How does collective intelligence emerge? How do parts get integrated into larger wholes? How can we increase the intelligence and agency of collective systems? Are cities, economies, or even societies intelligent systems of which humans are unwitting parts?

On this episode, I'm joined by Michael Levin to discuss how his research in the collective intelligence of biological systems might help us think through larger collective systems, like the economy.

Michael is a professor of biology at Tufts University, director of both the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology and the Allen Discovery Center, an editor of three academic journals, and so on. His pioneering research has direct applications in regenerative medicine, cancer research, and artificial general intelligence.

I wanted to speak with him for two reasons. First, for all the theory and philosophy we've covered about 'selfhood' on this show, Michael's work brings a refreshingly concrete perspective, offering a 'biology of the self'. He provides a story of how selfhood emerges via evolution, which is really a story of how collective intelligences emerge.

Second, Michael thinks about collective intelligence in a way that is 'substrate-independent'. That is, his research on collective intelligence should apply to any intelligent system, whether it's made of flesh, metal, or anything else. This allows us to apply principles he's researched that scale up agency in biological systems, and apply them to larger systems, like an economy. If we understand the economy as a system of collective intelligence, can we apply the same principles that worked for evolution in biological systems, to increase the intelligence and agency of the economic system?

A few more themes we explore:

  • Why are "goals" the fundamental ingredient that identifies a system as intelligent?
  • How do little selves (like cells) combine into larger selves (like...me)?
  • Are humans parts of larger systems of collective intelligence, and could we even know if we were?
  • Should we have concerns about what happens to use as we become more deeply embedded in increasingly vast, planetary systems of collective intelligence?

The first hour of the conversation explores his research within biological systems. The final 45 minutes uses that as a foundation to explore systems that are larger than humans. Even if you find the first hour rather technical, I highly recommend at least checking out the final 45 minutes.

Enjoy!

On this episode, I'm joined by Ruben Laukkonen to describe his new model that makes sense of what meditation does to the mind, through the lens of predictive processing.

Ruben is a post-doc cognitive scientist at the University of Amsterdam, a contemplative with experience in traditions like Advaita and Therevada, has consulted for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and writes on topics ranging from education, artificial intelligence, to psychedelics.

We cover:

  • Predictive processing, meditation, and counterfactual depth
  • How meditation affects precision weighting, leading to changes in phenomenology
  • How deconstructive practices like meditation need guiding frameworks to support reconstruction
  • Some differences between meditation and psychedelics
  • How social institutions, like education, might change if we value things like cognitive flexibility

Enjoy!

On this episode, I explore data capitalism, acid communism, and the psychedelic ties between them, with Emma Stamm.

Emma holds a PhD in cultural & social thought, and works at the intersections of the philosophy of technology, critical theory, and science and technology studies. She has taught at both NYU & Virginia Tech, and is now a professor in the philosophy department at Villanova University.

Our conversation explores the relationship between data capitalism & consciousness, using psychedelic science as a way of illuminating those aspects of consciousness that cannot be rendered via data's language.

Enjoy!

In this episode, I’m joined by Dr. Chris Letheby: a philosopher of cognitive science who focuses on psychedelic experience & its implications for our understanding of consciousness.

Chris is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Western Australia and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Adelaide. He has a soon-to-be-published book: Philosophy of Psychedelics.

Along with Philip Gerrans, Chris is behind one of the most interesting theories of what the self is, a theory that explains why the sensation of being a ‘self’ arises in consciousness, which they call the “predictive self-binding account”.

His work goes on to study how high-dose psychedelic experiences disrupt this model of self-consciousness, and weaves the implications into a broader project he calls Naturalizing Spirituality.

Our conversation follows three main topics:

  1. What is the predictive self-binding account of self-consciousness?

  2. How do psychedelics disrupt self-consciousness?

  3. What can these psychedelic experiences that alter our self-consciousness tell us about the prospects of a naturalized spirituality suited for the 21st century?

This was such a fun conversation, & I find Chris’ work absolutely brilliant. Cannot wait to see his work evolve.

Enjoy!

My guest in this episode is (once again!) Erik Hoel: PhD in neuroscience, research assistant professor at Tufts University studying consciousness, and author of the upcoming (phenomenal) novel, The Revelations.

We center the conversation around themes from his novel, which lead us into:

  • How fiction, as a form of “intrinsic media”, offers a unique approach for exploring consciousness that non-fiction and TV can’t

  • The theories and potentialities at the frontiers of consciousness research

  • The relationship between evolution, complexity, consciousness, and emergence

  • Some limits of the scientific study of consciousness

  • Why we’d better hope that if aliens are out there, they’re more like mammals than insects

If you enjoy this episode, check out my previous conversation with Erik, his stupidly-good essay titled ‘Enter the Supersensorium’, or you can preorder his book here.

