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Slime molds apparently are incredibly smart for a single celled amoeba and where their smarts lie is in building efficient transport tubes for nutrients, which rival our own highways. They do this by rhythmic pulsating, allowing them to think with their whole bodies. They have also put them into robots and had them guide the robots so I know complex motor control is achievable in them as well.

My aliens are very much similar to these slime molds, but there is one big difference, mine are human sized and have a human level of intelligence.

Could this method of thinking work for such an advanced creature and produce things like abstract thought, detection of symbolism, and all the other things that humans enjoy from their brains?

They do have a neuron system (an alien equivalent), but is entirely dedicated towards sight and is meant only to react with the rhythmic pulsating and cause changes. Also the rhythm in them, unlike in the actual slime molds does't need to be universal: different parts of different pulsating structures could be producing the thoughts. But if possible I would prefer to squeeze as much intelligence out of as simple a system as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ I see a problem that you seem not to address here. Is the pulsating the only mechanism of transfer of information? I imagine chemical is a factor too, but do your aliens also have electrical communication? $\endgroup$ – Jake Apr 26 '18 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Jake yes they can transfer information via chemicals and electrical communication but the pulsating is the most advanced and the electrical communication is the least advanced system $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Apr 26 '18 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ How do you define advanced? Another possible problem is that mechanical will not be as fast a electrical. So the pulsating will not be as fast as electrical signaling. $\endgroup$ – Jake Apr 26 '18 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ the neural system for the eyes is about as advanced as the brain of a rat $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Apr 26 '18 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ A single-celled humanoid ain't gonna happen. (There's nothing to hold it up. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 26 '18 at 4:21
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Unfortunately, you have a major problem:

Mechanical is not as fast as electrical. It isn't. See this for why. And, no. Liquids don't fair better because of this. Now the brain doesn't just act electrically, it has a chemical component. But that chemical component is really just regulating the electrical component.

However, just because a mechanical pulsating brain is out performed by an electrical brain, doesn't mean you can't have a pulsating brain that isn't mechanical.

Just make your pulsating brain work on the electrical piece

I mentioned that the chemical part of the brain worked to regulate the electrical part. That's because of ion channels and electrical potentials which work to regulate the charge across neurons, among other things I don't understand as I am not a neuro biologist.

However, I do see a way that your concept can work, but the inspiration is not the brain, but the spleen. According to recent research, the human spleen contracts to release blood cells into the blood stream when the body is deprived of oxygen.

Now imagine a situation that your creature was constantly in danger of facing as it evolved, that gave it close to no time to react and this situation had a (simplified) yes or no choice. But it had to make it in almost no time. The survivors might evolve some kind of organ(s) in the brain that could squirt neurotransmitters out into the brain as a hyper fight or flight response. It would need to keep a supply of neurotransmitters ready in a sac of some kind. There is the inflate part of the pulsating brain.

The deflate part comes when they are forced to make a decision quickly. Their brains would contract quickly to given them more neurotransmitters to act more quickly. However, this could lead to your creatures being terrible negotiators as their brains would pulse if they were stressed or lying. The species might need to convert to space Buddhism to ease their minds before negotiations, but honestly I don't see them performing well as emissaries.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, just one thing about them, their brain is are dispersed throughout the entire body through a pulsating network so could this system work with a brain like that? $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Apr 27 '18 at 3:42
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I am using duck typing here. You know the saying? "If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck." The fact that the duck takes one whole solar year cross the street doesn't make it less "ducky".

It's the same with your alien. If its processing system has as many parts as the human brain, and each part can act like a neuron - only through mechanical means, rather than electrochemical ones - then it should be as intelligent as a human.

As Jake states, mechanical processing is slower than electrical. This is related to how fast information flows within the system. But it does not mean that the same processing cannot be done. This XKCD comic comes to mind.

I'd also like to remember that an artificial neural network may be constructed to run in a regular computer with a single core CPU with relatively short bus and clock - which means it would be much slower than a natural neural network, despite being purely electric - but it would still be able to do much the same processing. You could replace the electronic parts with a series of servomotors and sufficiently large abacus'es and it would still be able to compute the same signals, just not as fast. By following this train of thought, a giant amoeba could be as capable as computer or an animal when it comes to processing. It just needs more time to think.

This might be relevant to you as well: How would hormonal sentience work and affect the way a brain works in a plant or fungoind?

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Building off of Jake's answer, I'm going to suggest a completely different approach to make your brain pulse. Your alien brain still uses electrical signals, but they are MUCH stronger than in humans (handwave how/why, or ask in a new question!). Additionally the brain has large amounts of ferromagnetic elements in it. Now as each electrical pulse fires, it creates a magnetic field that causes the nearby brain to twitch.

This would probably be more of a vibration than a pulsing, but the brain would definitely move.

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  • $\begingroup$ wait their brain or another person's brain? $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Apr 28 '18 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @user45751 im not sure I understand your question $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 28 '18 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ you said that it will cause the nearby brain to twitch, are you talking about these creatures brains or another creatures brain who is nearby $\endgroup$ – Amoeba Apr 28 '18 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ That would depend on the strength of the electric current. I was intending to mean only the nearby brain matter of the same creature, but if it was strong enough, it would be able to make other nearby brains twitch as well. This would probably be too strong though, it might cause damage to the brain emitting the field $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 28 '18 at 13:56

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