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Intelligence Without Brains

World Science Festival

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Published on Nov 08, 2019
How much brain do you need to be smart? Bees and ants perform marvels as colonies, though each insect has barely any brain. And plants—with no brain at all—exhibit behaviors that, by any definition, count as intelligent. Brace yourself for a mind-bending exploration of plants that learn new behaviors and warn their brainless fellows of danger; vines that compete with each other; molds that solve puzzles; and trees that communicate and cooperate through a ‘wood-wide web’ of microscopic mycological fibers. Perhaps the real question is, are we smart enough to appreciate the vast range of intelligence that surrounds us?

PARTICIPANTS: Monica Gagliano, Simon Garnier, Thomas Horton, Naomi Leonard, Mark Moffett

MODERATOR: Natalie Angier


0:00 - Program introduction
0:57 - Opening film on the study of plant intelligence
3:45 - Panelist introductions
5:25 - Plant bio-acoustics
12:55 - Slime mold intelligence
19:40 - Interaction between fungi and trees
30:04 - Plant memory and learning
44:30 - Transmission of memory in slime molds
48:35 - Collective intelligence
50:22 - Leaf-cutter ant intelligence
59:04 - Swarm behavior
1:06:04 - Applying swarm intelligence to robotics
1:13:05 - Moving beyond the neuronal model of intelligence
1:16:15 - Consciousness
1:18:40 - Ethics of our interaction with plants and animals
1:23:05 - Environmental effects on collaboration

- Produced by Micah Fink
- Associate Produced by Matt Carlstrom
- Opening film produced / edited by Vin Liota
- Music provided by APM
- Additional images and footage provided by: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Videoblocks
- Recorded at New York University

The Big Ideas Series is supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation.

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