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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 259

Ogi Ogas — Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos

Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos (book cover)

Why do you exist? How did atoms and molecules transform into sentient creatures that experience longing, regret, compassion, and even marvel at their own existence? What does it truly mean to have a mind―to think? Science has offered few answers to these existential questions until now.

Journey of the Mind is the first book to offer a unified account of the mind that explains how consciousness, language, self-awareness, and civilization arose incrementally out of chaos. The journey begins three billion years ago with the emergence of the universe’s simplest possible mind. From there, the book explores the nanoscopic archaeon, whose thinking machinery consists of a handful of molecules, then advances through amoebas, worms, frogs, birds, monkeys, and humans, explaining what each “new” mind could do that previous minds could not. Though they admire the triumph of human consciousness, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam argue that humans are hardly the most sophisticated minds on the planet. The same physical principles that produce human self-awareness are leading cities and nation-states to develop “superminds,” and perhaps planting the seeds for even higher forms of consciousness.

Ogi Ogas, PhD, was a Department of Homeland Security Fellow at the Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems at Boston University and a research fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He coauthored Dark Horse, The End of Average, and Shrinks, which was longlisted for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

Shermer and Ogas discuss:

  • What is “mind”, “thinking”, and “consciousness”, and how do molecules and matter give rise to such nonmaterial processes?
  • molecule minds: archaea minds, bacteria minds, amoeba minds
  • neuron minds: hydra minds, roundworm minds, flatworm minds, fly minds
  • module minds: fish minds, frog minds, tortoise minds, rat minds, bird minds, monkey minds, chimpanzee minds
  • superminds: human minds, sapiens superminds
  • metaphors in neuroscience
  • the origin of the “big three” forms of thinking: consciousness, language and the self
  • consciousness
  • language
  • self and the inner life
  • Can we have an inner life without language?
  • consciousness and self-awareness as emergent properties of dynamical systems
  • free will and volition as emergent properties of dynamical systems
  • the purpose of life, mind, and consciousness.

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This episode was released on April 2, 2022.

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