Are complex ecosystems like ponds actually smarter than we are? Are they “thinking”? Gordon says yes:
Evolution is a pragmatist. It only cares about actual behavior. It is the getting and the doing that matter. The how can be approached in many different ways, through pheromone trails, or trophic networks, or nerve nets, or brains, or symbolic representation. Evolution doesn’t care. If you can get information and do something about it, you are thinking.
All we really need to say a system is “intelligent” is that it incorporates feedback. Loops generate reactions, learnings from past iterations:
What else? Suddenly, we see that we embody many forms of intelligence outside of our brains. Our DNA, for example, encodes the memory of millions of years of experience within our environment. Every life lived by our ancestors, all the way back to that first single cell. Each recursive step in the game of life, a gift to us.
I also loved this quote from cyberneticist W. Ross Ashby:
“To some, the critical test of whether a machine is or is not a ‘brain’ would be whether it can or cannot ‘think.’ But to the biologist the brain is not a thinking machine, it is an acting machine; it gets information and then it does something about it.”