Is Nature Intelligent?

November 12, 2017

This is a question of endless struggle. On the one hand, nature obviously produced us, and it becomes troubling to say "that which produced something as intelligent as us is itself not intelligent". On the other hand, chance, probability, randomness, and singularities play a huge part in modern science, and to question that would surely invite ridicule.

I had an eight hour round-trip drive this weekend where I got a chance to catch up on some fascinating podcasts. This one in particular was the Joe Rogan podcast with Paul Stamets, which Rogan himself says is his favorite podcast he’s ever recorded. I highly recommend listening to it. Around the sixteen minute mark, Joe and Paul discuss the idea of whether nature can be said to be intelligent. And I thought Paul gave a great response which, as Rogan himself said, is unequivocal.

Paul mentions how his brother was editing one of Paul's books on mycelium, which is the vegetative part of fungal bacterial colonies, and objected to Paul using the term “intelligent” to describe mycelium, or nature in general:

He was editing one of my books about how mycelium can save the world, and he goes, Paul, you cannot say that mycelium is intelligent! You can’t say nature is intelligent. And I go wait, Bill, I respect you, but you don't realize the hypocrisy of the statement you’re giving me? You’re telling me nature is not intelligent and yet you are born of nature, using the mind to conceive the concept to challenge the idea that nature is not intelligent—when you are part of nature?

Listen to the full podcast here. You won’t regret it.