To mark the US publication of Atlas of Anomalous AI later this month, we are offering eight essential reads about minds in all its forms. What do we know about intelligence? How did it come into being? What forms does it take, human and non-human? How might it change and develop in the future?
by Catherine Malabou
Malabou traces the modern metamorphoses of intelligence, seeking to understand how neurobiological and neuro-technological advances have transformed our view. She considers three crucial developments: the notion of intelligence as an empirical, genetically based quality measurable by standardised tests; the shift to the epigenetic paradigm, with its emphasis on neural plasticity; and the dawn of artificial intelligence, with its potential to simulate, replicate, and ultimately surpass the workings of the brain. Malabou's approach to intelligence emphasises the intertwined, networked relationships among the biological, the technological, and the symbolic.
Steps to an Ecology of Mind
by Gregory Bateson
Bateson was a twentieth-century philosopher, anthropologist, photographer, naturalist, and poet. During his significant and long-spanning career Bateson contributed to the social sciences, linguistics, visual anthropology, semiotics and cybernetics, and his work intersected that of many other fields. This classic anthology of his major work covers his life’s interest in psychiatry, genetics, and communication theory, and the nature of the mind.
‘The Circular Ruins’
by Jorge Luis Borges
In this short story Borges tells of a man, sometimes called a wizard, who dreams up his son. The story contains many themes and elements of magical realism that are characteristic of Borges, and is an allegory for the creative process and the mind itself.
by Peter Godfrey-Smith
Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith tells how subjective experience crept into being—how nature became aware of itself. Tracking the mind’s fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling, and eventually grew more complicated as they became entangled with others.
At the heart of this book is the revolutionary idea that human consciousness did not begin far back in animal evolution but is a learned process brought into being out of an earlier hallucinatory mentality by cataclysm and catastrophe only 3,000 years ago and still developing. The implications of this new scientific paradigm extend into virtually every aspect of our psychologies, our histories and cultures, our religions – and indeed, our future. In the words of one reviewer, it is “a humbling text, the kind that reminds most of us who make our livings through thinking, how much thinking there is left to do.”
The Master and His Emissary
by Iain McGilchrist
This pioneering account sets out to understand the structure of the human brain—the place where mind meets matter. Until recently, the left hemisphere of our brain has been seen as the ‘rational’ side, the superior partner to the right. But is this distinction true? Drawing on a vast body of experimental research, Iain McGilchrist argues while our left brain makes for a wonderful servant, it is a very poor master. As he shows, it is the right side which is the more reliable and insightful. Without it, our world would be mechanistic – stripped of depth, colour and value.
by Benny Shannon
This is a pioneering cognitive psychological study of Ayahuasca, a plant-based Amazonian psychotropic brew. Benny Shanon charts various facets of the special state of mind induced by Ayahuasca, and analyses them from a cognitive psychological perspective. He also presents some philosophical reflections. Empirically, the research presented in this book is based on the systematic recording of the author's extensive experiences with the brew and on the interviewing of a large number of informants: Indigenous people, shamans, members of different religious sects using Ayahuasca, and travellers. In addition to its being the most thorough study of the Ayahuasca experience to date, the book lays the theoretical foundations for the psychological study of non-ordinary states of consciousness in general.
Chimeras and Consciousness elucidates the astounding collective sensory capacity of Earth and its evolution through time. In this book, scientist-scholars from a range of fields—including biochemistry, cell biology, history of science, family therapy, genetics, microbial ecology, and primatology—trace the emergence and evolution of consciousness.
Understanding Our Mind
by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book looks at Buddhist psychology with insights into how these ancient teachings apply to the modern world. Based on the fifty verses on the nature of consciousness taken from the great fifth-century Buddhist master Vasubandhu and the teachings of the Avatamsaka Sutra, Thich Nhat Hanh focuses on the direct experience of recognising, embracing, and looking deeply into the nature of our feelings and perceptions.