The brilliant ball of slime
The Mycetozoa is a group of slime molds that reproduce by means of spores. When the spores grow, they produce unicellular organisms also known as protozoans. These protozoans group together and basically form one big ugly ball of slime called a plasmodium. Plasmodial mycetozoa can move, even though it is just a collection of unicellular organisms.
So… what is interesting about a ball of slime you ask? Good question. Just like every other energy-expelling organism, the plasmodium needs to be fed. It has the ability to move towards nutrients, and away from dangerous substances and light. This ball of slime, consisting only of a collection of semi-fused unicellular organisms, knows where to go. If that is not amazing enough, consider this: The subspecies of Physarum polycephalum is able to find the shortest route to food through a maze. Seems like intelligence to me. And this brings me to the following quote.
Nothing intelligent can come out of an unintelligent world – Alan Watts
It is just one example of the many we can find in nature. And I wonder…how is our intelligence different? It’s obviously more complex. We can’t really explain the intelligence of the plasmodial mycetozoa, so I doubt we’ll ever be able to explain our own intelligence. That being said, there is an undeniable similarity between the two. I believe that if I keep reducing my intelligence, at one point I’ll be a plasmodium.
The human snowflake?
We like to think that we are something different. That we are the only ones on this planet who are truly intelligent. Like we are a mistake or a fluke of nature that is purely unique. That there is a huge white space on the chart between the intelligence of man and the intelligence found in the kingdom of animals and plants. But as we uncover more and more about the complexities of the organic world, this perspective becomes increasingly fragile, almost ridiculous.
Just because we recognize intelligence only if resembles ours doesn’t mean there’s no other intelligence. We tend to personify intelligence, defining it only as we display it. This omits the complex and mysterious brilliance of the world around us.
We grew out of this world. It’s not by chance that we’re intelligent. It took billions of years before the big bang expressed itself in plants, animals, and eventually us. We are only slightly smarter than a monkey, raven or dolphin. If we are smarter at all, that is. The experiment appears to still be running.
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” – Douglas Adams
We have to understand that we are not a fluke of nature. We are an expression of ‘the happening’ as it unfolds. We are the big bang. We are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and more. It’s us. You are it. To separate our intelligence, to compartmentalize it away from the broader scheme of the ever-evolving world of seemingly-intelligent behavior around us, is to miss the forest for the trees.