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Many Minds

Mar 30, 2022

Friends—we're busy with some spring cleaning this week, but will be back in mid-April. In the meanwhile, here's a favorite audio essay from our archives. Enjoy!


Welcome back folks! Today is a return to one of our favorite formats: the audio essay. If you like your audio essays short, concise, and full of tidbits, then this one will not disappoint.

We take a look at a 140-year-old idea but very much a radical one—the root-brain hypothesis. It was proposed by Charles Darwin in a book published in the twilight of his career. The idea, in short, is that plants have a structure that is, in some ways, brain-like—and it is located underground, at their roots. We talk about how Darwin and his son Francis arrived at this idea, why it was ignored for so long, and how it’s recently stirred to life.



A text version of this essay is available here.


Notes and links

2:15 – The last page of Darwin’s The Power of Movement in Plants (1880).

3:25 – The 2009 paper by Dr. Baluška and colleagues about the history and modern revival of the “root-brain hypothesis.”

6:00 – The tinfoil hats experiment—and its influence—is discussed in this 2009 paper.

8:00 – The dust-up between Darwin and Sachs is described in this 1996 paper.

8:47 – The 2011 paper listing many of the environmental variables plants are now known to be sensitive to.

9:28 – Dr. Gagliano and colleagues’ paper on associative learning in plant and on plants’ use of sounds to find water. The possibility of echolocation is discussed here.

9:45 – For broader context surrounding the question of plants may have something like a brain, see Oné R. Pagán's essay titled 'The brain: A concept in flux.'

9:57 – The 2006 paper that inaugurated the field of “plant neurobiology.”

10:34 – Discussions of the “transition zone” of the root can be found in the 2009 paper by Baluška and colleagues, as well as in this more technical paper from 2010.

11:00 – The response letter to the original “plant neurobiology” paper, signed by 36 plant biologists.

12:00 – Michael Pollan’s 2013 article ‘The Intelligent Plant’ in The New Yorker.

12:05 – Anthony Trewavas’s letter, highlighting the power of metaphors in science.

12:26 – The 2020 paper about pea tendrils in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

Correction: The audio version of this episode misstates the publication year of Darwin's final book, about worms. The correct year is 1881, not 1883. 



Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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