A group of successful sophont sea plant provolves, the Brain Kelp are a form of sophont kelp, derived from large brown seaweeds of the order Lessoniaceae. They were provolved by the S3 entity Angel Road in the early eighth millennium A.T., on Garvek's World, a planet of cool shallow seas with many reefs, in the Blackbody Cluster region. Since then they have spread quite far across Terragens space and diversified into a number of different sub-clades.
As with many other provolves of organisms that lack brains, the Brain Kelp were provolved by simulating evolution from the unmodified form in software. The unmodified kelp was modeled in detail, then simulated evolutionary pressures used to drive the evolution of the simulated structures in the direction of sophonce. Although this took a very large amount of simulation time, the amount of real time it took was much smaller. Eventually a sophont evolved from the unmodified kelp developed in the software environment. This was then incarnated into a biont body derived from the evolved design (though, as with other examples, some 'debugging' of the design was required before it would function as desired). In this way, Angel Road evolved a sophont form of kelp without having to add entirely new or 'alien' structures.
Externally Brain Kelp appear to be kelp plants much like any other, large brown seaweeds with a holdfast attaching them to the sea floor and many long fronds extending up from it, made buoyant by gas bladders. These fronds can extend more than thirty metres from the holdfast. Although vulnerable to damage these fronds are quite tough, and will regenerate quite quickly if damaged. However, unlike unmodified kelp, the Brain Kelp have many highly branched holdfasts, and some of these have been modified into hands, while others remain in their original role of attaching them to the sea floor. However, also unlike unmodified kelp, Brain Kelp can detach themselves from the sea floor and move from place to place, 'walking' on their holdfasts, though rather slowly, and reattaching themselves as they will. Because of their home environment of strong tides and currents, Brain Kelp are thus very strong, both in an active sense and, even more so, in a passive one.
In addition to their many holdfasts, the major visual difference between unmodified kelp and Brain Kelp is the large swelling to which their holdfasts and fronds attach. This is the Brain Kelp's centre of cognition, and is usually rather wrinkled and brain-like in appearance, leading to their name. Not all Brain Kelp are terribly keen on this name, given to their clade by outsiders, but it has spread sufficiently far and wide that there is, at this point, little they can do about it.
Beyond this, the appearance of the Brain Kelp also varies depending on their home environment. Internally they are very different to unmodified kelp. The rudimentary 'nervous system' of a normal kelp plant (the system for sensing and reacting to their environment, however rudimentary, from which the brains of the Brain Kelp were provolved by Angel Road) has been expanded and modified to provide a level of mental processing power equivalent to that of a baseline human, with the brain in the swelling at the base of the plant.
Like other plant-based provolves, the Brain Kelp think and act significantly more slowly than an animal-derived sophont. Also, because their provolvers knew the limitations of the form they were provolving, the brain of a Brain Kelp is much more efficient, both in terms of 'computing cycles per thought' and energy usage, than that of a naturally evolved biont, even though it is, at its core, derived from the original organism.
In addition to their neurological modifications, the normal senses of touch and the chemical senses of the unmodified kelp plant have been retained and indeed enhanced in the Brain Kelp; their sense of smell is their primary sense. Sensory hairs have been added to the cognition swelling, allowing the Brain Kelp to detect sound. Also, vegetable forms of a single element of an insect's compound eye has been engineered into the Brain Kelp, and dot its fronds, providing all-round vision, although with rather low resolution. This vision extends more into the blue and ultraviolet part of the spectrum to be as effective as possible underwater, making the Brain Kelp unable to see reds and oranges.
They also have a highly developed system of chemical signaling, adapted from the chemical signals used in unmodified plants. They use this to communicate with other Brain Kelp.
A further modification from the original kelp is one which allows the Brain Kelp to obtain energy not just from light, but also from the movement of water past themselves - from tidal power - in a manner similar to that used by Turbine Plants. With some types of Brain Kelp this leads to their level of activity waxing and waning with the tides; in others energy is stored, leading to a more constant level of activity.
Brain Kelp are hermaphroditic, and breed by way of water-borne spores. Like unmodified kelp, Brain Kelp has a two-stage life cycle, with an alternation of generations, one being haploid and the other diploid.
The reproductive organs of the sophont form of Brain Kelp (the sori) are located on its cognition swelling. At certain times of year these release zoospores some of which settle into special net-like organs set into the stalks of the Brain Kelp (most of the zoospores are lost) and develop into gametophytes. There are 'male' and 'female' versions of these known as antheridia and oogonia respectively. For most Brain Kelp neither of these are sophont, or, indeed, much more than unmodified plants. Once the gametophytes are mature fertilization occurs between them by way of water-borne spores, and this gives a large number of zygotes, most of which are, again, lost to the sea, but some of which are captured by the net-organs of the Brain Kelp and which then grow into a sporophyte, an immature version of the sophont form of the Brain Kelp. When the sporophyte is sufficiently mature, it is planted on the sea floor to live for itself, in the company of its peers.
