But it is artefacts possessing general intelligence – whether rat-level, human-level or beyond – that we are most interested in, because they are candidates for membership of the space of possible minds. Indeed, because the potential for variation in such artefacts far outstrips the potential for variation in naturally evolved intelligence, the non-natural variants might occupy the majority of that space. Some of these artefacts are likely to be very strange, examples of what we might call ‘conscious exotica’.
In what follows I attempt to meet Sloman’s challenge by describing the structure of the space of possible minds, in two dimensions: the capacity for consciousness and the human-likeness of behaviour. Implicit in this mapping seems to be the possibility of forms of consciousness so alien that we would not recognise them. Yet I am also concerned, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, to reject the dualistic idea that there is an impenetrable realm of subjective experience that forms a distinct portion of reality. I prefer the notion that ‘nothing is hidden’, metaphysically speaking. The difficulty here is that accepting the possibility of radically inscrutable consciousness seemingly readmits the dualistic proposition that consciousness is not, so to speak, ‘open to view’, but inherently private. I try to show how we might avoid that troubling outcome.
It has become a commonplace to remark on the hyper-sensitivity of the culture; a person saying a vile thing can never be debated, but only no-platformed. A person who once debated another person who went on to say a vile thing thereby shared a platform. Often it’s hard to establish what was vile about the thing, because if you ask, you are giving it a platform. So once an issue has platform status, the platform acquires final authority and all you can talk about is the platform. Taken as a free-speech issue, it is quite two-dimensional (your right to say what you like versus my right not to be offended), and therefore boring.
Yet the steady build-up of unsayables has had an effect on humour that you only notice when the jokes are gone.
All the books of the twentieth-century British novelist Henry Green are relatively short and unobtrusively but highly condensed. And anyone who has read several of them will almost certainly have observed not only how different they are from one another, and in how many ways, but also that one of their shared features is how stunningly different they are from anybody else’s.
Although Green (1905-1973) had read a lot when he was a student at Eton and Oxford, and in the later part of his life claimed to read a novel a day, it’s as if he was the first writer on the planet and had never learned what a novel is supposed to be like.
Mr. Salle’s mission in “How to See” is to seize art back from the sort of critics who treat each painting “as a position paper, with the artist cast as a kind of philosopher manqué.” Mr. Salle is more interested in talking about nuts and bolts, about what makes contemporary paintings tick.