Worldbuilding Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for writers/artists using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Would a creature similar to semi-aquatic slime mold living on a mostly freshwater planet with shallow seas be able to build technology to the extent that modern humans do? Assuming that each individual cell in the slime mold had a form like that of amoeba in the genus Chaos and had organelles that effectively work as dna computers, would the collective be able to have an intelligence greater than or equal to that of a human if each colony contained, say, 100 billion of the single cells? And finally, depending on if the answer to the previous question is yes or no, would colonies have the capability of working together to achieve common goals?

Any help would be greatly appreciated, and thanks in advance

share|improve this question
Great question, but it makes me wonder what would happen if all the semi-independent and partly-intelligent cells in my left elbow suddenly decided to revolt and splinter off. – cobaltduck Feb 12 at 15:26
given the difficulty my fat fingers have to type on a cellphone without hitting four keys at a time I doubt a mass of slime could do it – Erik vanDoren Feb 12 at 17:57
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Welcome to the site Theocles.

First, no. While there are some examples of colonial organisms working together, creating modern tech requires significantly more specialization than your microbial colony would be capable of.

Each and every one of your microbes still have to worry about and deal with the day to day requirements know, staying alive.

In the human body on the other hand we have cells whose sole function is to support other cells so they can focus on making us think, move, etc.

So cell specialization is what at the base makes intelligence possible, and while colonies of single celled organisms have been know to specialize to a degree (after all how do you think we came to be) remaining in that state would preclude the possibility of intelligence.

The organisms certainly can work together, but not in a human, intentional, "Hey let's go build a house" kind of way.

share|improve this answer
This is mostly what I was going to say – bowlturner Feb 12 at 15:33
Ok , now I know what to add, thank you :) – Theocles of Saturn Feb 12 at 16:59
Perhaps economic specialization- amoebae learning "trades" that support the others' biological needs- could take the place of the biological cell specialization in multicellular creatures? Could make for an interesting array of characters- a grouchy old urea-filtration worker, corrupt immune system officers, an effete higher-cognitive-processes nerd... – Maxander Feb 12 at 20:00

It is not exactly microbial civilization, but this answer about living planet might satisfy your conditions. It is my favorite alien mind, Solaris.

share|improve this answer
Very cool , very cool indeed – Theocles of Saturn Feb 13 at 0:08

Human intelligence comes from the human brain.

Crow intelligence comes from the crow brain.

Crow intelligence is interesting because it developed separately from human intelligence, and that development resulted in a different brain structure, leading some to assign them "alien intelligence".

In both cases this development was the result of evolutionary selective pressure. In other words, those individuals who had larger more developed brains than others, received benefits from them that outweighed the costs, such as weight and extra energy consumption.

In order for your slime mold to develop intelligence, there would also need to be a similar selective pressure.

The development of a brain might not be required, if you consider the "intelligence" to be a phenomena that emerges from the collective, as we see with ants for example. But ant collectives aren't all that smart, despite each individual ant being far more complex than a single slime mold cell.

But at the very least for your scenario to become possible, there would need to be a selective pressure that made slime mold more successful at reproducing if its colony exhibited more intelligence than other colonies. And this pressure would need to continue to apply all the way from very basic intelligence up to the advanced intelligence you are seeking.

To examine the selective pressures that resulted in the evolution of the brain, and eventually sentience, in vertebrates, you could read up on the evolution of the brain.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.