Can plants talk?
Posted on May 15, 2012
You might recall that a couple years back, Natalie Angier sparked a debate over the experiential capacity of plants when she argued in the New York Times that humans ought to think twice about eating brussels sprouts because … they like to live.
Well, the Times has done it again. Last week they published an essay by philosopher Michael Marder in which the author insinuates that peas can “talk,” and thus, we shouldn’t eat them.
This has Leonard Finkleman, my colleague at Rationally Speaking, up in arms:
… the language used in Marder’s essay — to say nothing of the research paper that inspired it — is awfully suggestive, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want to eat something capable of basic learning and memory, would you? But that’s the real problem: plants aren’t really capable of any of those things. Only a crackpot (or an editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology, it seems) would suggest that peas actually talk or learn or remember in the sense that a human, or even a puppy, talks and learns and remembers (and, to be fair, Marder seems to admit as much). Chemical signaling in plants may resemble those activities in some important ways, and so we can use the terms “talk” and “remember” and “learn” to draw analogies with familiar concepts. The danger in drawing such analogies, and the fallacy in Marder’s moral argument, lies in overextending those analogies.
You can read Finkleman’s full reply here. Long story short: don’t feel guilty; eat your peas.