Heather Barnett: What humans can learn from semi-intelligent slime | Summary and Q&A

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Heather Barnett: What humans can learn from semi-intelligent slime

TL;DR

This content introduces Physarum polycephalum, a slime mold with remarkable behaviors and potential applications in various fields.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is Physarum polycephalum and how does it differ from molds?

Physarum polycephalum is a slime mold belonging to the kingdom of the amoeba. Unlike molds, it is a single-celled organism that joins together with other cells to form a mass super-cell.

Q: Where can slime mold be found?

Slime mold can be found in its natural habitat, such as woodlands, where it forages on rotting vegetation. However, it can also be found in research laboratories, classrooms, and even artists' studios.

Q: What interesting behaviors have been observed in slime mold?

Slime mold has been observed forming connections between food sources, leaving trails behind to indicate where it has been, and finding better homes when it is fed up with one petri dish. It has also been observed exploring new territories in different directions simultaneously and recognizing itself when it meets.

Q: What experiments have been conducted with slime mold?

One experiment involved filling a maze with slime mold and observing how it established the shortest and most efficient route between two food sources. Another experiment exposed slime mold to cold air at regular intervals and found that it slowed down its growth in anticipation of the cold air even when it wasn't actually present. Additionally, slime mold was used to replicate the Tokyo transport network in just over a day.

Q: Where does the intelligence of slime mold lie?

Slime mold doesn't have a central nervous system or a brain, yet it can perform behaviors associated with brain function, such as learning, remembering, problem-solving, and decision-making. Its intelligence lies in a rhythmic pulsing flow within the cell, which allows it to form a complex understanding of its environment without a large-scale control center.

Q: How has slime mold been utilized in different fields?

Slime mold has been of interest not only to academic researchers but also to artists, architects, designers, and writers. It has been used as a tool for artistic expression, as a metaphor for social cohesion and communication, and as a biological model for studying principles that can be applied to electronics, programming, and robotics.

Q: How has the Slime Mould Collective fostered collaboration and engagement with slime mold?

The Slime Mould Collective is an online network that brings together researchers, enthusiasts, artists, and various professionals interested in slime mold. It serves as a platform for sharing knowledge and experimentation across disciplinary and academic divides. It has enabled collaborations, workshops, and public engagement activities, such as slime mold experiments and exhibitions, to explore ideas of intelligence, agency, autonomy, and cooperation.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Physarum polycephalum is a single-celled organism that forms a mass super-cell with thousands or millions of nuclei, operating as one entity.

  • Despite lacking a brain or central nervous system, slime molds can learn, remember, solve problems, and make decisions.

  • Researchers are studying slime molds to understand their computational abilities and applying the knowledge to fields like electronics, programming, and robotics.

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