Is it possible for oranges to become intelligent life while still retaining some of their essential qualities such as skin that can neatly be peeled off and reproduction through seeds and growth off of a tree?


closed as too broad by elemtilas, Cyn, Hoyle's ghost, JohnWDailey, jdunlop Feb 17 at 4:07

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. SciFi has played with this idea (see the character of Pa'u Zotoh Zhaan from the TV show Farscape.) before. The problem is explaining what can be retained as most of what's necessary to be a plant is somewhat antithetical to being intelligent. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 16 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ Right now, your question is super broad. Define "intelligent life" for starters. For preference without comparison to humans. Also, your question is unclear. Do you actually mean "an orange", as in a piece of fruit? Or do you mean "an orange tree"? I'm going to vote to put your question on hold until you clarify these things. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 17 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ plants lack a nervous system. Without such a thing, or some equivelent it is not possible for plants to evolve intelligence. Having said that.. humans and plants shared an ancestor a billion years ago. It is possible for some.decendant of oranges to be sentient.. but that organism would be as similar to oranges as we are to lobsters. $\endgroup$ – Richard Feb 17 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard An organism as similar to oranges as we are to lobsters. Spot on! It would be a long & complicated evolutionary path to get there, & with a remarkable panoply of selection pressures to achieve it too. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 17 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there were 'Bananas in Pyjamas', so I don't see why not, assuming you're not going for any sort of scientifical explanation, in which case, no, not a chance. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Feb 17 at 11:03


To be successful, the orange must be eaten in such a way that the seeds are not destroyed, but dispersed.

Imagine a fruit which encountered difficulty finding something to eat it. Maybe hungry things are few and far between. A mobile fruit could wander away from the tree which would improve its chances of finding something to eat it. Selective pressure would favor a fruit which could organize its wanderings to better fulfill its purpose of finding something hungry. Fruits which could overcome obstacles and solve problems encountered on the way would also be selected for.

When these intelligent oranges are eaten and the seeds grow, the tree is just a tree. It is intelligence on the part of the fruit that is selected for. It would be a very single-minded and purposeful intelligence, and not like the utilitarian omnivorous intelligence that humans have.

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    $\begingroup$ "It would be a very single-minded and purposeful intelligence, and not like the utilitarian omnivorous intelligence that humans have." I don't see why you couldn't have "orange philosophers" or what have you. Its just that instead of studying the meaning of life, they study the meaning of getting eaten. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Feb 17 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulesz - yes, yes, just so. As humans might consider the meaning of hunger with one eye out for anything happening by that might be eaten. Actually, exactly that, but the reverse. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 17 at 12:19

The fruit itself - no. Oranges are not organisms per se; they are propagation & dispersal containers for the next generation of organisms - fruit trees.

For a start; orange trees are actually more successful if the fruit gets eaten. This is why the tree invests so much energy into the production of fruit; so that animals eat it, consume the seeds, then go somewhere else and defecate out seeds with their other waste, providing the seed with fertiliser and a new location in which to grow. In that respect, evolution is going to work against the orange at every turn because the longer it 'survives', the less chance there is for the orange tree to create successful offspring. This is why fruits also change to bright colours when ripe; it's because from an evolutionary perspective, the tree wants them to be seen, and eaten.

Of course, if the orange develops intelligence and decides it doesn't want to be eaten, well that's a complication that the tree could do without, and it's bad news for them both - the tree doesn't get its seeds dispersed, and the orange starts to die the instant it separates from the tree by being picked. It no longer has any nutrients other than the ones in itself, and when it dies, it can't replicate itself, only another tree. So even IF the fruit was left in a condition where intelligence would prolong its existence, it has no way to pass on those genes other than to grow another tree, and it's competing against fruit that is already consumed as quickly as possible.

Also, while intelligence isn't knowledge, its the cumulative body of knowledge that we share with the next generation, upon which they build, that provides the foundation for the body of patterns that we work with to understand and recognise newer, more complex patterns in our turn. It's that ability to identify and recognise complex patterns that is our intelligence.

If you were to take a child (please don't do this, BTW) and at the moment of birth place it in an sensory deprivation chamber for the next 20 years, the child may have the capacity for intelligence, but that capacity has not been honed and built upon through observation, experimentation and the learnings of those who have also tried similar things.

Your oranges will be in a similar situation - by the time new ones are born, their parents are long dead so even if they had a way to communicate (which they don't), each generation is separated by the years involved in the growing of the next tree.

For the sake of argument however, what if instead of intelligent fruit, we went with intelligent trees that use fruit as their dispersal and propagation model?

This is certainly possible - they have an opportunity to observe the world around them, but they need much more than that in order to develop intelligence - they need memory. Without the ability to remember a pattern, they have no way of recognising it in the future.

In animals, that capacity to remember is laid down in the brain. In humans, we invest around 20 to 25% of our energy intake into our brains because of the massive benefit we get for that cost.

Trees on the other hand have been surviving, and thriving, for over a billion years without the need for that energy investment. Add to that, even if a tree could recognise a pattern that indicated danger, exactly what could it do about it? So instead of investing in intelligence, these trees invest energy in their propagation system - fruit. It's a successful strategy, and the only way that it's likely to change is to either become more efficient or for there to be a change (like complete absence of animals) in the environment that requires a different approach for success.

That said, neither of those scenarios will demand the heavy energy investment needed for memory and intelligence.

  • $\begingroup$ It is interesting to note that trees can feel pain, can distinguish sick trees from healthy trees and actually physically lean away from sick trees. Simple bio chemical signaling has been indicated, though whether this amounts to communication or not is anyone's guess. Fascinating what one finds when one digs into obscure sources. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Feb 17 at 2:34

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