Embarrassing Questions

I'm sure each of us has a huge list of unanswered questions. Here's a blog for archiving all such questions. It would potentially serve to get us and others some answers which have been eluding us for a long time. The answers can come in the form of comments. Please note that we should stick to questions we had honestly asked when we were in school, or pre-university college. We are strictly barred from trying to find answers to our research problems!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some more interesting questions!

Well, the contributions from Ajit and Sujju are rather nice! :) I agree. It's quite strange that the solar-system seems to have some peculiarities. And still, it seems to be in some sort of an equilibrium state........but now, I shall shift from astronomy to Biology (an all time favourite subject of mine).................

Q1: What makes plants think? They don't have a formal centre of thinking called brain. If each cell's nucleus is to decide what's to be done, then, aren't there likely to be conflicts? Afterall, not all cells will think alike. So, what makes the plants "tick"?

This question has haunted me for quite some time now. There was a talk by Prof. Mahadevan where he talked about "conscious bacterium". Without any such thing as a "brain", the bacterium seems to modify itself from time to time to adapt to its surroundings! But there, we were talking about ONE cell. Whereas in case of plants (including mammoth trees), we're talking about billions and trillions of cells that seem to work together without any apparent conflicts!!!!

Any intelligent guesses?????????

13 Comments:

Blogger Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Hi,

I really don't know the answer. But I also couldn't make what you mean by 'thinking' plants. Do they really think. I have that many of them do show responses to sensory responses. Like 'touch-me-nots', and the way they heal from wounds. But, I don't know if that's a sign of a thinking and conscious creature. It surely indicates a creature with something like a central nervous system. But thinking? Hm.

Let's call upon our biologists to help us out with this.

February 13, 2006 9:38 PM  
Blogger fuse me said...

I tend to agree on the fact the Plants think. Especially the insect eating plants and so on.

There are some plants which start secreting poisonous chemicals to avoid certain animals from eating them and change the chemicals once the animals become immune to them.

Trees also adapt their metabloic rate during less rainfall and more rainfall.

All these are lower forms of thinking. Maybe they dont exhibit complex thinking like us, but definitely you can call it intelligence.

February 13, 2006 10:17 PM  
Blogger Pritesh said...

I agree with both of you! But when there's such complicated thinking involved, where does it come FROM is my question.........

I agree with Ananth that insect eating plants are the ones we can look towards for some fantastic adaptations for catching insects!

What makes them "evolve"?? What "organ" decides what changes are to be made so that the plant can adapt better to the changes?

In this regard, I got a nice reply from my friend Girish. Here it is:

Hi,

Ya, some rather interesting questions!! And the answers are also interesting!

By the way, regarding how plants think, J.C. Bose had done some
intertesting experiments, and he showed that some form of electrical signals do travel thru the plant, when subjected to stimuli such as poison, etc. He invented an instrument, the crescograph, to measure these
signals. I havent read his work in detail, but it is certainly very
interesting.

( I feel very strongly on this subject. Some vegetarians feel its ok to eat plants but not animals as plants they say cant think, have no nervous system, etc. which i dont believe at all. Plants have a life, just as amimals, and must be feeling pain, thirst and other emotions.)

February 13, 2006 10:27 PM  
Blogger Ignoramus said...

Since Pritesh is asking about how comlpexity and intelligence evolves from billions of "dumb" cells, I must refer you to this book I am reading right now, a sci-fi book by Michael Crichton(the guy who wrote Jurassic Park) called 'Prey'. In it, millions of tiny micro-robots, with very limited memory and processing capacity evolve over a period of time to co-operate and form swarms of highly developed characteristics and then attack humans(typical Crichton style!). One point that he tries to convey is that human beings think that order will evolve only if there is a central regulatory authority. This is because humans are accustomed to seeing a government regulating a country, a processor overseeing all the operations in a machine, a manager regulating the operations of a company etc. But this is not the ONLY way in which order arises. In a sense, our body can also be thought of a swarm of cells who are going about their duties with only limited central regulation. Another example is that of a nest of termites- even though the individual termites are pretty dumb, the architecture of their colonies show remarkable sophistication, that might put some architects to shame.
A number of books about order from chaos have also been written. So, lets not always look for the 'boss' who is looking after the system. Lets believe that even without the boss's intervention we can churn out good stuff, like I'm sure Suzy and me would like to believe..:)

February 14, 2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger Ajit said...

Well, I was about to quote the example of "Prey", before I saw that its funda was already very well explained.

Another fact : Plants in cities grow faster than those in uninhabited areas. In a sense plants do "like" presence of humans.

It's very difficult to define the "thinking" of plants - it's very subjective. If it's left to the observer to decode the emotions, then how can one really verify its presence!

Another example - they say that some breed of dogs can't see colours : my confusion is, how do _they_ know?!

