Empathy, Intelligence, and the Intricate Lives of Animals, Plants, Fungi, Slime Molds, and More

Empathy and intelligence have long been considered unique to humans, but recent research has begun to unravel the complex lives and social behaviors of non-human organisms. From intricate animal communication to the surprising abilities of plants, fungi, and slime molds, our understanding of empathy and intelligence in the natural world is constantly expanding[1]. This article delves into the fascinating realm of empathy and intelligence across various life forms, revealing how these phenomena manifest in unexpected ways and challenge our preconceptions about life on Earth.

  1. Empathy and Intelligence in the Animal Kingdom

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, has been observed in various animal species. Elephants, for example, exhibit empathetic behavior by comforting distressed herd members through gentle touches and vocalizations[2]. Similarly, rats have been shown to display empathy by freeing trapped companions, even when it means sacrificing a personal reward[3].

Intelligence is another trait that transcends humans, with numerous animal species demonstrating remarkable cognitive abilities. Dolphins, renowned for their intelligence, have been observed using tools and exhibiting self-awareness[4]. Crows, too, display extraordinary problem-solving skills and adaptability, rivaling the cognitive abilities of primates[5].

  1. Empathy and Intelligence in the Plant Kingdom

While plants may lack a nervous system, they possess intricate communication and cooperation systems that reflect their own form of intelligence. Plants can detect and respond to changes in their environment, such as light, temperature, and the presence of herbivores, by altering their growth patterns or releasing chemical signals[6].

Furthermore, plants have been found to communicate with one another through a complex network of fungal connections, known as the “Wood Wide Web”[7]. Through this network, plants can share nutrients, warn neighboring plants of potential threats, and even exhibit altruistic behavior by supporting weaker plants[8].

Though empathy, as we understand it in animals, may not directly apply to plants, their ability to respond to and interact with their environment and other plants indicates a form of intelligence that is still being explored by scientists.

  1. The Curious World of Fungi and Their Unique Intelligence

Fungi, a diverse group of organisms that includes yeasts, molds, and mushrooms, also demonstrate unique forms of intelligence. They can alter their growth patterns and behavior in response to environmental stimuli, such as the presence of food sources or potential competitors[9].

Mycelium, the thread-like network of fungal cells, is capable of transmitting information and nutrients throughout the organism. This network has been compared to a rudimentary neural network, allowing fungi to make decisions and adapt to their environment[10]. The discovery of fungal communication and decision-making has opened new doors in our understanding of intelligence in non-animal life forms.

  1. The Surprising Abilities of Slime Molds

Slime molds, simple, single-celled organisms, have long been considered primitive life forms. However, recent studies have revealed that slime molds possess astonishing abilities that challenge our perception of intelligence. Despite lacking a brain or nervous system, slime molds can solve complex problems, such as navigating through mazes to find food[11].

Physarum polycephalum, a type of slime mold, has been shown to display a form of basic memory, allowing it to avoid previously explored areas when searching for food[12]. This ability to learn and adapt to its environment demonstrates a level of intelligence previously unimagined for such a simple organism.

  1. The Importance of Understanding Empathy and Intelligence in Non-Human Organisms

The exploration of empathy and intelligence in non-human organisms has far-reaching implications for our understanding of life on Earth. By studying these phenomena across various life forms, we can gain valuable insights into the evolution of intelligence, the development of social behaviors, and the complex interrelationships between different species and their environments.

This knowledge can also inform our approach to conservation, as understanding the intricate lives of non-human organisms can lead to a greater appreciation for their ecological importance and the need to protect their habitats[13]. Furthermore, research into the unique abilities of plants, fungi, and slime molds has the potential to inspire novel solutions to human problems, such as sustainable agriculture, environmental remediation, and even the development of new technologies[14].

  1. The Future of Empathy and Intelligence Research in Non-Human Organisms

As we continue to unravel the mysteries of empathy and intelligence in the natural world, it is crucial that we remain open to the possibility that these phenomena may manifest in ways that challenge our preconceived notions of what it means to be intelligent or empathetic. By embracing the vast diversity of life on Earth, we can expand our understanding of the complex tapestry of empathy, intelligence, and social behaviors that underpin the living world.

The future of empathy and intelligence research in non-human organisms is likely to yield further surprises, as scientists continue to probe the depths of the natural world and uncover the myriad ways in which life forms interact, communicate, and adapt to their environments. By fostering a greater appreciation for the remarkable lives of non-human organisms, we can deepen our connection to the natural world and inspire a new generation of researchers, conservationists, and enthusiasts to explore the wonders of life on Earth.

Source List:

[1] de Waal, Frans B.M. “The Brains of the Animal Kingdom.” The Wall Street Journal, 22 Mar. 2013.

