A History of Semi-Popular Philosophy of Mind (No, not a semi-popular history of philosophy of mind)

by John Holbo on December 7, 2015

I taught Science Fiction and Philosophy this semester. One thing I realized I didn’t know – but I wished I did – was the history of semi-popular trends in the philosophy of mind (for lack of a better term.) A lot of science fiction is tied up with speculations about the nature of mind, of course. It would be surprising if all that didn’t reflect trends in aspirationally non-fictional speculations (again, for lack of a better term.) Crudely, I’ll bet there is more ESP in sf in eras when lots of people think that might be a thing.

But I don’t know of any such thing as a book about the history of popular trends in the philosophy of mind that would be a suitable guide. I want a history of ideas that have both been taken seriously by scientists and intellectuals (theologians, philosophers, psychologists, I’m not particular) and have semi-fired popular imaginings, to the point where they might be likely to jump the gap into fiction.

With a bit of prep, I can deliver a decent, stock lecture on philosophy of mind from Descartes to Dave Chalmers. But that’s not what I’m looking for. Narrowing my request a bit more precisely: what books on the philosophy of mind – what bold speculations on mind and metaphysics, spirit and science – 1) have been bestsellers; 2) have been blurbed/talked up by respectable/influential scientists and thinkers; 3) have enjoyed currency outside of narrow academic and intellectual circles; only to 4) look cranky 25 years on; 5) be forgotten 50 years on.

What works can you list that qualify on 3-4 counts at least? I’d like to go back to the start of the 19th Century. So, go ahead, make your jokes: Hegel belongs on the list. Quite right. Accordingly, we get Hegelian science fiction: Olaf Stapledon. That’s the sort of thing I’m looking for.

There is no disciplinary coherence to the sorts of works that might quality: spirit, will, mind, brain. Experimental psychology and spirit-rapping. We are all over the map.

I’d like to make as much sense as I can of trends in sf, on this basis. For example, I know why E.R. Burroughs was fired with thoughts about a dying, drying Mars. I also know that John Carter’s dubious mode of transport to Barsoom was semi-inspired by Flammarion. But, whereas I can locate Lowell and his canal theories in the history of astronomy and astrophysics, I can’t really relate Flammarion to, say, the birth of experimental psychology. What weird shit was on Freud’s shelf, or William James’, which I’ve never heard of?

Any good histories of the battles between spiritualism and experimental psychology at the turn of the 20th Century? I know that Faraday did some experiments, debunking the spiritual basis of table-tipping (not just in a Richard Cohen sense.)

A history of forgotten speculative cul-de-sacs in the modern history of the philosophy of mind would be interesting, in itself, and might reveal hidden coherences in the history of sf. What fun bits have you got for me?



John Holbo 12.07.15 at 2:18 am

Obviously this topic is related to SF and religion. The word ‘soul’ does not occur in my post, but it, and cognates, occur in the modern philosophy of mind, going back to Descartes. Feel free to garnish the history of philosophy of mind with reserved godliness.


oldster 12.07.15 at 2:19 am

I understand that there was a period in which it was wildly popular to model human mental processes after the calculating processes of digital adding machines. But that particular fad was so thoroughly debunked that it is almost forgotten now.


John Holbo 12.07.15 at 2:24 am

I forgot to mention computers, didn’t I? Yes, A.I. is a good trope. But this is a good example of an obvious candidate that I can’t exactly date and locate. What were scientists saying about the prospect for machine intelligence in, say, 1921, when R.U.R. was first staged?


Bruce B. 12.07.15 at 2:28 am

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis looms very, very large in the history of sf, of course. Among others, Delany did some of his best work with it as an inspiration.

Then there’s good old Korzybski and his General Semantics, and van Vogt and Piper and such. Neuro-linguistic programming has certainly been popular in sf fandom, but I’m not right now thinking of a lot of pro work directly influenced by it. These may count as crank work in the way Sapir-Whorf does not, however.

