-like.
‘How organisms are perceiving the environment or responding or adapting are based on some very similar principles.’ Dr. Baluska said.
Researchers already knew that anesthetics with different chemical structures or elements all seem to halt pain, consciousness or activity in plants and animals — even bacteria. But how they render us unconscious or how so many different kinds physically act on the human nervous system still elude us after more than a century of use. Some bind to receptors to turn off activity. But this can’t explain them all.
Under anesthetics, the physical properties of cell membranes change, becoming more flexible. Apply pressure to the cells, this effect is reversed and the anesthetic wears off. This suggests that something simple, like what is physically happening to a cell’s membrane, may be the common denominator explaining anesthetics’ effects across the plant and animal kingdoms, Dr. Baluska and colleagues suggest.
In some plant root cells under anesthesia, Dr Baluska and his colleagues found that membranes were having trouble doing what they normally do, recycling bits of cellular material by transporting it in and out of cells.
Dr. Baluska can’t say what was altering membrane function in the plants, but membranes are important for transferring messages via electricity from one cell to another, messages that would lead to action or movement.
The electrical activity that moves across neurons is thought by some scientists to contribute to human consciousness. If electrical activity is being disrupted by anesthetic in plants, too, causing them to ‘lose consciousness,’ does that mean, in some way, that they are conscious?
‘No one can answer this because you cannot ask them,’ said Dr. Baluska.
Even so, perhaps we’re more alike, us and plants, than we think.”
JoAnna Klein did an excellent job of explaining the basic situation in her article. Plants demonstrate certain aspects of consciousness. Just because some scientists reject the idea of plant consciousness because of the lack of neurons and a brain, doesn’t mean plants do not have a form, or an expression, of consciousness.
Plants clearly demonstrate an active state of awareness in regard to people. If we take a look at the evidence without the initial assumption of consciousness arising out of biology or consciousness as pre-existing, some interesting facts emerge. The evidence alone demonstrates that some form of consciousness exists within plants. That form or expression of consciousness is different from human consciousness. Just from general observations of the preceding evidence whatever consciousness plants may have seems to be more emotionally based rather than an intellectual expression. The argument as to whether plants “think” or not may miss the point. Plants demonstrate various levels of awareness of both their environment and of the animals that come into their vicinity. They react or respond accordingly.
It can be argued that these reactions or responses may have developed over millions of years and are now just a natural part of the plant survival strategy, but a plant’s ability to form an emotional attachment, or aversion, to specific humans and retain a memory of that relationship over time speaks strongly of a form of consciousness, not simply an evolved strategy. In addition, plants clearly react or respond to human intentions and not just behaviors. Once a plant forms a relationship with a specific human the plant also responds to emotional changes in that human. Feelings of joy, depression, passion, anger, pain, and other feelings seem to be shared by plants within their relationship with specific humans. This sharing also appears to span great distances, and according to some experiments, takes place at the exact same time. This is significant because we are accustomed to communications taking time for electronic signals to transit large distances. Yet the shared emotions of humans and plants show no signs of being delayed when transmitted over great distances. They are shared in real-time regardless of the distance.
One might ask why plants would care about humans to the degree of forming emotional relationships and communicating with them. I believe the answer resides within the consciousness of oneness. Plants and animals share a symbiotic relationship on this planet. More specifically, plants and humans need each other. We breathe in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide as a waste product. Plants take in carbon dioxide, extract the carbon for their own use through photosynthesis, and release the oxygen into the atmosphere. The balance between plants and animals is critical to the survival of life on this planet. The fact that plants and humans form emotional relationships does not seem surprising to me. We are partners in the process of life.
There seems to be an awareness in plants regarding which humans damage plants as part of their work or lifestyle and which humans support or care for plants. This awareness goes well beyond any evolutionary strategy. Such awareness is clearly based on something other than the behavior of the human because the awareness appears as soon as the human comes into the vicinity of the plant. It may very well be that that awareness is based on the consciousness of the individual human and not any specific behavior performed in the presence of the plant. If that is the case, we need to re-evaluate how we define consciousness.
