Minds and Matter

Sunday, June 4, 2023
First Aired: 
Sunday, December 13, 2020

What Is It

Everything that seems to have a mind also has a body made of flesh and blood. But if we look at the diversity of animals found in the world, we find a huge variety of species that perceive and interact with the world in very different ways. Is there something all these species have in common? Are neurons and ganglia required, or can evolution generate consciousness in different ways? What can the study of evolutionary biology tell us about the nature of the mind? Josh and Ray sail away with Peter Godfrey-Smith from the University of Sydney, author of Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind.




Josh Landy  
How did evolution first produce minds?

Ray Briggs  
How can we tell which living things are conscious?

Josh Landy  
I mean, what would it be like to be a shrimp?

Comments (16)

tinkwelborn@mac.com's picture


Sunday, November 1, 2020 -- 6:25 PM

So, we have the teaser, where

So, we have the teaser, where's the entree?

admin's picture


Monday, November 2, 2020 -- 10:31 AM

It will broadcast Dec 6th.

It will broadcast Dec 13th.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 12, 2021 -- 1:22 PM

Somewhen, I have heard of

Somewhen, I have heard of Godfrey-Smith. The word, Metazoa means little to me. Just as did metadata, when first I heard it. Metazoa sounds metaphysical. Metadata, if I understand it rightly, means lots of data. So, does Metazoa actually mean lots of life forms? It might seem so. The book could be a good one. I may even read it....then, I would at least have a crack at understanding his position(s)/reasoning(s).
My ensuing remarks will likely be too simplistic; too pedestrian for PT's readership. I don't mind. I was out of circulation, just like a lot of others since March of 2020. However, that said, 1. I am a strong proponent of the notion of evolution. There are many of us, since Mr. Darwin. I have never had the privilege of visiting the Galapagos Islands. But, I have seen pictures; heard stories. It appears, with isolation, time has largely stood still there. 2. Mind is a quality of higher-end primates, i.e., humans and their precursive, hominid ancestors. There may be other thinking creatures. Somewhere. Those could even be Metazoans, or for all we know, protozoans.. We just don't know.... 3. It is concievable, I suppose, that in some other somewhere or somewhen, the 'zoans might even be artificial life forms of some sort. I mean, look at what we are doing with artificial intelligence!!! 4. There are other notable points of isolation on this little blue planet. Madagascar comes to mind. And, there are some pretty anomalous things living in Australia. Godfrey-Smith has doubtless visited some of those places himself.
Mr. Godfrey-Smith sounds like someone PT will have back. Maybe. The scroll of repetition seems a good formula for the shows. I further suppose it may depend on what he does; how he thinks; what he writes in the next two to six years?
I do not know if the Metazoan notion will endure. But, it is no worse than Searle's ideas about direction of fit, or Dewey's pronouncement regarding beliefs. Or even Donald Davidson's propositional attitudes Flavors change. Positions come and go. Giants live on. Dodos are extinct. Or, are they?....

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, May 13, 2021 -- 7:09 AM

Been hearing lots of ideas

Been hearing lots of ideas about mind, matter and such in the past few months. Several thinkers have dangled their toes (and reputations) into the abyss of consciousness. Reading Goff's latest right now. He writes of materialism, dualism and panpsychism, opting for the last as his position of choice---for the moment. Cristoph Koch seems the most avant-garde in his outlook. He asks:: IS Consciousness Everywhere? Being old school, I have to say, no, it is not, IMO. Seems many either wanted to explain consciousness or explain it away---the old joke regarding Dennett's book, some years ago.
Now, we have folks attributing this illusive property of mind to electricity,water, microbial life and a host of other more-or-less animate and inanimate materials. I cannot see it. This quasi-new age phenomenon obscures the unique nature of something which emerged from evolving life: awareness, the sense of self, and so on. The ideas about non-living things accruing ability to think are ludicrous on their face, seems to me. I doubt I am among a minority who think so. If, as some at least imply, consciousness just does not matter, maybe we ought to just leave it alone, rather than trying to rewrite reality. Hopefully, we will not give up on the adventure. To me, it seems too important. Far too much time and effort have been invested. Einstein never gave up on relativity. We should not wimp out on this one either. Maybe it is not what we think it is. That could matter much more.