I may have some history-of-spiritualism stuff in my archive; will check.


John Quiggin 12.07.15 at 2:38 am

Boringly obvious, but The Matrix has to get a mention.


ZM 12.07.15 at 2:43 am

Apparently King George III who went mad tried to educate himself on mental illness by reading King Lear. His doctors did not think this was the best idea.

Makari, George (2015) Soul machine : the invention of the modern mind, New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

Sharon Packer (2015) Neuroscience in science fiction films, Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc

Thomsen, Mads Rosendahl, (2013) The new human in literature : posthuman visions of changes in body, mind and society after 1900, London ; New York : Bloomsbury Academic


Jim Henley 12.07.15 at 2:45 am

I’m thinking The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes, counts here? Sold very well on release, was the basis for Stephenson’s Snow Crash, falls completely apart if you’ve read Gilgamesh and not just the Iliad.


John Quiggin 12.07.15 at 2:46 am

Looking for evidence on whether Orwell’s 1984 was directly influenced by Sapir-Whorf (I suspect not), I came up with this, which looks ideal.


As well as Orwell (author says pre S-W but when linguistic relativity was in the air), the piece mentions continuing through The Languages of Pao (Jack Vance, 1959) , Samuel Delany’s Babel-17 (1966), Doris Lessing’s The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire
(1983), and China Miéville’s Embassytown (2011)


Criminally Bulgur 12.07.15 at 2:47 am

Richard Maurice Buck, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1901)

Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933)

I think these get you 2-4.


Mark G 12.07.15 at 2:51 am

Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind? Widely read although never mainstream, I think. Certainly looks kooky now, and apparently had a role in shaping some 70s-80s science fiction. Influential psychological anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann cites it as a major influence, too, so maybe it still has relevance to contemporary psychological anthropology/anthropology of religion.


js. 12.07.15 at 2:53 am

I once happened to (re-)watch Terminator while teaching a class called “Minds and Machines”, and oddly enough, I happened to watch it right as we were doing a section on connectionism in the class. So I couldn’t help but notice that “neural nets” get a shout-out in the film (literally), and that Skynet is apparently based on connectionist principles.

Still, I couldn’t tell you what philosophical work popularized connectionism enough that it made its way into Terminator. Unless there’s some other connection (haha, pun not intended, only noticed) that I don’t know about.


Theophylact 12.07.15 at 2:57 am

I don’t know what category, if any, Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration falls in, but it’s by God a theory of mind. Reminds me of some stuff in Oliver Sacks.


oldster 12.07.15 at 2:59 am

Good cite, Jim. Though I should say that Jaynes’ work also “falls completely apart” if you *have* read the Iliad. It was about as persuasive as Harold Bloom’s claim that Shakespeare invented the human. But I’m sure it had some impact on SF writers, and so belongs in this conversation.


John Quiggin 12.07.15 at 3:33 am

Coming back to the original question, Freud has to be the mega-example, not only for his own work but being the founder of a school that includes Jung, Reich, Laing and many more. My impression is that Reich is now completely forgotten, Jung and Laing pretty much so. Freud looks cranky after 100+ years, but he’s unlikely to be forgotten completely.


Doctor Science 12.07.15 at 3:54 am

Gödel, Escher, Bach is a book that was HUGELY influential in popular culture, but I have no idea if it was ever taken seriously in the academy.


Kiwanda 12.07.15 at 4:04 am

Probably James Cooke Brown’s “logical language” Loglan, as seen in Heinlein, is related to General Semantics.

Maybe the influence is backwards from that desired, but surely Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health is worth a mention.

Also not quite on topic: if the intriguing but dubious premise of ST:TNG’s Darmok episode (“Shaka, when the walls fell”) has actual linguistic sources, which I doubt, it would be interesting to know what they are.


