Intelligence and Agency

Listening to Jason Rennie’s audiobook Darwin or Design introduced me to several new ideas, such as the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis (also known as front-loaded evolution, orthogenesis, or directed evolution) and the concept of sentient cells.

James Shapiro has developed the idea that, regardless of how it came about, the cell is the most important unit of life. Specifically, he thinks that bacteria are sentient cells, making important decisions throughout history about how life evolved. 

This is peripherally related to the ideas of philosopher Angus Menuge, who wrote a book called Agents Under Fire. He discusses how we can identify the actions of an intelligent agent, and his understanding of agency is similar to Shapiro’s. 

Listening to Menuge reminded me of Marvin Minsky’s book Society of Mind. In that book, Minsky developed a model for human consciousness as consisting of multiple intelligent agents. 

That also reminded me of Stephen Wolfram, who wrote a book called A New Kind of Science, in which he proposes that matter is made up of independent units (“cellular automatons”) that act according to some kind of algorithm, rather than fundamental particles that act according to universal laws. Incidentally, Wolfram is coming out with a new search engine in May, called Wolfram|Alpha, that sounds like an attempt to apply theories from neuroscience to the Internet.

Finally, that led me to think about Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz had a wacky theory that the universe was made up of “monads,” which were basically autonomous centers of force. Leibniz tied his theory of monads into a comprehensive theology of intelligent design, of a sort. 

On all of these topics, I know very little. However, they are all connected in some way, and it would be interesting to see if there are tangible connections.

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