Parallel Minds, 143–148


Minds in the Web


The ‘strange minds’ we have explored, from Physarum polycephalum to octopi, from spider silk to artificial smart materials, call into question the conventional conception of the human mind as a centralised structure, organised around a single ‘command centre’ from which instructions for the control of the organism are sent out, and through which information about the external environment is collected. On the contrary, these minds owe their intelligence to their decentralised and diffused structure, in which a multiplicity of simple mechanisms combine to elaborate a complex response to the world in which they are located. It is therefore necessary to question, once again, the meaning of the word ‘intelligence’ when we use it to define non-human organisms and materials: it is now clear that although the mind, at least in our everyday perceptions, seems to function like a mirror, first building a unitary representation of reality and then acting within it, there are also minds that function in a non-representative way, without any need to build a reflective image of themselves and the world, and yet still manage to exhibit intelligent behaviour, adapting to their environment in response to external stimuli.…