Parallel Minds, 53–57


Being in the World


The main limitation of Searle’s thought experiment is that it lays bare a widespread but essentially unfounded prejudice about the nature of intelligence. His thesis is based on a model that could be called ‘the man in the control room’: intelligence is interpreted as the result of a unitary already-developed consciousness located somewhere inside the brain, which functions by receiving a series of inputs from outside, understanding them and then processing an output in response to them. This heavily centralised view of cognition probably derives from the self-reflexive tendency of our inner life, by virtue of which our consciousness acts as a mirror, reflecting the world around it, while at the same time continuously reflecting itself. This ‘representational’ cognitive model implies that intelligence is to be identified with a centralised model of consciousness: the only authentic form of cognition would be one that builds a model of reality before being able to act upon that reality. On the contrary, for an organism like polycephalous slime or an intelligent synthetic material, there is no representation of reality that precedes and directs action. Instead, intelligence and action are one and the same: every signal that comes from outside determines an immediate and contemporary response to the stimulus received.…