Sure, consciousness is everywhere. That does not mean it is IN everything.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 16, 2021 -- 1:22 PM

Another slant on thinking:

Another slant on thinking: when Descartes posited his 'i think, therefore, i am'. he clearly had something in mind.. There are two readings of his intention in this statement. Whether one reads it one way or the other sorta depends on how conscious one believes he was, compared with his contemporaries. Some years ago, Julian Jaynes wrote about bicameral minds, and how consciousness originated when the bicameral mind 'broke down'. I don't recall him saying when that breakdown began. Or ended. Everything I have seen and experienced in a longish life indicates to me that we are still , frequently, unable to make up our minds. This was his point in calling indecisiveness bicameral. Some have suggested that schitzophrenia is an outgrowth of bicameralism..I don't know if that is right, or is just some theorem derived from deduction. I would speculate ( without irrefutable proof) that schitzophrenia has been with us from the beginnings of human consciousness, whenever those were.

Whatever we think of Jaynes and his ideas, we should understand, I think, that human consciousness is a gift, as Edelman put it: wider than the sky. Incomparable to any other quantitative or qualitative attribute we can think of. So, to the new benefactors of, contributors to the notions of panpsychism,I say be careful what you wish for. fYI, if you do not know, Jaynes still has a fiercely loyal following. Nothing wrong with that.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, May 16, 2021 -- 3:44 PM

I read Jaynes recently at

I read Jaynes recently at your suggestion Harold. There are many issues with his book that it would be good to ferret out in a PT episode. As you say, there are many fiercely loyal to his work. I'll take truth over ferocity any day of the week.

Metazoa was a good read. I'm more than happy to discuss that here. I haven't read Koch's latest book but will eventually. Hopefully consciousness will be largely sketched out in our lifetimes. There are enough good theories and models now to safely say some of them are partially right. As I have said before, some of Jaynes' best ideas are wrapped into Dennetts and others.

This show was perhaps underappreciated. Hopefully we get more like this soon.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, May 17, 2021 -- 2:31 PM

Amen to your statement on

Amen to your statement on truth. Agree. Wholeheartedly. As well as with your hope concerning consciousness. I guess I' ll have to add the Metazoa book to my list. My semi-retired neuroscience prof friend in Ecuador warned me of Australians, citing their criminal lineages. I think he was being facetious. But,, i just don't know.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, May 23, 2021 -- 8:47 AM

Metazoa, by Godfrey-Smith:

Metazoa, by Godfrey-Smith: outstanding book. Keen insights.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, May 27, 2021 -- 12:37 PM

You’ve probably answered many

You’ve probably answered many of your questions above by reading this book. Godfrey-Smith is enlightened, well-spoken, and careful. Having read this book and “Other Minds,” I do not doubt that there are more shadows of consciousness than just vertebrate examples.
I’m not sure he has keen insights, but whatever insights he has, they are not willy nilly. My thoughts on consciousness are more extreme than his maybe. I do have issues with the book – as I do with most things. Here’s where I would part with Peter, where I still have questions.

Metazoa anthropomorphizes too much with arthropods. Metamorphosis and social behavior are severe problems for evolution, of which Godfrey-Smith and most biologists are devout monks. Horizontal genetic transfer, social behavior, and eusociality (especially in insects) are problematic in ways this book leads readers astray. Something very different is going on with humans. Regardless of whether that is conscious or not, it needs more space than allowed in this book. Instead, the book pushes us to broaden our views on sentience.

Overall, 99 percent of this book I would fall in line with or have since reading it. Hopefully, others will as well. I doubt it.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, June 3, 2021 -- 3:28 PM

Loved the book. For where it

Loved the book. For where it went. 99% ? No. His approach is certainly thoughtful. I don't know how it is I find it incredible. Jaynes' notions about bicameral ( divided) mind were difficult enough. I suppose that if we are to believe, much/most of his claims/assertions, we must accept classical ideas about evolution, natural selection, etc. What I am doubting, doubted before, when reading his book, was the idea of divided mind, and that we were somehow freed when it 'broke down'. We have divided mind, seems to me. It is an occupational hazard. Godfrey-Smith's first love is oceanography. Matters of consciousness are secondary. His priority is clear to me. Anything else is gravy. Well, good or bad, that's how I see it.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Saturday, July 24, 2021 -- 9:13 AM

Peter is no oceanographer but

Peter is no oceanographer but a philosopher of science. I don't know what he loves, but the ocean is probably pretty high on that list. He stays very close to science in the 99 percent I follow. Where he speculates even it is not without qualification.

Jaynes referred to science as well as literature and history. There is truth to be found in that approach and the book. The bicameral mind is not one of these truths. Michael Gazzaniga has since qualified Roger Sperry and his work to remove most if not all scientific credit from Julian's work.

Despite that, Jaynes' work is a fun read. I thought I had read it before, but as is often the case when I re-read, it is like reading a new book. That is probably due to a lack of brain on my part rather than any one area speaking to another.

