AR-FAQ - #44

#44 Aren't there studies that show that plants can scream, etc.?

How can something without vocal apparatus scream? Perhaps the questioner intends to suggest that plants somehow express feelings or emotions. This notion is popularized in the book "The Secret Life of Plants", by Tompkins and Bird, 1972. The book describes "experiments" in which plants are claimed to respond to injury and even to the thoughts and emotions of nearby humans. The responses consist of changes in the electrical conductivity of their leaves. The truth is, however, that nothing but a dismal failure has resulted from attempts to replicate these experiments. For some definitive reviews, see Science, 1975, 189:478 and The Skeptical Inquirer, 1978, 2(2):57. But what about plant responses to insect invasion? Does this suggest that plants "feel" pain? No published book or paper in a scientific journal has been cited as indeed making this claim that "plants feel pain". There is interesting data suggesting that plants react to local tissue damage and even emit signaling molecules serving to stimulate chemical defenses of nearby plants. But how is this relevant to the claim that plants feel and suffer from pain? Where are the replicated experiments and peer-reviewed citations for this putative fact? There are none. Let us, for the sake of argument, consider the form of logic employed by the plant-pain promoters:

  • Premise 1: Plants are responsive to "sense" impressions.
  • Premise 2: As defined in the dictionary, anything responsive to sense impressions is sentient. conclusion 1: Plants are sentient.
  • Premise 3: Sentient beings are conscious of sense impressions. conclusion 2: Plants are conscious of sense impressions.
  • Premise 4: To be conscious of a noxious stimuli is unpleasant. conclusion 3: Noxious stimuli to plants are unpleasant, i.e., painful.

There is a major logical sleight-of-hand here. The meaning of the term "sentient" changes between premise 2 ("responsive to sense impressions") and premise 3 ("conscious of sense impressions"). Thus, equivocation on the usage of "sentient" is used to bootleg the false conclusion 3. There is also an equivocation on the meaning of "painful" ("unpleasant" versus the commonly understood meaning). TA

If we can bring ourselves to momentarily assume (falsely) that plants feel pain, then we can easily argue that by eliminating animal farming, we reduce the total pain inflicted on plants, leading to the ironic conclusion that plant pain supports the AR position. This is discussed in more detail in question #46. DG

SEE ALSO: #42-#43, #46