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Can slime molds think? Computer scientists say maybe

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In “Slime that can ‘think’ its way through a maze could turn our idea of intelligence upside down”
(Daily Mail, 28 December 2011), Rob Waugh reports,

Amoeboid yellow slime mould might seem an unlikely candidate to become the basis of future ‘bio computers’, but scientists in Japan say that the mould shows unlikely signs of intelligence.

(Amoebas sometimes get together in colonies that can take on some functions as if they were multicellular.)

Colonies of the mould appear to be able to ‘organise’ themselves so that they take the most direct route through a maze to find food, while at the same time avoiding damage from light.

The mould even appears to be able to ‘remember’ dangers and avoid them.

What would be interesting to see – and the story doesn’t address this – is whether individual amoebas can negotiate these problems on their own.

A fascinating question is, is this a form of thinking – whether individual or collective? What type of thinking?

There is renewed interest in slime moulds lately, it seems. See, for example: The amoeba is one cell of a guy – especially when a bunch of them get together

It’s not clear whether such colonies will shed much light on the evolution of multicellularity – as hoped. The typical multicellular animal’s cells cannot leave the body and live. What needs explaining is not the benefits of multicellularity but the origin of radical specialization of cells and the resulting complete dependence on the multicellular structure.

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Not in the least surprised. We have wood-worm in our ancient flat, and they were particularly plentiful when we had a cat, which of course requires food. Word on the street/floorboard - intergenerationally, I might add - seemed to have got around that we'd help them if they fell on their back in the bath or got submerged in a bubble. Instead of freezing, they'd start furiously wiggling their legs legs, seemingly to attract our attention. Nurture, it seems, triumphed over nature. They seem to have their own 'tom-toms' at that level. Why not amoebae? Axel

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