Have you ever heard of “smart slime”?
Physarum polycephalum is a type of slime mold. Fun, right? Well, it’s actually found in many natural areas around the world. If you run across it, throw it a puzzle!
This mold is capable of solving complex mazes and other spatial problems without a brain or nervous system. Ok, not a boxed puzzle.
Despite lacking a brain, this organism has navigated mazes and established efficient routes between food sources. Scientists still don’t know what to think.
How does “smart slime” work?
So how does Physarum polycephalum do it? According to some researchers, the key lies in the way that this slime mold processes and responds to information.
Humans and other animals rely on centralized nervous systems to process and interpret information from the environment. But slime molds are decentralized and they exhibit a more distributed form of intelligence.
One striking example of this distributed intelligence can be seen in the way that slime molds navigate mazes. When placed in a maze with multiple food sources, slime molds are able to explore and test different paths! They gradually identify the most efficient routes between the food sources. This ability has been attributed to the slime mold’s ability to sense and respond to different environmental cues. In other words, they can sense the presence of food, humidity, and light. But it’s a whole extra step to use that information to solve problems!
Some researchers have suggested that the slime mold’s ability to solve spatial problems may be related to its ability to process information in a way that is fundamentally different from known forms of intelligence. For example, one study found that Physarum polycephalum is capable of solving the “shortest path problem.” This involves finding the shortest route between two points in a network.
Humans typically solve this problem by analyzing and comparing different routes. But slime mold is able to accomplish the same task by physically growing and adapting to the network itself. Say what?!
Nature loves a puzzle
Despite its remarkable abilities, Physarum polycephalum is still a subject of ongoing research and debate among scientists. Some researchers believe that the slime mold’s distributed intelligence may hold the key to developing new forms of artificial intelligence. Other people are understandably freaked out by that.
Many scientists are focused on understanding the fundamental biological mechanisms underlying its behavior before they go trying to turn it into a monster.
One thing is clear: the slime mold’s abilities are truly remarkable. As we continue to study and learn from this fascinating organism, we may even discover new insights into the nature of intelligence, adaptation, and evolution itself.
Source: “This Weirdly Smart, Creeping Slime Is Redefining How We Understand Intelligence” — ScienceAlert