Mimosa Experiment – Prototype

Dr Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia et al made an experiment on the Mimosa pudica, which shows immediate and visible reaction on different stimuli. The experiments where designed like behavior observation of animals and revealed surprising insights. The biologists observed an adaptive learning process. Dr Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia et al made an experiment on the Mimosa pudica, which shows immediate and visible reaction on different stimuli. The experiments where designed like behavior observation of animals and revealed surprising insights. The biologists observed an adaptive  learning process. The plant naturally folds its leafs up, when being touched, dropped or jostled. The set up consisted of 56 plants to be dropped from a height of 15 cm repeated 60 times every 5s per training session. The researchers observed a change in reaction after just four – six drops. While the plants kept their leafs closed at the beginning they started to reopen them step by step after this period. Mimosa learned that no significant harm followed the stimuli and that there is no need for an arduous defense mechanism. They state „Because of the very fact that much of the advances in learning research come from humans and animals, the acquisition and use of information through the learning process is implicitly accepted to be contingent on neuronal processes (or artificial neural networks modeled on their biological counterparts, in the case of machines), a view that inevitably excludes non- neural organisms such as plants from the behavioral realm of learning, memory and decision-making (but see Trewa- vas 2003). What we have shown here, however, leads to one clear, albeit quite different, conclusion: the process of remembering may not require the conventional neural networks and pathways of animals; brains and neurons are just one possible, undeniably sophisticated, solution, but they may not be a necessary requirement for learning.“ [16]
What does it mean for our interaction with plants? We tested the idea of a sensitive and intelligent plant in a small group of 7 people. For this experimentation we focussed on one aspect of that project, inspired by Gaglianos experiment on Mimosa. Two plants where enabled to recognize humans approaching, one was supposed to be timid and frightened the other one should behave unimpressed. So this might rise questions about their experiences in the past.
We also used Mimosa  Pudica combined with a reaction booster. The timid one was equipped with an infrared sensor to point out humans in a certain distance and LED bar graphs to represent the plant’s stress level. The closer the users approached the faster the LEDs reacted. In addition to that this plant didn’t look that fresh any more and had several leafs closed. The other plant looked fresh and healthy. It was not connected to the sensor but equipped with a LED bar graph as well. In contrast to the nervous one the calm plant’s bar graph would not change speed being approached. Instead there would be a constant light signal to represent its calmness.
In addition to that we provided a liquid declared as slightly narcotic potion to be applied if the users wanted to change the nervous plant’s situation. This intervention would cause a calming down. A short description of the mimosa experiment and a full version of Gaglianos paper were also put on the table to provide access to background information.
As a warm up we provided a questionary with questions like: Do you like plants? Are you good in taking care of them? Do you enjoy taking care of your plants? Why? Do you appreciate your plants? Do you enjoy nature? Why? Then we shortly explained the original experiment in Florence and stated, that our experimentation is inspired by it. We equipped our Mimosa with technological extensions to visualize their reactions. Then we asked the users to approach the plant slowly and comment what they observe and how they interpret it. While people where commenting their thoughts we asked several questions: What do you see? How could you interpret this? Can you make conclusions about it’s experiences? Would you like me to intervene? Would you like me to apply the narcotic position? Do you feel better after I intervened? Why? Do you think we could teach the plant to behave differently? Do you think this was a real experimentation? Why? The experiment took place in a clean, scientific setting to frame the research character.
The people reacted quite sensitive when they realized hat the plant seemed to become nervous by being approached. They mentioned several probable reasons to explain the varying expressions of the two plants: „Maybe the calm one is used to get in touch with humans, the other one not yet“ „Maybe it’s afraid of what will happen, and that may also be the reason for closing the leafs“ „Maybe it expects a threat or it is excited because there will be something to drink soon.“ „It doesn’t look very well. I guess every touch is a bigger threat for it than for the fresh one“. All of them tended to use personalizing expressions to describe the reactions like fear, panic, nervous, excited, like a snake measuring distance, like a little, nervous child, reminds me on a heartbeat, chilled, silent. Three of them even stated, that they saw the nervous plant closing its leaves or moving slightly, by approaching it. That was a very surprising statement, as there wasn’t any movement in fact. Three of them intuitively stepped backwards when the LED became faster. Two of the group refused to apply the narcotic potion because of ethical reasons. „I think, if it was an object it would be different, but as it is a plant … it has a kind of personality, maybe it is a little bit of projection. But because there is a direct reaction it is kind of humanized. That’s the reason why I would rather not do it. To be honest.“ One felt guilty after we applied it. Another one asked „Will it survive this day?“
After being questioned, if we could teach the plant to behave differently four of them responded with yes. One asked if this is preferable as it undermines the plant’s natural behavior.
As last question we asked: Do you think that this experiment was real? Two where convinced of the truthfulness of our prototype, one had doubts concerning the narcosis part, but was confident with the first part. To the question why they responded with no, the sceptic persons listed different reasons: One of them had recognized the sensor. Others specified their suspect „No, the dropped leafs looked so staged. But exciting, I never heard something like this before. Of course, planst do give feedback, but usually it is not perceivable that fast.“ Another one stated „It may be different if I could see that something on the plant is changing, like the color for example. So that the excitement is visible. At the moment it’s just a digital representation, that’s the reason why I’m a little bit sceptic.“
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