Science & Technology
Brainless blob can think and make decisions
July 26, 2021 | 10 comments
Even a brainless blob can make decisions. Image Credit: Nirosha Murugan / Harvard University
Scientists have observed a type of slime mold that is surprisingly brainy given its total lack of a brain.
Obligatory political jokes aside, the research - which concerns a type of slime mold known as Physarum polycephalum
- has forced scientists to reconsider what constitutes 'brainless'.
Intriguingly, despite having no 'brain' to speak of, this blob-like organism was found to be capable of surprisingly complex calculations and decision-making (for a blob anyway).
To find out more, researchers from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University conducted an experiment designed to test its environmental awareness.
The findings revealed a "novel preference and sensing capability in the unicellular organism", with the mold using its body as "both a distributed sensor array and computational substrate."
The study suggests that further research into 'brainless' organisms is warranted.
"What's cool about Physarum is that its decision-making behavior is its morphogenesis," said senior author Mike Levin. "It ends up being a very nice intersection point between decision-making in three-dimensional space, which is behavior, and decision-making in morphological space and patterning."
"Because we don't have any chemical sources, we can truly see how this thing is thinking, or what it is using to think," said study first author Nirosha Murugan.
"What we see is that in its initial thinking or 'buffering' stage, as I think about it, it's using information from its environment from a biophysical point of view, by tugging or sensing the actual substrate, and then processing that information and growing towards the higher mass strain, or strain angle."
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