Blog Post

Sentient Plants, sentient bacteria

Unless an elaborate Sokal hoax in reverse is being played on Research in Microbiology, a slime mold can navigate its way around a maze. And that's not all folks: bacteria send one another chemical signals, a phenomenon now called quorum sensing. This is great news for object-oriented ontology. Why?

Consciousness is seen, absurdly, as a bonus prize for being highly evolved or well organized, qualifications that fail the anti-teleology test that any true Darwinian should apply. As I've argued in The Ecological Thought and now in an essay on plant sentience, both pro- and anti-AI thinkers (and others who are indifferent) have been looking in the wrong place for intelligence. 

Object-oriented ontology holds that everything one can meaningfully say about the sentence “I am holding this pencil in mind” can also be said of the sentence “This pencilcase is  holding this pencil.”

Consciousness is much lower down than we have been used to think, which is great for ethics. It's weak, not strong; it's not necessary to have a brain to have it, and so on. 

Timothy Morton's picture

Timothy Morton is Professor of English (Literature and Environment) at the University of California, Davis. Professor Morton's interests include literature and the environment, ecotheory, philosophy, biology, physical sciences, literary theory, food studies, sound and music, materialism, poetics, Romanticism, Buddhism, and the eighteenth century. He teaches literature and ecology, Romantic-period literature, and literary theory. He has published nine books and sixty essays, including The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010) and Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007).