Enjoy!

In this conversation, intellectual historian Barnaby Raine joins me in a wide-ranging, encyclopedic, and wonderful conversation about capitalism and the self.

Barnaby is working on his PhD at Colombia, where he studies the end of capitalism in social & political thought since Marx, with a focus on ‘the problem of transition’: the challenge of seeking to move beyond a system upon which our lives still depend.

Barnaby is also a teacher at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, where he taught a course on “Capitalism and the Self”, which I took and loved, the content of which is the topic of our conversation today.

Our basic question is this: how has capitalism, throughout its history, produced not only goods and services, but our subjective experience, our sense of what the self is and how we relate to other people?

Barnaby walks us through the intellectual history of this question, from Rousseau, to Dukheim, Lukács, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Foucault, and finally, into the present.

This is a long (3 hrs) conversation. It’s wonderful in its entirety, but if you’d prefer to jump to specific topics, there is a detailed time map below that can point you to specific segments.

Enjoy!

My guest on this episode is Katherine Gibson, a fiercely creative thinker on the relationship between post-capitalism and consciousness. With Julie Graham, she is co-author of a number of books, including The End of Capitalism as We Know It, and Postcapitalist Politics.

Katherine is an economic geographer at Western Sydney University, and founded the ‘Community Economies Collective’, which is a project that involves both academics and communities in theorizing and practicing new economic visions.

In our conversation, we explore:

  • The relationship between self-transformation and economic transformation

  • How post-capitalism is not something that can be learned or intellectually understood, so much as performed, acted out, and felt, which suggests why new economies require new selves, new configurations of how we experience our bodies and relations

  • How national scale policy like basic income can help support individuals in their own processes of exploration and transformation,

  • Why self-entrepreneurship is the ultimate expression of neoliberal subjectivity,

  • Etc.

Enjoy!

My guest today is Julie Nelson: economist, and zen teacher. She co-edited a book in 1993 that became known to many as an early manifesto for feminist economics, and has spent her career questioning assumptions - of both the human mind and the discipline of economics.

She is an economics professor (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, a senior research fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts, and a senior assistant teacher at the Greater Boston Zen Center. She is author of the book Economics for Humans, co-editor of Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics, and a number of others.

A polarizing question lingers as the theme for our conversation: what if capitalism isn’t the problem? Julie suggests that many of the ills - greed, environmental degradation, extreme inequality - so many on the left are quick to blame capitalism for have little to do with capitalism. Rather, she targets ‘economism’ - a particular set of economic theories and assumptions, plus a layer of incentives we’ve built atop them. Neither updating our theories to better match reality, nor redesigning the incentive structures that underlie economic outcomes require an exit from capitalism.

Viewing capitalism as a rigid and dogmatic system that inherently produces certain outcomes, Julie suggests, are “short-cuts to thinking” that keep us from seeing the agency we already have to change the system.

A few other topics we explore:

  • Imaginative rationality.

  • The ‘emptiness’, or ‘no-nature’ of markets.

  • Are consciousness and materialism compatible?

  • Can waged work be intrinsically motivated?

  • How can we change our capitalist system from with?

Enjoy!

My guest today is the historian and professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa, Ben Hunnicutt.

His scholarship focuses on a simple, perplexing question: why, after 100 years of shortening working weeks, did America abandon the pursuit of leisure?

I feverishly read two of his books - Work Without End, and Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream - that chronicle the history of the relationship between America’s political economy and the pursuit of leisure time for all.

He brings the precision of a historian together with the sensibility of a poet (nowhere more visible than his deep study of Walt Whitman) to make sense of a fascinating time period during which America changed its mind.

In our conversation, we cover:

  • The history of the ideas of shorter working weeks and leisure time from 1830 until today.

  • The difference between “economic progress” and “higher progress”.

  • How children who spend more time at play grow into adults better suited to handle leisure time

  • The psychologies of labor and leisure

  • Strategies to reintroduce leisure into the U.S. political economy.

Enjoy!

My guest today is Michael Brooks: host of The Michael Brooks Show and author of Against the Web. On top of having one of the most popular Leftist political talk shows (full of wonderfully deep political analysis), Michael has a rich background in meditation, integral philosophy, and the general consciousness scene.

He regularly speaks about the need to situate the Leftist political project within a broader spiritual context, placing questions of consciousness at the center. In our conversation, we discuss:

  • The (lacking) relationship between ‘consciousness culture’ and politics

  • The politics of free time

  • How to bridge local anti-fragility with deep global interdependence and national social democracies

  • Comparing basic income and a federal jobs guarantee

Enjoy!

Find full show notes, subjects, and links on the episode page: www.musingmind.org/podcast/michael-brooks

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