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Plants: they add color and oxygen to our world, they release self-protective chemicals in response to the presence of pathogens, and they grow toward the sun. We know that plants are intelligent in the sense that they can adapt to their environment, but in what other ways might we be able to say that they are intelligent? Do they exhibit anticipatory behaviors? Are they goal-oriented? What does it mean in general to say that a living system is intelligent? These are the questions that Paco Calvo from the Minimal Intelligence Lab is exploring. And while he’s more concerned with the acquisition of data rather than the ability to draw definitive conclusions, the work he’s doing in the lab is revealing new and surprising information about plant growth and development.

“We miss most of what plants do…these sophisticated behaviors…we simply miss them because of the timescale of observation…. when you slow down the scale of observation to the timescale of their behavior, then you are able to start unearthing some patterns which are really interesting,” says Calvo. In order to do that in the lab, they’re time-lapsing plant growth and development by taking pictures every one to five minutes and then assembling all of the footage after a few days. They’ve been taking this approach for over two years now, and while the data they’re gathering is exciting, Calvo emphasizes the importance of considering all alternatives and never losing sight of the human tendency to anthropomorphize what we see and to commit confirmation biases. He details the experiments they’re doing on three plant models in the lab, discusses the results they’ve gotten so far, and touches on the running hypothesis that at least some plants exhibit evidence of endogenous control over their behavior.

Tune in for the details, and learn more about this work by visiting https://www.um.es/web/minimal-intelligence-lab/.

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