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marketrent OP t1_itfwh47 wrote

Filed by Jennifer Ouellette, 22 October 2022 07:23 GMT+11.


>"For the first time, we went right after rainfall to the fairy circles and checked the new grasses for termite herbivory," Getzin told Ars. "Our excavations demonstrate that termites did certainly not cause the death of the grasses. If you come too late to the fairy circles, the grasses are long dead and detritivores like termites may have already fed on the lignified grass. But they did not kill the grass. We are showing unambiguously that the grasses die before and completely independent of any termite action."

>So what's next for Getzin? He believes more research is needed on the swarm intelligence of plants, likening plants to beavers in the sense that they can act as "ecosystem engineers" that modify their environment. "Most people cannot believe this or are unwilling to believe that, because plants have no brains," said Getzin. "But plants act similarly like the beaver as ecosystem engineers because their only way to survive is forming optimal, strictly geometric patterns"—in other words, Turing patterns.

>DOI: Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics, 2022. 10.1016/j.ppees.2022.125698


so_good_so_far t1_itglq1a wrote

This really seems like he's trying to broaden the meaning of intelligence to the point that it encompasses any emergent behavior. If this is the bar, then fractals are intelligent, crystals are intelligent, rivers are intelligent.

I think it would be better to just say that this grass demonstrates complex behavior stimulated by simple inputs. To be "intelligent" by any meaningful definition of the term, it would need to exhibit many different such complex behaviors that themselves interact in additionally complex ways.


pmmbok t1_itgyoud wrote

My favorite plant intelligent thing is with the sensitivity plant that folds its leave when disturbed. So some scientist dropped the potted plant in a nondestructive repetitive, reproducible manner. The plant folds its leaves in response...up to a point....and then "realizing" that the drops poses no risk, ceases folding its leaves. There is an energy cost to folding its leaves, so if no real danger, it shouldn't fold.

But even more interesting, is that if you go back to the same plant a month later, and drop it in the same way, it doesn't fold its leaves. It "remembers" as it were, that this is not dangerous.


Schmikas t1_ithe0m5 wrote

This is fascinating! Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

For others who are interested in reading more, here’s the link to the original paper that is summarised neatly in this National Geographic article.


LynnDuck4 t1_ithn8oq wrote

Huh, I read the Abstract and then the nat geo article. Based on what nat geo said, it sounds like she checked each plant each week for 28 days. I wonder how long they keep that information, since it says bees can only keep a discovery for a few days.

If I were this researcher, I'd consider testing 2 plants (or three if she had an extra 28) every single day. Each day is a new set of plants that had stopped curling up, and checking to see if they "remember" that they don't need to curl up. Idk, I don't have full access to the paper, so maybe the researcher did do that, or plans to.


mobilehomehell t1_ithdazp wrote

Do you have a link for this? That's fascinating


pmmbok t1_ithf4df wrote

Another kind commentator provided the link for us.


katherinesilens t1_ithh8r4 wrote

Does it curl if otherwise stimulated? Can we rule out that we simply broke something in the plant?


Jrook t1_ithr0s4 wrote

So I don't know this particular study but the way Venus flytraps work is each stimulus released a flood of calcium. However there's a trigger point which must be met. And such channels can be made more sensitive or less based on how much calcium it's exposed to.


nikolai_470000 t1_itin2js wrote

That kind of adjustment is similar to how neural nets are adjusted in machine learning, which itself is derived from how our brains learn things. I think that makes it a type of intelligence in its own way. Obviously it’s less sophisticated than a brain and not quite sentience, but it’s still quite remarkable


Jrook t1_itiueje wrote

I'm more inclined to think it's less of a type of intelligence, personally. It seems mechanical. Like an if/than program. Which I believe is a component to intelligence. But not inherently intelligence.

