Information and integration in plants: Towards a quantitative search for plant sentience


Integrated information theory (IIT) is a candidate theory of consciousness that highlights the role of complex interactions between parts of a system as the basis of consciousness – and, due to its general information-theoretic formulation, is capable of making statements about consciousness in neural and non-neural systems alike. Here, we argue that a system radically different to a human brain, host to complex physiological and functional structures capable of integrating information, can be found in the meristems and vascular system of higher plants. Following a pragmatic and ontologically innocent approach, neither taking for granted that plants are conscious nor dismissing the possibility that they are, we argue that the time is ripe to apply analysis tools inspired by IIT to plants, taking advantage of recent developments in both plant imaging and information theory. We introduce and discuss the relevant literature, and pro information and integration in plant behaviour, assessing the plausibility of plant sentience. If successful, these experiments could position plants as the next frontier in consciousness science, and urge us to rethink our perspectives on consciousness, how to measure it, and its prevalence amongst living beings.

Journal of Consciousness Science, 28
Pedro Mediano
Pedro Mediano
Coffee-powered beast-machine

Computational neuroscientist interested in synergy, information theory, and complexity.