What exactly is the function of a brain? There are creatures that can very well get around without having a brain as we know the term.
“Even without a brain, a slime mold can essentially remember where it’s been, helping it navigate past complex obstacles, much like modern robots, researchers say.
These findings reveal how ancient organisms could solve certain problems well before complex brains evolved, scientists added.
Slime molds were once thought to be a kind of fungus, but later work revealed that these puddles of goo are part of a motley group of microbes known as protists. The yellow slime mold the investigators studied, Physarum polycephalum, is actually a giant single cell up to more than 1 square foot (900 square centimeters) in size with up to several million identical cell nuclei inside.
“For a single-celled organism, it has shown remarkable abilities, such as solving mazes, anticipating periodic events, and even making irrational decisions like we do,” said researcher Chris Reid, a complex systems biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia. “It is truly a remarkable creature that is redefining our notions of intelligence.”
This slime mold leaves a thick mat of translucent slime behind it as it moves, ooze that Physarum later avoids. As such, the researchers thought the slime mold might use this gel trail as a kind of memory.
“The key misunderstanding might be that slime mold has a memory like we do,” Reid told LiveScience. “I can’t stress enough that the slime mold is incapable of creating, storing or recalling memories like ours, because it does not have a brain such as we are used to think, even neurons.”
The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 8 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.(LiveScience.com of Oct 9.
Memory of slime mold is the trail it leaves behind. It is like the breadcrumbs by which Hansel and Gretel ensure their safe return from the deep recesses of the forest. It is the memory for future. The bread trail was meant for their return from the forest.
Defining memory from our own abilities that a brain is capable of, is therefore erroneous. Memory need not necessarily remain solely within the brains was shown in the case of slime mold. Memory could be drawn from external circumstances as well. In order to explain some extraordinary ways in which humans have arrived at solutions almost identical without having the means to pick each others brains may seem incredible. Now that the slime mold have shown the possibility do we unconsciously rely on external influences?
Consider the Periodic Table of the elements. From the time Pythagoras suggested certain harmony of seven planets as ‘celestial’ there has been attempts to explain his mystical leap into the unknown in many other areas. Take Chemistry for example. Why the elements when numbered in the order of atomic weights tended to repeat fairly similar properties at every seventh element like notes in a musical scale? Just as the Russian scientist Mendeleyev worked out the Periodic Table one German chemist by name Julius Lothar Meyer also had independently conceived the same periodic Law. Is it just coincidence or memory, collective or better still in the public domain of life forms, supplied the solution?
In human context do we not create memories for future as well? da Vinci on observing the sycamore seeds making through the air got an idea for helicopters. Only that the technology was not developed to make it a reality. Memory in our universe must be relative: complex multicellular organisms exercise their brain on the memory impressed in the environment just as matriarchal elephants can dig up salt and other needful minerals in the years of drought. These show their young so they may in future similarly leave a trail for their young. Memory that is more enduring in short is external and is passed from one age to another to which so many could access. If we have been using wars as settling difference indeed wars shall come uppermost when nations consider a way out.
Coming back to da Vinci what he set down on paper bears a milestone in the development of flight.
(ack: Music of the Spheres by Guy Murchie/Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston/1961-regarding the Periodic Law)