[2] Douglas-Hamilton, Iain, et al. “Elephants Reassure Others in Distress.” PeerJ, vol. 2, 2014, p. e278.

[3] Bartal, Inbal Ben-Ami, et al. “Prosocial Behavior in Rats Is Modulated by Social Experience.” eLife, vol. 7, 2018.

[4] Marino, Lori. “Cetacean Brains: How Aquatic Are They?” The Anatomical Record, vol. 290, no. 6, 2007, pp. 694-700.

[5] Taylor, Alex H., et al. “New Caledonian Crows Reason About Hidden Causal Agents.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 109, no. 40, 2012, pp. 16389-16391.

[6] Ballaré, Carlos L., et al. “Talking Plants: A Personal Perspective on Plant Signaling.” Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 69, no. 2, 2018, pp. 209-219.

[7] Simard, Suzanne W., et al. “Net Transfer of Carbon Between Ectomycorrhizal Tree Species in the Field.” Nature, vol. 388, no. 6642, 1997, pp. 579-582.

[8] Heil, Martin. “Within-Plant Signaling by Volatiles Triggers Systemic Defences.” Nature, vol. 411, no. 6839, 2001, pp. 854-857.

[9] Pringle, Anne, et al. “Fungal Networks Shape Dynamics of Bacterial Dispersal and Community Assembly in Cheese Rind Microbiomes.” Nature Communications, vol. 9, no.1, 2018, p. 336.

[10] Trewavas, Anthony. “Aspects of Plant Intelligence.” Annals of Botany, vol. 92, no. 1, 2003, pp. 1-20.

[11] Reid, Chris R., et al. “Decision-Making without a Brain: How an Amoeboid Organism Solves the Two-Armed Bandit.” Journal of the Royal Society Interface, vol. 14, no. 131, 2017.

[12] Saigusa, Tetsu, et al. “Amoebae Anticipate Periodic Events.” Physical Review Letters, vol. 100, no. 1, 2008, p. 018101.

[13] Mancuso, Stefano, and Alessandra Viola. Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence. Island Press, 2015.

[14] Stenuit, Ben, and Aurélien Carlier. “Opportunities and Challenges for the Sustainable Production of Structured Materials by Filamentous Fungi.” Fungal Biology and Biotechnology, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, p. 13.

Stem Burger, The Future of Meat

The world is growing. People are multiplying. We are all living longer. And we like to eat. How do you satisfy a horde of hungry humans that want to live a long and hearty life? In this day and age we can turn to science to answer that question.

Genetically modified organisms or GMOs are a thing of the past, present, and likely our future. It is so important for people to understand the uses and benefits of being able to mass produce food to satisfy the hungry population. Well, at least to prepare for a future necessity for more food.  A new development in the world of food has peaked my interest. The creation of the schmeat, or as I like to call it, the Stem Burger. It is meat grown in vitro, and is really quite a step in the right direction, in fact, in more than one way. For animal right’s activists it definitely is a blessing in disguise.

Related Article: I Believe in GMOs

Enormous swaths of the population can’t bring themselves to become vegan, so it’s logical to support in vitro meat if its goal is to reduce suffering of animals

Says Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). It would be something new, where we no longer harm animals or mass produce them, instead we’d use their cells to grow the foods we need, or clone them rather for our purposes. Playing god only as a necessity some would argue. Yes, yes…

Religious groups are crying out against stem cell research, and it isn’t likely that it will ever be fully supported, but when push comes to shove and there isn’t enough food to feed families, where will we turn? Mind you, these concerns aren’t something that we should fear or even worry about in our current state, but a stem burger could lead to other preparations for the future.

Granted, this Stem Burger actually wasn’t the best burger that participants of a taste test have tasted, however, with work, I am positive that a Stem Burger will become the number one choice for people in the future. Now if the scientific community could only use stem cells for medicinal uses without being criticized and scrutinized…

May that future come swiftly. Cheers!

Related Article: Don’t Fear Anti-GM Hysteria



Time: Meet ‘Schmeat’


Wondergressive: The Ugly Face of Overpopulation

Wondergressive: I Believe in GMOs

Wondergressive: Don’t Fear Anti-GM Hysteria

A New Tune for Grasshoppers

The days are long gone when the noise of crickets filled the city nights. I’m sure being overtaken by the sound of traffic was depressing for many animals, but they’re not all just laying down and dying. Some city grasshoppers have started changing their tune. They’re not so depressed anymore, or so quiet.

Grasshoppers in urban areas are changing the tune of their courtship songs so as to be heard over the sound of traffic.