Animal consciousness is controversial in scientific circles. I can understand the reluctance to even look at the subject since we use animals for food.
The Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), is an agriculture research organization in France operating since 1946. In English: it is the National Institute of Agricultural Research. INRA commissioned a study on animal consciousness and published the results in May of 2017. This led to the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, signed by 16 well known scientists, some of whom are involved in invasive animal research. The declaration states:
“Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
The declaration assumes that consciousness originates in biology, recognizing that mammals, birds, and many other creatures have the necessary biological structure for consciousness. The INRA research goes well beyond the biological structure necessary for animal consciousness. An excellent summary of the study by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. is available here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201801/animal-consciousness-new-report-puts-all-doubts-sleep
From the summary:
“We provide a few examples of higher levels of consciousness in domestic livestock: in poultry. Hens can judge their own state of knowledge suggesting they are conscious of what they know or don’t know. Pigs can remember what events they experienced, where, and when. Several other examples of cognitive capacities potentially underlying consciousness in domestic livestock are also available, such as recognition of individuals in sheep and cattle. Collectively these studies and those on wild and laboratory species, clearly support the hypothesis that domestic livestock species are capable of complex conscious processing.
“Livestock species, such as poultry, pigs, and sheep, exhibit cognitive behaviors that seem to imply levels and contents of consciousness that until recently were considered exclusive to humans and to some primates. That is even more the case for fish and invertebrates that until recently were not even considered as sentient.”
Marc Bekoff concludes;
“These individual conscious and sentient nonhuman beings care about what happens to themselves and to family members and friends, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect for who they are, not what we want them to be. Recall what the authors of the INRA report concluded, namely, “It is thus likely that what matters to animals is rather similar to what matters to humans.” These animals’ lives are valuable because they are alive – they have what is referred to as inherent value – not because of what they can do for us – what is called their instrumental value. It’s about time that we welcome them into our world and the arena of conscious beings.”
We have a lot of variation in human consciousness, from the psychopath to the enlightened spiritual teacher, and thousands of variations in between. The whole of humanity is spread out on a continuous spectrum in between the two extremes of psychopath and spiritual teacher. It’s a progression in a maturing process we call spirituality. A spiritual path begins when a spiritual being first decides to incarnate. Each of us are told that there are no rules in life, we can do whatever we want, but every thought, feeling, and especially every action will bring us consequences. This is the feedback mechanism that allows us to learn.
An inexperienced soul finds themselves in a kind of wonderland of possibilities and opportunities. Everything is there for the taking. Two general routes are explored: crime and power (there’s a certain amount of crossover). Simple crime results in the consequence of incarceration. The more sophisticated approach is through business and politics, where incarceration is often avoided. The inexperienced soul presents as the psychopath in our society: they have no conscience, no love, no concern for others, and no integrity, ethics, or morality. The leaders of many countries are psychopaths, so are the CEOs of many corporations.
The easiest way to identify a psychopath is by how they treat powerless people. To the psychopath, people without power are expendable and without value. They treat these people with disrespect and contempt, taking advantage of them at every opportunity. If you think you don’t know anyone who is a psychopath, think again. According to the psychological studies presented in the book, Political Ponerology, by Andrew M. Lobaczewski, © 1998, 2006, Red Press, Grande Prairie, AB, T8V0V3, Canada, one in ten men are psychopaths, as well as one in a hundred women. That’s 5.5% of the population. If you know twenty people, chances are one of them is a psychopath. The word ponerology comes from the Greek and means the study of evil.
Psychopaths unbalance every relationship they have. In order to restore balance they have to experience exactly what they have done to others. This takes a number of lifetimes as victims, but this is how we learn. The lifetimes as victims eventually teaches us to be more considerate of others. Eventually, we all grow and mature. If you want to get an idea of where you are on your spiritual path, take an honest look at what, and how much, you do for others without expecting something in return. The enlightened spiritual teacher will be of service to others with no expectation of any kind, and they will do this every day for years. That should give you an idea of the breadth of human development.