Metazoa by Peter Godfrey-Smith

by stephenpalmersf

This terrific book is nothing less than a history of the likely evolution of the animal mind, starting from nothing, or, at least, from a past so distant there are almost no fossils. Published last year, it has already won many plaudits.

It begins with the simplest known multicellular animal types, focussing on glass sponges. In this and subsequent fascinating chapters, the author develops a theory of the animal mind using sensing and movement as his core processes. The chapters then go on to self-sensing, the crucial importance of knowing whether a stimulus comes from self or from the world outside, and then a look at how ever more sophisticated mental models evolved – and why.

Brilliantly written, compelling and fascinating, this is an excellent book. The author also has a go at analysing the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness, qualia. He is a materialist monist, so in my view he comes to a highly plausible declaration, which is that the mind is not something created by the brain, it is the brain, that is, when the brain is doing all its usual things. The mind in other words is not a thing or a consequence, it is a process. This leads to an excellent demolition of the usual SF AI tropes of mind-uploading, etc, which I had a go at in my novels Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave For A Fox (reviewers had differing opinions of the results).

This book comes highly recommended from me for non-specialist and specialists readers alike. The author’s first book on octopi, Other Minds, has been acknowledged a classic. I’ll be seeking out a copy soon.