If I were to break away from the logical side, I don't believe you can have an intelligence in a creature without an organ basically dedicated to it.


nikolai_470000 t1_itji31f wrote

I’d say there’s some validity to that except that there are plenty of other species with brains that are ‘dedicated to intelligence’ that aren’t very intelligent and by some standards are barely sentient or not sentient whatsoever, depending on who you ask

It’s definitely not the same as a brain making conscious decisions, but the ability to change its reaction level in certain pathways to alter its response to different kinds of stimuli over time is very similar to what happens to our brains as we develop and learn new things, I would say that makes it a kind of intelligence that’s different from ours but still very much a real form of intelligence

There’s a big difference between general intelligence and other types but that doesn’t make one type any more or less than another

I think it’s fair to say this kind of intelligence could be considered a component of general intelligence but GI is such a broad and amorphous concept, almost anything could


spiderpig_spiderpig_ t1_itjzddx wrote

The whole "phenotype" thing really throws me for a loop. Is there really a difference between an organism that changes its reaction level / cells inside a chunk of calcium and one that changes its reaction level / activity in a bounded area of soil? Where is the boundary...?


pmmbok t1_ithlhpt wrote

I can't verify from memory, someone will re-read and verify. Unlikely they didn't check.


[deleted] t1_ithr0eq wrote



Cethinn t1_iti2gxi wrote

I haven't heard of this, but it sounds like it'd be much better explained as tree roots grow towards vibrations, not tree roots grow towards the sound of flowing water. Sure, flowing water creates vibrations, but I'd bet on it being more broad than specifically listening for water. However, in nature those are effectively the same. There aren't too many sources of vibration underground besides water, so there's no need for the trees to distinguish sources.


spiderpig_spiderpig_ t1_itjzi4j wrote

How confident are you of this / dreaded citation needed? I'd imagine many burrowing animals would make an awful lot more direct noise than trees in a dry area (I have no source, other than my imagination!).


Cethinn t1_itk4l3f wrote

I'd say like 60% confidence. I also have no knowledge on the subject, but it's what makes sense. Developing mechanisms to recognize different types of sounds is a lot more difficult than just moving towards sounds in general.

Burrowing animals would create vibrations, but it wouldn't be constant unless it's near a nest of some kind. Even if that did happen, there wouldn't be any harm. If we consider the results with just burrowing towards vibration in general and burrowing towards a recognized water sound, the outcomes are about the same with one mechanism being significantly easier to evolve.


1coudini t1_ithsoj3 wrote

You got a source?


Bah-Fong-Gool t1_itkjwa2 wrote

You could always just Google "tree roots grow towards sound of running water" and find dozens of articles. It's not a secret.


pmmbok t1_iti6sbe wrote

Cool beans. I hadn't heard about that. But, perhaps in the "World Wood Web", I have read that the matriarch Douglas fir will specifically send carbon (food) to its offspring if they are stressed through the fungal mycilial network. Canadian study. Nicely done. Radiolabeled carbon.


[deleted] t1_ithv3ca wrote



pickypawz t1_iti1tut wrote

…do you mean vibrations, not hearing? And if so, our hearing is only possible through vibrations, correct? We have a whole set up for our ears, but nevertheless, it begins with vibrations.


AlexanderDaychilde t1_iti2mh8 wrote

They didn't assert sight, but rather hearing. And hearing is the perception of compressions and rarefactions in air or material, which could also be referred to as vibrations. :)


radiolabel t1_itkt5ag wrote

Plants also share resources to create healthy communities, as each plant has its ecological purpose/niche. The study was done using radioactive CO2.


MacadamiaMarquess t1_ith01ml wrote

He’s just using jargon.

“Swarm intelligence” has a niche definition that is different from the colloquial definition for “intelligence.”

Essentially, systems (composed of simple individual units) organizing themselves in a way that gives us the impression of a centralized plan or guiding intelligence, where no such guiding intelligence exists, but where the overall pattern emerges as the result of basic interactions between member units.


Spitinthacoola t1_ithhwsl wrote

That's pretty much how all cell networks make intelligence. Where do you think your intelligence comes from?


MacadamiaMarquess t1_ithjlp5 wrote

Intelligence arising out of a construct is not the same thing as the construct itself having been directed or planned by an intelligence.

For example, swarm intelligence might describe the behavior of a school of fish as seemingly directed by a master intelligence, but it’s not postulating that the school of fish has developed its own consciousness independent of that of the member fish.


Spitinthacoola t1_ithnbb2 wrote

>Intelligence arising out of a construct is not the same thing as the construct itself having been directed or planned by an intelligence.


>For example, swarm intelligence might describe the behavior of a school of fish as seemingly directed by a master intelligence, but it’s not postulating that the school of fish has developed its own consciousness independent of that of the member fish.