If you believe as others still do in the Bicameral Mind, note that it is potentially dangerous in treating disorders that Jaynes used to found his theory. That could be harmful to those people if you take it seriously enough to alter public funding or, in the case of a loved one, the course of treatment.

One neuroscientist published a theory of 10,000 minds in one brain just this year, so maybe the science is lagging on the bicameral view and not the other way around.

Sorry, I missed this post... this site doesn't track threads as well as others - which is its charm.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, February 22, 2022 -- 5:45 AM

All, duly noted. I see your

All, duly noted. I see your concerns, as mentioned in the above comments from july 24, 2021. I have not been an avid follower of Sam Harris, but something he either said (or echoed) struck me as cogent...your mind is all you've got. There has been discussion here and elsewhere on the notion of self or selfness. Some have argued self is an illusion. But I wonder if that is right. Insofar as most of us have a mind, it seems to me we(mostly) have a sense of self. It might even be claimed that self is a manifestation of that outside sense that is intuited but illusive...the same as, or emergent from consciousness. I'm not going that far---it seems too easy, far too, uh, obvious? What it does feel like is this: self and mind are properties of our being. Heidegger's dasein or something like that.
The stuff, constituting our brain and its' functions, is something like the machinery, or, platform for this mind/self program....well, I am just daydreaming here. But, it does appear that, on a different level, Godfrey-Smith's cephalopods think. Whether their minds afford a sense of self is, as they say, another story. Welcome to 2022. May we all be able to see more clearly.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
Daniel's picture


Saturday, April 29, 2023 -- 1:51 PM

Participant Neuman makes a

Participant Neuman makes a striking point at the end of the first paragraph, in characterizing the reference of terms such as "self" and "mind" not as objects which one can observe nor as subjects to which predicates can be ascribed, but as themselves ontological predicates of some or another existence. As well remembered is Kant's famous quip that "being is not a predicate", which remains uncontroversial in large enough circles that it can be safely assumed so here as well, the author here must be speaking of an alternate interpretation of the term "being". If Kant's phrase is reversed to assert that, although being can't be a predicate, it can nevertheless have predicates, is one making a nonsensical statement? This in no way seems to be the case, as one is predicated by what one is, to the point where one could take the individual away to which a proper noun refers and still have all the predicates of that person's existence, whether a shoemaker, traveler, sailor, or one who prefers strawberry ice cream to vanilla. And one could take a further step by saying that it doesn't seem to make any fundamental difference whether one perceives these predicates from the inside or the outside, from the viewpoint of the one who has them or from that of the one who recognizes them in another. Does this approach the issue to which the author refers? Should availability preclude curtailment of responsiveness-instantiation, readability predicated by being read would surely become the benefactor, (i.e., a reply if author is still available should be very helpful).

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
Daniel's picture


Sunday, April 30, 2023 -- 6:14 PM

Sounds like what's wanted is

Sounds like what's wanted is a consciousness-model which can apply across diverse species. Understanding a scientific model as a kind of fiction which is systematic and discussed as informative for non-fictional objects which are to be explained, in an article from 2008* Godfrey-Smith distinguishes between three types of applications of such models to objects: mathematical, metaphysical, and deflationary (or what might be called "replacing"). The first consists of abstract objects, the second of uninstantiated universals (as e.g. Plato's Ideas), and the third embodies the models which are independent objects and come to be governed by their own rules instead of those of the entities to be explained, (hence Godfrey-Smith's term "deflationary"), referring to the decrease in informative value. Computer-modeling can be seen to be of this latter variety. When talking about application of models of consciousness to different zoological species it is the second kind, the metaphysical, which appears to my mind as the most appropriate. This is because all that one can confirm by experience of the phenomenon of consciousness is what concerns one's own, the cause of which remains hypothetical. For this reason any invariant cause could not be instantiated by its occurrence in another creature, since it could only be confirmed by its experience, not by the researcher's. In this way Harold's "thinking cephalopods" could be shown to exist without having to specify all the details of the model of its cause. Is that at least somewhat plausible?
*Peter Godfrey-Smith, "Models and Fictions in Science", Philosophical Studies 143 (2009): pp. 101-116.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
miakso's picture


Monday, February 19, 2024 -- 11:12 PM

Abstract objects make up the

Abstract objects make up the first, run 3 universals the second, and the models themselves, the third, are autonomous objects.

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines
viloka's picture


Tuesday, May 7, 2024 -- 2:47 AM

If possible, please relax and

If possible, please relax and play this very interesting run 3 or Fnaf World game with me. If you don't like it, you can change to five nights at freddy's

I've read and agree to abide by the Community Guidelines