February 14, 2006 7:40 PM  
Blogger Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Hey Ajit! That question of yours deserves a new discussion.

How can I invite you to be a member of this discussion board? Then you'll be able to start discussions. Need a mail ID to send invitation.

February 14, 2006 8:47 PM  
Blogger Ajit said...

It's ajitokeATgmail.com

I don't know if I'll start writing, but anyway, please send me an invite.

February 15, 2006 3:28 AM  
Blogger Pritesh said...

Hey Ignoramus,

I happened have read Prey by Michael Crichton. I found the book rather unbelievable at that time. But now that you draw the connection, I am beginning to see THAT in a new light.....there is a certain degree of analogy between the two situations, indeed.

Well, the floor is open to discussion............

Pritesh

February 15, 2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger sathya said...

On first thoughts it appeared that plants don't have well defined organs and hence an organ for thought process seemed a little far fetched from an evolutionary point of view. But I now see that I was completely wrong. The organs for metabolism and reproduction are very well defined.

So starting afresh, I could only contrast with 'creatures with brains'. Crudely I excluded motor functions of the brain (too trivial to warrant a separate organ) and I was left with only other functionality: Learning. All advanced 'brainy creatures' are enabled with functions similar to plants at birth, but they need to learn to evolve and survive. I'm long disconnected from biology, but if my memory proves right, the motor functions are governed by basal ganglia and not exactly the brain. Extending this idea to the plants, they possibly don't learn during their lifetime, but evolve over generations. Their mundane processes are probably governed by a ganglia equivalent which need not be a central organ i.e., they may have sets of ganglia eq monitoring each function. I'm at a loss explaining what these sets of ganglia eq could be. I hope there's a botanist in the group to rescue my idea!

February 17, 2006 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q1: What makes plants think?
-->plants do not think they just reply to stimuli. these stimuli could be physical or chemical.

If each cell's nucleus is to decide what's to be done, then, aren't there likely to be conflicts? Afterall, not all cells will think alike. So, what makes the plants "tick"?
-->even animals have lot of cells. so same question can be asked about all multicellular organisms.
Unicellular and multicellular cells behave in a simolar way in that they just respond to stimuli. multicellular cells differ in that their response is in coordination with each other.

'touch-me-nots', and the way they heal from wounds.
-->as stated earlier it is not thinking.

I tend to agree on the fact the Plants think. Especially the insect eating plants and so on.
-->insect eating plants work by the same principle. sitting of an insect activates their receptors. replace insect with an inanimate object it will still close.

What makes them "evolve"?? What "organ" decides what changes are to be made so that the plant can adapt better to the changes?
-->for this we have to understand the basis of evolution. it is not that the plant excreted chemical to kill predator. it is that the first plant excreted it survive. and so the progeny proliferated.

J.C. Bose had done some
intertesting experiments, and he showed that some form of electrical signals do travel thru the plant, when subjected to stimuli such as poison, etc.
-->will have to confirm this. be it an animal or plant chemical signals are involved.

Another fact : Plants in cities grow faster than those in uninhabited areas. In a sense plants do "like" presence of humans.
-->or may be cities simply provide enough co2 required by them!!

thinking is processing and storing information and using it at diff times. plants cant do it.

Another example - they say that some breed of dogs can't see colours : my confusion is, how do _they_ know?!
-->they train the dogs with different coloured objects. if the dog doesnt respond to different colours he cant see the difference.

i am not a botanist. i tried to tell what i know. how plants reply to stimuli we will have to read a bit of molecular biology. if you want to learn evolution, get some reference books. if you want to read for timepass get richard dawkins' blind watchmaker and selfish genes. want to learn basic biochemistry and molecular biology, go to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov go to books section and read online.

for discussion contact satyajeet_khare@yahoo.com

February 23, 2006 6:07 AM  
Blogger Pritesh said...

Hey satyajeet, you may join us in the discussion itself. You have written smoe thought provoking responses.......and why post as anonymous?

February 23, 2006 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey pritesh
biology questions do not fascinate me any more. i am looking for people good in physics and computers. would like to fuse some concepts from biology and these fields.
in darwinian evolution, the main concept is, organisms evolve on the basis of parameters randomly put forth by environment. here the main funda is organisms acquired capacity to reproduce. so they dont have to make the changes all of a sudden from nowhere. they change gradually and survive. similarly is not possible, that people in computer programming, instead of writing programs for different purposes, let the program evolve to acheve the set parameters.
one program that wil help other programs EVOLVE according to the need.
at least start with a program that automatically detects bugs in software?
just a question dont know much about computer programming.-->satya

February 24, 2006 2:35 AM  
Blogger Satyajeet said...

may be we will get some agent smith (matrix)

March 03, 2006 3:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home