# Plants "Do Math"

The link is here. This was of some interest to various language threads, where people have similar misunderstandings regarding “knowing languages.”

Obviously, plants are not equipped with an ability to devise formal languages to represent mathematical procedures, perform those procedures, and represent a result within that formal language. However, plants can, in their own primitive “neurology,” estimate their starch reserves, divide it by the projected number of hours between sunset and sunrise, and ration it accordingly.

To think of something to which humans can better relate, mathematicians usually invoke other animals that can do arithmetic, like dogs and crows, to represent something analogously. Dogs must do calculus in their heads to catch frisbees, but that doesn’t mean that dogs can solve differential equations.

The dominant view of language acquisition assumes this. People can know things about a language without knowing a formal language which represents it, much in the same way that we can learn arithmetic procedures without knowing the metalanguage that we use to explain that language. It’s not that we couldn’t learn the metalanguage. It’s just that we have shortcuts (or rather, long-cuts) that make it unnecessary.

Before digital computers, engineers regularly constructed analog computers to do stuff like this - even complicated stuff like calculus. Usually electrical or electronic, but occasionally mechanical or chemical. The circuits were fairly trivial, so it’s not really a big surprise that nature did it first. It would be interesting to know the details though - it sounds more like repeated subtraction than actual division, but I wonder how it happens exactly (seems the paper hasn’t actually been published yet). To me, the measurement of the original starch volume is a much more intriguing problem though. That sounds really difficult.

Dogs may have to do calculus in their heads to catch a frisbee, but I don’t. That’s what makes me a superior animal.

I can catch a frisbee without a calculator.

Tenuously linked,is the intriguing thought,that Dinosaurs were here for 200 Million Years,compared to Humans brief time here. Why ,on Earth did they not Evolve into a more intelligent being,as Humans have.?. Just curious.I am a Darwinist,just still mystified. :loco:

I dont get the publicity. Many enzymes depend on ratios of coenzymes and catalysts to work efficiently or not. I mean all of biology is doing math in some form, from what I could tell. I’d have to read the paper to get what they are saying.

1.) We’re pretty sure that there have been ELE’s in the past.

2.) Not every evolutionary adaptation selects for intelligence, and sometimes intelligence costs a species on an evolutionary timescale.

Many people misunderstand evolution as having a direction. There is no direction, just selection according to the fitness of a given organism for current environmental conditions.

There is no in built direction such as bigger, faster, stronger, smarter.

Imagine you had a race track and from year to year they change the regulations as to the modifications and engine size allowed on your car. Now throw in technological progress, climate conditions and the performance of your competitors.

The winning vehicle one year will be disqualified or out of the running the next year. There is no permanent optimum solution and every design has a trade-off, weight versus speed versus handling versus fuel efficiency versus reliability versus cost. Living organisms have the same constraints.

For instance humans have very large brains and heads for our body size, why don’t our heads keep getting bigger?
Well the brain uses massive amounts of energy so you would need more fuel to power it, meaning your ability to survive scarce food situations like famine may be lowered.
Not only that, but getting the human head through the birth canal is already very difficult, any bigger and the rate of mortality would increase markedly for mother and child.

They seem to have had just the intelligence needed to survive for 200 million years - i have some doubts, though, about the human species having the required intelligence to survive that long…

They seem to have had just the intelligence needed to survive for 200 million years - I have some doubts, though, about the human species having the required intelligence to survive that long… [/quote]

Indeed, that is worth pondering.

Along those same lines, I gather from cursory reading (I’m ready to be corrected if I’m wrong) that amoebas have probably been around for at least a billion years. I mention this for two reasons:

(1) I recall that my freshman biology textbook contained two photographs, side by side, of the same amoeba to illustrate what scientists call irritability as a characteristic of living things. There was a set of measuring units at the top of each photograph, exactly the same for both photographs. The amoeba was in the right half of the first photograph (the “before” photograph), and there was some kind of foreign object at the right extreme of the picture. The accompanying caption explained that the foreign object was the edge of an eyedropper which was being used to inject a noxious substance into the amoeba’s watery medium. In the second photograph (the “after” photograph), the amoeba was in the left half of the picture, and one could also tell by the measuring units that the amoeba had clearly moved to the left, that is, away from the noxious substance.

(2) I smoke cigarettes.

I have immense respect for plants.
Bugs, and mammals, on the other hand…

In that manner all living beings “do math” innately, and not only individuals on an individual level, such as humans knowing how to walk or ride a bicycle (these activities require an innate understanding of calculus) but even individuals on a cohort or tribe level, such as fish females that, depending on the perceived population density, “know” how many eggs to lay, so that enough of their offspring survive to reproducing age to maintain the population balance.

Such knowledge is, however, insufficient to respond to catastrophic changes in the environment (“catastrophic” not in the colloquial sense of something “bad” but in the systems theoretical sense where it simply refers to changes that are too sudden or too enormous - and regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad” - for a system to maintain homeostasis).

Humans appear to be doing their darndest to destabilize the global ecosystem and to bring it closer to some catastrophic change - a “flip” or bifurcation - whether it is by intruducing nuclear pollution into the biosphere, whether it is by burning fossil fuels, or whether it is by decimating the earths forest cover (to name just a few examples), and it remains to be seen whether humans will relearn doing the math they should be doing…