I think the entire notion of "consciousness" is probably a red herring, or wild goose chase. It makes no sense to use in the context of intelligence because we have no definition for it. There's reason to believe that a school of fish or a hive of bees or a colony of ants does have an intelligence different from that of each unit. This is exactly how your body works.

That TAME framework I think is useful and I highly recommend listening to the available talks by Levin.

(Technological Approach to Mind Everywhere)


MacadamiaMarquess t1_ithpen0 wrote

It’s not a red herring in this context, because the definition of intelligence I think most people are colloquially applying (that the other user seemed to apply), and that I am trying to distinguish swarm intelligence from, is a property of conscious minds.

But if you prefer, we can use different wording. The etymological root of intelligence means “to understand.” As far as I can ascertain, the swarm doesn’t understand. It merely behaves much as if it did.

Other constructs (like you and me!) manage to understand things, but that’s not what swarm intelligence describes.


Spitinthacoola t1_iti7364 wrote

It absolutely is a red herring. The swarm understands things the individuals dont. Your genes understand things. Intelligence is nested across scale. Single cells have intelligence and solve problems. Tissues have intelligence and solve problems. Organs have intelligence and solve problems. Organisms have intelligence and solve problems. Swarms have intelligence and solve problems. We are just really bad at understanding and working with diverse types of intelligence. This is something we will get better at, by necessity.

Intelligence is almost certainly substrate agnostic.


MacadamiaMarquess t1_itijtv7 wrote

>It absolutely is a red herring.

No. An essential part of my main point is not a distraction from my main point.

I was using a particular element (of a meaning of a word) to distinguish that meaning (which someone applied here) from a different meaning (which someone applied in the article).

If you want to use a different definition of any of the words I have used, or make a different point than I was making, that’s your prerogative. But that’s you making a different point or using a different definition, not me dropping a red herring.

>Your genes understand things. Intelligence is nested across scale. Single cells have intelligence and solve problems. Tissues have intelligence and solve problems.

Great. But that’s not how the other user was using the words, and not how I was using the words. I was distinguishing between multiple common definitions to remove a confusion, not telling you how you have to use them.


b1ttly t1_ithv82y wrote

Would it be better to say Living things can store electrical energy from inputs used to control some sort of output. (Memory)

Making decisions based on that memory then comes down to whatever internal mechanism is driving impulse to respond and recalls the memory.

For humans this is very complex, but for plants it might just be very very simple.


ChucktheUnicorn t1_iti7slu wrote

> As far as I can ascertain, the swarm doesn’t understand. It merely behaves much as if it did.

How do you know it doesn't understand, even if in a more limited way? We only believe other people are conscious/understanding based on their observed behaviors


MacadamiaMarquess t1_itiiasb wrote

That’s fair. We don’t know whether it is conscious/understanding, and may never know.

But my poor phrasing aside, swarm intelligence is used to describe scenarios where we are eventually able to explain the behavior without any need to resort to a hypothesis that has the group construct obtaining either understanding or a consciousness.


WoNc t1_itgzi63 wrote

Swarm intelligence is not the same thing as ordinary intelligence.


Waka_Waka_Eh_Eh t1_ithbkv6 wrote

Is the emergence of intelligence from the collection of individual swarm members all that different from intelligence emerging from the collection of individual neurons?


BlueGlassTTV t1_ithgi8o wrote

No. Same concept but it is all conveniently packed into a skull you can point to so people just black box it as one "thing".


LessPoliticalAccount t1_ithgkbk wrote

I feel like the implicit claim in your argument is that "if we end up considering fractals, crystals and rivers intelligent, that's bad." I don't see why we should accept this claim necessarily. What's wrong with biting that bullet? Does the inverse -- believing that there's a particular "type" of complexity that's special, and uniquely human/animal focused, that isn't present in any other part of the universe -- really hold any important value, or is it just born of a sort of emotional attachment to anthropocentrism? I'm inclined to believe the latter.


Spitinthacoola t1_ithibs0 wrote

Its very clearly the latter at this point. If we can't accept that intelligence is substrate agnostic we are going to have a very very bad time in the coming decade.


LessPoliticalAccount t1_ithkvet wrote

I'm incredibly interested in this sort of stuff, but have never seen this article before, so thank you for sharing:)


peasant_python t1_ithulxn wrote

Psst you are not permitted to spell it out, humans are fragile creatures.


granadesnhorseshoes t1_itgr6kf wrote

I mean, kinda, right? We call fire "alive" even when we know it isn't strictly alive. I'm willing to buy plant "intelligence" in roughly the same kinda-but-not capacity.


sock_templar t1_itgtgml wrote

We call it alive because it's a technical term. Same as we say live wire for wires with electricity.

