On February 7, Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, was sent a letter written on the behalf of slimy creatures that have, since May, enjoyed a collective faculty appointment at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. The slime mold’s recommendation for Sessions was that “cannabis and its chemical derivatives should be legalized by the United States government.”
Sessions was not the only Cabinet official to receive a letter from the mold (which is technically more like an amoeba, but we’ll get to that). The slime mold also encouraged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to adopt an open-border policy, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to ban offshore drilling, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to take a second look at food deserts.
The mold is Hampshire College’s first “nonhuman resident scholar,” complete with its own office and faculty webpage. (This very much fits in with the culture of Hampshire College, an institution that is so liberal arts it doesn’t have “majors” and that recently hosted an event exploring “the effects of mass incarceration through dance.”)
With the aid of human research assistants, the slime mold is using the problem-solving skills it acquired over a billion years of evolution to tackle policy problems. The project sits at the intersection of science, philosophy, and art. And it encourages us to consider natural forms of intelligence that exist outside the human mind.
For having no brain or neurons, slime molds — a.k.a. Physarum polycephalum — are incredibly intelligent, capable of solving complex problems with extreme efficiency. An additional plus: They’re naturally nonpartisan.
“Slime molds are not Republicans and they are not Democrats; they’re neutral; they’re other,” says Jonathon Keats, the experimental philosopher who convinced Hampshire to promote the mold to the ranks of its faculty and who penned the letters interpreting their work. “By way of observing what they do, [it] could be a way of getting out of our assumptions, out of our gridlock,” he says.
It would be a valuable perspective to have in the White House, given that the position of White House science adviser has remained vacant for the entirety of the administration. In fact, there are a lot of open positions in the Trump administration. This slime mold is free.
Now I’ve got another reason to avoid using “slimy” as an insult. The other one, of course, is Gootrude here.