The Space of Possible Minds

Philip Ball
Victoria Hall
23 Mar 2023 8:00pm - 9:00pm
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Understanding the human mind and how it relates to the world that we experience has challenged philosophers for centuries. How then do we even begin to think about ‘minds’ that are not human?

In recent decades, the mind – both human and otherwise – has been explored by scientists in fields ranging from zoology to astrobiology, computer science to neuroscience. Taking a uniquely broad view of minds and where they might be found – including in plants, aliens, and God – Philip Ball suggests a unified way of thinking about what minds are and what they can do, He argues that in order to understand our own minds and imagine those of others, we need to move on from considering the human mind as a standard against which all others should be measured.

By mapping out properties of mind without prioritizing the human, Ball seeks to shed new light on a host of long-standing and urgent 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?

About the speaker

Philip Ball is a prolific and award-winning writer on science and culture.

He is the presenter of Science Stories, the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of science, appears regularly on radio and TV that is a frequent contributor to Nature, The New Scientist, The Guardian, The New Statesman, The Financial Times, Prospect and The New York Times.

Ball’s books include Bright Earth, which was shortlisted for US National Book Critics Circle Award, Critical Mass, winner of the Advensis/Royal Society Science Book Prize and Serving the Reich which was shortlisted for the same award. In 2019 he won the Kelvin Medal and Prize of the Institute of Physics for his work in promoting the public awareness of science.

Ball trained as a chemist at the University of Oxford and as a physicist at the University of Bristol.

He has spoken to the HLSI Science Group on two occasions.

He lives in London.

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