Not that we mean the fire acts like it has a life of it's own.

Semantics matter.


MacadamiaMarquess t1_ith0d57 wrote

It’s the same thing here though. He’s calling it swarm intelligence because swarm intelligence is a niche technical term.

Semantics matter in both cases.


Hippiebigbuckle t1_ith0reo wrote

>Semantics matter.

They do.

> it's a technical term. Same as we say live wire for wires with electricity.

That is not a technical term. A technical term for that situation would be a closed circuit or an energized circuit.

> Not that we mean the fire acts like it has a life of it's own.

Is it Opposite Day? That’s exactly where the term comes from.


ChucktheUnicorn t1_iti8b2w wrote

I'd argue that intelligence is more of a spectrum than a binary and thus it's correct to say that any emergent behavior is intelligent to some extent.


so_good_so_far t1_itianwv wrote

Sure that's true, it just quickly renders the word meaningless if we have no cut-off on complexity (arbitrary though it may be), so what's the point? A rock is intelligent if we have no limit. My point is we can have a word that means literally nothing, sure, or we can say it requires levels of complexity that I don't think this grass comes remotely near.


ChucktheUnicorn t1_itid5uz wrote

Where would that cutoff be then? Seems like it's quite subjective and there really isn't an agreed upon point - so we'd each be using different definitions of the word if we went with that


mursilissilisrum t1_ithtt8f wrote

> This really seems like he's trying to broaden the meaning of intelligence to the point that it encompasses any emergent behavior.

Sounds more like they're trying to justify further research into seeing whether they would be able to apply concepts like swarm intelligence to communities of plants.


peasant_python t1_ithu6ej wrote

Or you could just admit that you are not the only intelligent species on the planet. Worst: you aren't even close to most intelligent, because all you managed to do is wreck the planet you live on. Instead of improving your surroundings, you destroy them, and then destroy some more because you have to go on holiday to escape from the ugly place you have created.

And then you have to nitpick the use of words because you just cannot come to terms with the obvious.

It's insane.


VapoursAndSpleen t1_itgyp5q wrote

We need more words for things.


FantasmaNaranja t1_ith9ch4 wrote

well get to it then! english is a fluid language and if you convince enough people to use your new word,

Then congrats you added a word to the english language!


VapoursAndSpleen t1_ithcvyz wrote

I did come up with "twatwaffle" some years ago, maybe we can can vegetative communication "rootwaffle". I dunno. I'll start writing a grant proposal.


Spitinthacoola t1_ithi1q4 wrote

You did not come up with twatwaffle. Or at least, you're one of lots of people who have used that insult.


pinggeek t1_ithlmp6 wrote

back in 1800s Someone called someone a twat-waffle.

I think I shall call this food that looks like a twat all folded up.....a waffle!


because169 t1_itho3x4 wrote

Feel like the use of “intelligence” in the article is just a flowery (pun intended) way of articulating nature’s ability to adapt to environment?


nikolai_470000 t1_itimnc6 wrote

I agree with your assessment but we should make a distinction between self-aware intelligences (aka consciousness) as an emergent property of a complex system, and biological/ecological intelligence, which is arguably just as complex in its own way, but shaped by totally different factors (natural selection, evolution, genetics, environment, etc.)

It’s inappropriate to compare it to sentience but it is a form of intelligence, just not in the way we usually define it when referring to ourselves or other organisms


PM_your_cats_n_racks t1_ithuno8 wrote

I thought it was ants, not termites. Am I misremembering this?

