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The Book of Minds

How to Understand Ourselves and Other Beings, from Animals to AI to Aliens

The Book of Minds

How to Understand Ourselves and Other Beings, from Animals to AI to Aliens

Popular science writer Philip Ball explores a range of sciences to map our answers to a huge, philosophically rich question: How do we even begin to think about minds that are not human?
 
Sciences from zoology to astrobiology, computer science to neuroscience, are seeking to understand minds in their own distinct disciplinary realms. Taking a uniquely broad view of minds and where to find them—including in plants, aliens, and God—Philip Ball pulls the pieces together to explore what sorts of minds we might expect to find in the universe. In so doing, he offers for the first time a unified way of thinking about what minds are and what they can do, by locating them in what he calls the “space of possible minds.” By identifying and mapping out properties of mind without prioritizing the human, Ball sheds new light on a host of fascinating questions: What moral rights should we afford animals, and can we understand their thoughts? Should we worry that AI is going to take over society? If there are intelligent aliens out there, how could we communicate with them? Should we? Understanding the space of possible minds also reveals ways of making advances in understanding some of the most challenging questions in contemporary science: What is thought? What is consciousness? And what (if anything) is free will?

Informed by conversations with leading researchers, Ball’s brilliant survey of current views about the nature and existence of minds is more mind-expanding than we could imagine. In this fascinating panorama of other minds, we come to better know our own.

512 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Cognitive Science: Human and Animal Cognition

History of Science

Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind

Reviews

"Ball argues that we must look beyond our own brains and delve into the minds of other creatures if we want to truly understand ourselves and comprehend the possibility of alien or machine intelligence."

New Scientist, "Don't Miss"

“A journey into the concept of the mind, mixing neurology, philosophy, technology, and other disciplines.  Although everyone has a mind, few experts agree on its makeup. Ball delivers a fine investigation of the possibilities. . . . Many of his topics are among the hottest in neuroscience today, explored by scores of academics and popularizers such as Oliver Sacks, Antonio Damasio, and Daniel Dennett. Building on their theories and others, Ball makes a useful addition to the literature. A difficult subject lucidly illuminated, if not fully explained.”

Kirkus Reviews

"Ball, a former editor at Nature, attempts to conceptualize the makeup of minds truly alien to our own, including those of plants, robots, and fungi. He provides a definition of what it means to have a mind (it’s all about an entity’s particular experience of being itself), and in doing so, illuminates much of what makes human minds unique."

Publishers Weekly

“The award-winning science writer [Ball] explores the diversity of thinking minds, from our human ones to those of mammals, insects, computers, and plants.”

Bookseller

"Comprehensive and far-ranging. . . . This extensive tome will be a must-read for those with a keen interest in psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science, and for those who want to embark on a deep dive into the significance of the mind."

Library Journal

The Book of Minds is an extremely thoughtful, well-written, and entertaining survey of current views about the nature—and existence—of minds. While fairly light in tone and often humorous, the book itself is quite serious, and Ball does an excellent job of explaining difficult or abstruse concepts (from quantum mechanics to evolution to neuroscience) in clear language. Omnivorous in its consideration of topics and resistant to dogmatism, Ball’s book is a sustained, intelligent meditation on questions of deep scientific and human importance.”

David Sepkoski, Thomas M. Siebel Chair in History of Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, author of "Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene"

“Ball’s synoptic overview of all the sorts of minds that may exist brings together a huge wealth of ideas and facts, presenting them in a digestible and engaging form. Beginning with a discussion of what we mean by mind and what seems notable about human minds, he considers, in turn, various sorts of animals, plants, animal colonies, AI, aliens, and God, before wrapping up with a chapter on the problem of free will. A valuable introduction to scientific and philosophical work on the varieties of mindedness.”

Luke Roelofs, Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, New York University, author of "Combining Minds: How to Think about Composite Subjectivity"

Table of Contents

1. Minds and Where to Find Them
2. The Space of Possible Minds
3. All the Things You Are
4. Waking Up to the World
5. Solomon’s Secret
6. Aliens on the Doorstep
7. Machine Minds
8. Out of This World
9. Free to Choose
10. How to Know It All
Acknowledgements
End notes
Bibliography
Index

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