Brain Kelp live in groups (kelp forests), which they manage to their own advantage. They have plenty of time to think as they do this. Different Brain Kelp sub-clades live in different environments, and vary in exact appearance and physiology depending on this. Some Brain Kelp can actually swim, if slowly, using their fronds as paddles. Some sub-clades of Brain Kelp have modified themselves to that, in addition to their sophont kelp form, their male and female antheridia and oogonia are also sophont entities in their own right. Exactly how this is achieved varies from sub-clade to sub-clade. A few sub-clades have modified themselves even further so that the antheridia and oogonia are the sophont entities, which the kelp form is entirely non-sophont. These last groups are viewed with great suspicion by the rest of the Brain Kelp clade.
All Brain Kelp have very stubborn and aggressive personalities; this seems to be something which developed during their provolution process, as they fought the sea to survive, and is something which colours the psyche of the entire clade.
In Prim Brain Kelp societies individuals will fight and wrestle one another for the only things they really need - light and water flow. In more organised societies they may have rotas for light and flow availability, or a hierarchy of light and flow use. Given their psychology these hierarchies often rearrange themselves, violently. When their light and flow supply is assured, Brain Kelp often sublimate their aggression into science, politics and so on. Politics among Brain Kelp is usually very volatile.
Brain Kelp settlements often have barriers and access control, with individual Brain Kelp groups having their own space. How crowded this is depends on the availability of resources and, most importantly, light. Very few Brain Kelp structures have anything resembling a roof, and most have very open-work walls, too, to allow the free flow of water around them. In many places these walls are designed to maximise the water flow past individuals, and thus the energy they gain from that flow.
Like most provolves, the Brain Kelp species has had some technological assistance from the being that provolved them, Angel Road, which has started them on the road to becoming a power in their own right. This consists of a variety of bio- and other technologies which can operate without difficulty in their underwater environment, though of course not all Brain Kelp choose to use them. Brain Kelp with high technology use all kinds of technology to assist their lives. Medium-technology Brain Kelp are quite rare, as, with their acute sense of smell, Brain Kelp hate all forms of chemical pollution. For this reason they tend to be either low-tech or to use non-polluting high technology or, often, odd-seeming combinations of both. A few Brain Kelp sub-clades are sufficiently tough to be able to drag themselves above water for brief periods to work on the shore.
Some Brain Kelp sub-clades have chemical defences to protect themselves from herbivores and the like. Others have domesticated or engineered guard creatures, usually fish or other similar entities. Many use purely technological solutions.
POOL KELP One major variant of the Brain Kelp is the Pool Kelp. This is sub-clade of the Brain Kelp that uses the ocean as a neurotransmitter soup. Each 'family' of Pool Kelp is surrounded by a highly impermeable outer layer of self-interlocking fingerfronds, supported by multiple holdfasts and large air bladders just beneath the surface, thus cutting down on the tidal disruption of the 'brain pool'.
In the middle of the pool there are a few dedicated 'stirrers' which keep the water moving inside the barrier, and mix in the fresh seawater which slops over the top.
Additionally inside the brain pool there are lots of 'Thinkers' and 'Do-ers'. These are each a specialised type of Brain Kelp.
The Thinkers bounce ideas off each other by means of chemical transmission.
The Do-ers are much smaller, and require the relatively gentle tides in the brain pool to remain safe, as they have no holdfast, just a bladder that keeps them neutrally buoyant as they move around inside the pool. They perform any physical activities that are required by the pool, in particular repair and maintenance of the wall of the pool. Thus they act as the 'hands' of each 'field' of Pool Kelp. Individually they are not very strong, but they are dextrous and quite fast. For tasks requiring physical strength, they hook things into the support structure of the edge of the brain pool.
In some Pool Kelp each 'pool' is a single individual. In others, the pool makes up a cluster of individuals each one consisting of the Thinker and a number of associated Do-ers.
As with the majority of Brain Kelp, the primary mode of communication of the Pool Kelp is biochemical, both within the pool and between separate pools. Precisely how much communication takes place outside the pool depends upon the individual pool. Secondary modes of communication are tactile, using touch between individual kelp within the pool, and sonic. In many cases the wall around the pool forms a highly effective drum skin. Also, particularly in bad weather, biochemical signals can inadvertently escape the pool and be received by other pools. This can cause problems for both pools involved.
Text by Tony Jones
Initially published on 07 November 2005.