The ants would kill all the plants in the center of the circle and then the circle would act as a water reservoir, maintaining the plants on the edge during the dry season.


pmmbok t1_itgx6k0 wrote

I hope soon they speculate on the inputs that result in this organization. They are quit cool and wierd.


stormrockox t1_itgj90s wrote

"You take a bad plant and make it dig holes all day long in the hot sun, it makes him a good plant. That's our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake."


peasant_python t1_itgkk91 wrote

Underrated comment


pale_blue_dots t1_ith1x4b wrote

What's that from?


ammo2099 t1_ith4loy wrote

The 2003 film Holes, but they've used the word 'plants' instead of 'kids' iirc


hazelnox t1_ith5n8k wrote

The book by Louis Sacher is very readable YA, and even better than the movie


Maveil t1_ithbnlk wrote

Idk I think the movie is an extremely faithful adaptation of the book and you can watch whichever medium you'd prefer


hazelnox t1_itj9o9m wrote

A fair assessment! Baby Shia Labouf is crazy to see, too. Dulé Hill, too!


diagnosedwolf t1_itg77qz wrote

That moment when fairies actually start to sound like a better explanation than the truth…

Science is wild and I love it.


rich1051414 t1_ithgw9j wrote

Basically, they collectively 'decide'(chemically) not to grow in those circles, which allows moisture to collect. It allows for the overly scarce resource to be evenly distributed, which allows for a greater population than if they did not cooperate at all.


peasant_python t1_itgkfzp wrote

Plants are the original ecosystem engineers and we are just learning from them.


momminhard t1_ith5zcy wrote

See how the plants are a bit greener at the edge of the fairy circle? I bet it catches water from the air and then probably sends it along the root network to keep everybody around alive enough to make it through the drought season.


utdconsq t1_ithu6fd wrote

Only read the linked article, but no mention of fungus at all. Did the authors consider it? I can buy plants growing in patterns that are beneficial to them, but not even looking for mycorhizal influences seems strange to me...


VintageJane t1_itkmphj wrote

At this point, I think the assumption in “plants communicate too” circles is that the channel of communication is mycorrhizal networks.


XonikzD t1_itiyr10 wrote

This is clearly a small, very small, cursory research situation. There's a contingent of "plants are people too" individuals trying to prove their agenda here.


PizzaOldBoy t1_ithtnhl wrote

man keep your head on a swivel around plants, theyre always up to something


Edmondg3 t1_ith6byp wrote

TLDR: It's not termites they still don't know what makes the circles....


mithodin t1_ith7cwq wrote

Hey, cool, a friend of mine did his master thesis studying differential equations that could produce structures like those circles.


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EddieStarr t1_itiag8i wrote

Mukuru Speaks, we must listen.


GabeC1997 t1_itii1p3 wrote


Plant Growth being algorithmic isn't commonly known? Do people think the Golden Ratio just appears everywhere "just 'cuz"?


leglump t1_ithteon wrote

natures fractal patterns > man made patterns


Double_Worldbuilder t1_iti12ps wrote

Nothing all that mystical about when you think of it. Balance between getting as many examples of your species into existence with getting as much unimpeded sunlight and nutrients and water through the soil, of course it’ll be in patches of patterns like this.


psychodelephant t1_ithc9fl wrote

Hexagons are nature’s most efficient shape. I can’t tell from the images but I wonder if hexagonal concepts are in use, macro or micro.


XonikzD t1_itgq8ka wrote

Looking at the area from Google Earth satellite imagery makes me wish someone would dig out one of the circles down to 200ft with a well drill. I think it looks like a buried forest. It would make more sense if that was true because of how capillary action for moisture around buried logs shows as deeper seasonal root matter presenting cyclical growth above the surface.


worotan t1_ithy54n wrote

But for how long would a buried forest continue to retain enough cohesion in its matter to create an analogous pattern above?

And how would a forest be buried intact with no destruction or disruption of its matter, so that it could create a pattern that looks like upright tree trunks?


XonikzD t1_itiy3ly wrote

Lots of good questions. If the entire area was covered with blown in sand dunes, maybe that? Maybe they're petrified. I don't know. It looks like a forest to me, and we won't know for sure until someone digs deeper than bugs might.


worotan t1_itkl8ed wrote

Petrified trees would be stone, not organic matter capable of storing moisture.


XonikzD t1_itknzm2 wrote

No kidding. It wouldn't matter for temperature differentials to trap moisture. Stones do it in sand too. People here have no interest in how desert plants seek moisture, all they care about is this notion that individual plants can communicate patterns, bs.


eatingganesha t1_itgtd54 wrote

I’m quite sure they’ve gone over sample areas with GPR and ruled out subterranean structures already.


caltheon t1_ithd5au wrote

I don't know about that. This article is saying for the first time they went and checked on them after a rain, which seems like kind of basic first step


XonikzD t1_itiy7ev wrote

I don't know that. Seems like a low priority exploration zone.