Loved Books: The Mind’s I

Digging through boxes I found this ageing copy of the Mind’s I — underneath is a copy of Godel, Escher, Bach that you probably all knew that I have somewhere. The GEB doesn’t get an entry in this series because it’s a relatively new copy after the original one I owned vanished (possibly sucked into a vortex of self-reference)*.

The best way of describing The Mind’s I is as an anthology. It’s a collection of essays, stories and extract of things about the mind and identity. Looking back now at the list of writers I’m struck by two things:

  • So many are people whose other work I’ve sought out or re-encountered in other contexts.
  • Unless I’m mistaken the book had zero contributions from women.

That last point is what really dates the book. It feels absurd now that a book expression seeking to present multiple view points on the mind and self managed to miss half of humanity.

*[It was the Penguin version that had a Penrose triangle on the front.]


5 thoughts on “Loved Books: The Mind’s I

  1. Great book! I seem to recall that one piece in it was similar to the later Egan shortly “Learning to be Me” (independent invention, I suspect).

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    • I think the common idea is generic enough as to have been in the air already. The Dennet piece was using a SF idea to emphasise the cognitive aspects but… how common was the idea by the early 80s?


      • Could be. Lots of philosophers were thinking about problems of identity and lots of SF writers were thinking about transfer of consciousness to computers since well before the 1980s, I suspect.

        Another piece I love in “The Mind’s I” is “An Unfortunate Dualist” by Raymond Smullyan

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      • “Where am I?” was certainly late 70s rather than early 80s – I saw Dennett perform it (the only fair way of describing quite a memorable experience) at a philosophy society meeting at Bristol University in 1978.

        Trying to think back to the time, I think that (quite apart from the performance) “Where am I?” did come across as at least mildly philosophically innovative – behaviourism was considered rather out of date, but the fashionable replacement was “Australian materialist” version of mind-brain identity theory, championed by J J C Smart, which held that one’s mind was identical to one’s brain, but without giving much more reason that both seemed to be sort of situated in much the same physical position. Dennett was at least giving a sketch of an idea how, by considering brains as computers, one might suggest how minds and brains could be related.

        Having said that, it is fairly obvious in retrospect that this was very much a case of “steam engine time” – the individual ideas were already out there, and, as “Godel, Escher, Bach” came out the next year, Hofstadter must already have been developing similar ideas independently. By the time “The Mind’s I” came out in 1981, Hofstadter and Dennett were even in a position to include Searle’s original version of the Chinese Room counterargument.

        For that matter, to find almost any of the ideas that Dennett used in “Where am I?” before 1978 (and often well before) in science fiction, I doubt that one would have to go any further than Heinlein. However, Heinlein was using the different ideas in different works, and had never actually brought them together in the one story. By the mid-1980s, it was becoming natural to do so.

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