Writing Under Influence (5-31-2017): Chemical Communication

People ask whether plants are conscious or not, whether they have a mind, an agency, and intention. Then there are people who argue against this, saying that the survival tactics of plants are determined automatically on the chemical level and therefore there is no intention, agency, or mind involved. But this is a false battle. Rather than presenting a real polemic about the nature of plants, the argument reveals what we are and what we (like to) think our nature is.

For the basic premise here is that we are intelligent, conscious beings capable of having intention. But actually, we are not conscious about how much we do without being conscious. For instance, if we need to be fully conscious about our bodies’ function in order for bodies to function well, we will all be long dead. Not only most of the way body behaves/reacts happens without a thought, thought in most cases cannot control how the body functions (Malebranche’s theory of erection). If intelligence connotes the capacity to use resources to survive (communicate with beings that are not oneself) we are smart only because our bodies are far more intelligent than we think.

We are not conscious about it but constantly habituate our bodies through training/repetition to adapt to environments. This process of adoption is itself mnemonic. The proof that memory is operative lies precisely in the fact that the body has changed and has retained the change. So of course, from this standpoint, plants have memory.

In other words, most of our own communication process is actually chemical (not semiotic)–it happens regardless of what or how we think. Semiotic communication is only a minor part of all the communication we do in order to survive. All the experiments scientists subjects plants in order to see if they have a mind, memory, agency—some time ago, the same experiments were conducted on “savages.” And is conducted on our own bodies to see if it has a mind, memory, agency of its own, independent of our consciousness—and it obviously does.

So there is a comedic analogy between humans surprised and excited about how plants have memory and agency, and consciousness surprised and excited about how bodies have memory and agency. “wow i thought you were not one of us but you are!” The plant/body responds: “the only reason you can think is because of us. We condition you.” The mind-body split is therefore a mind-mind (operating on different scale) split, just as plant-animal divide is an animal-animal (operating on different scale) divide.

The mind has the propensity to wish to find something like itself. The criteria or model of intelligence, agency is always the mind itself. And it either accepts or denies the proximity (or even the superiority) of plants, while not being conscious about its own body actually working in very similar ways, outside consciousness (not being conscious about what works outside consciousness is a truism).

Mesophysical is only so because of the specific scale of observation we are conditioned to. We cannot perceive chemicals. Therefore in order to account for their effects we must resort to images/occult—i.e. media. Today, this is science (as discourse) and technology (as visualization tools)—e.g. a scientific documentary film about hormones. Even the expanding of the body through gaze focus, for instance, can be thought as a chemical reaction. We constantly enact these mesophysical couplings (extensions and contractions of the body), yet we do not know we are doing so. Thus we struggle to explain why we are having—our bodies are having—motion sickness.