Physarum "Intelligence"?

A growing number of scientists are rethinking the question of intelligence. Defined by many as "purposeful action", intelligence is being recognized in - or at least suggested to be manifested by - various animals and even plants. Not to be left out, the community of scientists studying Physarum has reported on "intelligent" behavior by the true slime mold. Because this literature is so new (and somewhat controversial), we will be very selective in our coverage of such publications. But the fact is that a large number of people are attracted to Physarum by this literature and we as a community ought to acknowledge that growing interest, even if those of us who are 'rigorous scientists' feel obliged to treat the published findings (or the interpretation of those facts) with some skepticism.

Another reason for including some material in this section is that the interest in 'intelligence' has sparked the attention of some very gifted communicators and they are actually blurring the 'line' between reporting facts in conventional ways, with publicizing slime mold in a fashion that is almost media coverage. So, in the same sense that we often give consideration to reports that have some errors - because they also contain a great deal of 'truth' - we chose not to reject such coverage but to 'cover' it ourselves because we want to attract attention to our 'favorite' model system, even if we may be forced to explain what is fact and what is 'fancy'.

An article in Scientific American (in 2012) describes work related to the idea that some of the behaviors of Physarum plasmodia should be considered a type of intelligence. To read that article (and view an associated video segment), click here.

One example of a novel way of discussing Physarum was a presentation at a TED meeting. To see that presentation, click here.


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