The world's weirdest living thing should encourage us to rethink what we think about intelligence.
Over the weekend, the Paris Zoological Park debuted a new exhibit. Calling the creature The Blob, after the sci-fi horror film of the same name, it's wonderful to see the single-celled gelatinous mystery thing (Physarum polycephalum to be exact, and more commonly known as slime mold) finally getting some well-deserved fanfare.
We've sung the praises of slime mold before – it's neither animal nor plant, maybe some kind of fungus – but it solves puzzles and performs complex decision making. It does not have neurons or a brain.Found on the forest floor, where it rivals city planners in mapping out the quickest routes to food, slime mold has the experts baffled. What an exciting thing to be able to study.
Our friends over at the California Academy of Sciences' online magazine, bioGraphic, have a short film about the wonder creature, and given the Paris hoopla, we thought it would be a good time to share it. Called "Lens of Time: Slime Lapse," the film explores the work of Simon Garnier and his team at the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s SwarmLab. They are using time-lapse macrophotography in their research in an effort to make sense of the nature of these organisms’ “brainless intelligence.”
"By better understanding how slime molds move and make decisions, Garnier’s team hopes to shed light on how intelligence may have evolved in the first place," writes bioGraphic.
When I wrote about le clever blob in "The uncanny intelligence of slime mold," I concluded, "Who says you need an actual brain to be smart?" Humans are so impressed by our brains and opposable thumbs, but when you see what other organisms are doing ... well, maybe there's more to life on Earth than inventing the Internet and putting men on the moon. Maybe you don't need a big brain to figure things out ... maybe you don't need a brain at all.
As Garnier says of P. polycephalum, "I think what it makes you realize is that maybe intelligence is not that difficult."
"Or," he adds, "maybe we should redefine what we mean by intelligence."
See more at bioGraphic.