A research team from the University of Bielefeld Germany have discovered some grasshoppers have started to change the frequency of their song to be heard over the roar of vehicles. This evolutionary change in grasshoppers could is very exciting to see. I can only imagine what the future will bring…




Related Wondergressive Articles:

Why Don’t We Eat Insects?

A Tick is Turning People into Vegetarians for Life

Mystery of the Dying/Disappearing Honeybees Solved

Healthy Honey Bees

Natural, Living Pesticides

The Profound Intelligence and Intuition of Elephants

Everyday, biologists are realizing with greater clarity that we are not the only self-aware and/or highly intelligent species on the planet.  Many animals even score drastically higher on tests dealing with memory, language, and problem solving skills.

Elephants are one of these exceptionally intelligent species.  What is especially interesting about elephants is that they seem to have an extraordinary intuition as well.

Lawrence Anthony, a legend in South Africa known as the elephant whisperer, spent his entire life saving animals and rehabilitating elephants.  On March 7, 2012, Anthony died, and something incredible occurred.

Two days after his death, wild herds of elephants, 31 in total, visited Anthony’s home to say goodbye.  These elephants walked over 12 miles to reach his house in South Africa.  The elephants, who had not been to the house in over 3 years or more, somehow knew exactly when Anthony had passed away and came to pay their respects.  The elephants carried such profound emotional gratitude for this man, their friend, that they remained at his house for 2 days and 2 nights without eating any food.  Then, they simply walked back home.

When will we shed our ignorance and choose sight over blindness?  When will the nonsense end? We are just animals, and we are sharing this hunk of rock and water with trillions of other separate forms of life.  Drop the ego and realize that our actions affect more than just ourselves.


A culture is no better than its woods.”  – W.H. Auden

A society is no better than its zoos.” – Wondergressive

An animal is no better than the way it treats other animals.” – Wondergressive







Wondergressive- A Group of Prominent Scientists Agree; Animals are just as Conscious as Us

The Daily Galaxy- A Moment of Zen: “Elephant Intelligence” –A Mystery of Our Universe

Discovery News- Elephants Outwit Humans During Intelligence Test

Wired- To Talk With Aliens, Learn to Speak With Dolphins

BBC News-Chimps beat humans in memory test

Laudator Temporis Acti- A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Beatboxing Cockroach Legs, and Squid Fin Cells Dance to Cypress Hill

This TED talk features neuroscientist Greg Gage as he dissects a cockroach on stage and plays various sounds through its dissected leg to make it move to the beat.  He demonstrates how electrical impulses are sent and received by the brain.  A very interesting talk with an especially eye opening ending.

If you just can’t get enough of these types of shenanigans, check out this video of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” being played through a squid’s fin.  Squids can alter the pigment of their skin.  Their cells (chromatophores) literally dance and change color in response to electrical stimulation.

How long before walls of chromatophores become the new fad in raves?

Women Have Semen in Their Brains

More specifically, a protien in semen penetrates the blood brain barrier and enters women’s brains, causing the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to release the hormones required for pregnancy. Apparently, semen causes women to ovulate.

Researchers have found that this protien exists in animals all over the world.  Chinese researchers actually discovered the finding in 1985, but because it was so counter-intuitive to common knowledge at the time, scientists simply ignored it!

In 2005 a new group of researchers verified what had already been known for two decades by injecting semen into the leg of female llamas, part of a group of animals that only release eggs in response to sex.

Morality In Animals

Morality in Animals is a TED talk that documents some very interesting findings regarding how animals exhibit what we think of as morality.

It is so interesting seeing animals behave in ways that philosophers have always imagined to be strictly ‘human.’ This information may help end the sordid ways we treat other species, and our own.

Why do we have zoos again?

Here is another article continuing the discussion of morality in animals.  It also remarks that “chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.”

These animals sound even more moral than many humans I know.

Morality In Animals: Chimpanzees That Risk Their Own Lives



Morality in Animals is a TED talk by Frans de Waal that documents some very interesting findings regarding how animals exhibit what we think of as morality.

It is so interesting seeing animals behave in ways that philosophers have always imagined to be strictly ‘human.’ This information may help end the sordid ways we treat other species, and our own.

An article from The New York TImes continues the discussion of morality in animals with their article on primate behavior.  It also remarks that

chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys  will starve themselves for several days.

These animals sound even more moral than most humans I know.


Why do we have zoos again?


Sources and Resources for Morality in Animals:

TED talk: Moral Behavior in Animals

Living Links Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution

The New York Times: Scientists Find the Beginning of Morality in Primate Behavior

Biology and Philosophy: Wild Justice and Fair Play: Cooperation, Forgiveness, and Morality in Animals