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Slime Mold Solves a Maze: Unicellular "Intelligence"

In Japan, it's a common insult to call someone "one-cellular" for being stupid, but that put down may not actually be true: In 2001, Dr. Toshiyuki Nakagaki at Riken Institute, Japan, discovered that slime mold* can solve a maze!

Solving a maze: (a) Initial condition with no nutrients. (b) After application of nutrients at two sites. Extensions retract from dead ends, but continue to connect sites possibly containing nutrients. (c) Longer connections gradually disappear. (d) Only the shortest route between the two nutrient sites remain connected. It takes half a day to move from state 'a' to 'd'.

This brings up a question whether something that has no consciousness can be considered intelligent:

I believe that such unconscious information processing mechanisms exist, to a greater or lesser extent, in all living things (for instance, the grouping tendencies of ants, or paramecium). Is this kind of information processing to be considered intelligence? On the other hand, are people with no conscious awareness of themselves, such as one in a coma, or merely asleep, to be considered unintelligent? If we can answer these questions, then we should be able to answer the question as to whether or not single-celled animals possess intelligence.

http://www.riken.go.jp/lab-www/frontier-div/NEWSLETTER/feb2001/ameboid_e.htm - via Scribal Terror

*You can argue that they're not exactly "one-cellular" in the traditional sense as swarms of slime mold Physarum polycephalum cells fuse together to form a plasmodium (a gigantic cell with multiple nuclei and no cell membranes between them). Take my word for it, slime molds are weird!


All it's doing is minimizing its surface area. Even non-living things can do that (think of a droplet of oil immersed in water).

They do bring up the point that people refer to "intelligent materials", but I think the study does more to show the ridiculousness of that label rather than the actual intelligence of the slime mold. "Smart materials" or "responsive materials" would perhaps be better.
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Plants can re-orient themselves to get more sunlight too, but I wouldn't call that intelligence. Putting the slime mold in a maze seems misleading.
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Silliness.
If a plant is placed in the same maze, with nutrients at one end, it would be intelligent? Its roots would fill out the same maze, and in the end, the root that finds the nutrients would grow the strongest. Same result.

Am I missing something?
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It didn't solve the maze, it just expanded to every possible pathway. If it had gone straight from one end to the other, that would've been intelligence, possibly.
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All it did was pull back the parts of it that weren't most connected to the nutrient sources, to which it was apparently connected at the start and end of maze. Now, if it had grown from one end to the end to get the nutrients, that'd be impressive.
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I agree with commenters. Also, did it 'pull back' from non-nutrient paths, or did the cells in that chain just die off from not being fed?

In any case, it's just doing it's thing, growing toward a food source. If you consider that intelligent, then we must consider a whole bunch of things 'intelligent', like DNA and virii, various internal organs, all types of plants and stuff.

Putting something in a maze is a poor test for this kind of thing, i think. Why do so many 'scientists' think maze=smart? bah!

-
Scientist
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Slime molds are freaking awesome. I had one in my back yard about a year ago and it was just fascinating. If I would have encountered one of those in my experiment-on-everything-you-can-find-in-the-back-yard preteen years, I would have had days of fun with that thing. If you haven't already, look up slime molds on wikipedia.
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Slime molds are fascinating. I had one in my back yard about a year ago. I had to throw it out because I was afraid the dogs would eat it, but if I found one as a kid I would have had days of fun experimenting with it.
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