F 12.07.15 at 4:18 am

This is pretty much excluded by your post, but I want to recommend Peter Watts’ Blindsight as an amazingly modern (and pessimistic) take on the science of the mind.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 4:20 am

Maybe something in Deborah Blum’s book on William James, ghosts, seances, which I have not read. There were Institutes of Psychical Research in the UK and France in the early 20th century. Serious philosophers such as Bergson attended seances, talked about telekinesis, were fascinated by Eugenia Palladino. Perhaps Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism which I have seen around the house but also never read may be of interest in another way?


oldster 12.07.15 at 4:22 am


Wiki says:

“Artists and authors who investigated Theosophy include Talbot Mundy, Charles Howard Hinton, Geoffrey Hodson, James Jones, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Sun Ra, Lawren Harris and L. Frank Baum.”

But I don’t know if the influences were about philosophy of mind, or racial hypotheses, or other influences.


Alan White 12.07.15 at 4:27 am

Whitehead’s prehensions, in terms of mutual mind/body constitution of co-present entities, certainly have some connection to 20th century telepathy and pop-culture accounts of telekinesis ala Scanners and Carrie. Connectivism (of a sort) certainly is behind that excellent film Colossus: The Forbin Project. Functionalism seems to lurk behind the premises of the movie Brainstorms. All I got for now.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 4:30 am

@19 interesting! I think Gauri Viswanathan has written critically about Blavatsky and ideas about race and Aryanism.


Alan White 12.07.15 at 4:36 am

Oh Brainstorm. Confused with the Dennett book for a moment.

And Spielberg’s AI makes a good case for the emotive component of self-consciousness as a need to be needed (as I argued in a pop culture book “SS and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book”).

And Turing tested Data in the classic ST2 episode Measure of a Man, of course.


Kiwanda 12.07.15 at 4:36 am

Extra-sensory Perception, by J.B. Rhine, 1934, was a big influence on John W. Campbell and his magazines, with “psi” powers in quasi-hard science fiction.


b9n10nt 12.07.15 at 5:07 am

Aldous Huxley’s _The Perennial Philosophy_ was widely read and reviewed in post-war England and America and, along with other 20th C popularizers of mysticism such as Autobiography of a Yogi, were likely an influence in sf references to mysticism (Star Wars, Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels in which whole civilizations can Sublime into an ecstatic metaphysical paradise, doubtless many more).


JakeB 12.07.15 at 5:29 am

As for Wilhelm Reich, as mentioned in @14 above, he was certainly known to and influenced Philip Wylie, who influenced Theodore Sturgeon, and who may well have had a thing for Reich himself, considering the big ideas in some of his stories.


John Holbo 12.07.15 at 5:30 am

Thanks! Some good suggestions. I was thinking about Julian Jaynes myself as a classic case. (I was chatting with someone about his book just last week, weirdly.)

Theosophy! Must have that in there, most definitely.

Connectionism and functionalism and Turing tests and (relatedly) Chinese Rooms.

It would be fun to try to break it down by decade and give examples for particular works.

I’ve just been rereading Lovecraft and was struck by how often he mentions Einsteinian relativity, loosely, as a thing that makes Cthulhu etc. possible because other dimensions/fabric of space-time something-something. So you get relativity as a generic ‘imagine the impossible ticket’.

Chaos theory. That’s another get-out-of-reality-free card.

Godel, Escher, Bach is a rich source

Here’s one: I reread “Tlon, Uqbar and Orbis Tertius” recently, for the first time since freshman year in college, probably. I was struck by how much British empiricism is in it, of an idealistic sort: Hume and Berkeley and a footnote to Bertrand Russell (positing that the world might have come into existence 2 months ago, and all our memories could be false.) There’s a very sense-data-ish logical empiricism feel to that story that isn’t exactly what you associate with Borges. I didn’t, anyway. You don’t get that much logical positivism-based sf.

Relatedly, not a lot of behaviorist-inspired sf. (Too dry and conceptually ascetic.)


js. 12.07.15 at 5:45 am

I’m not sure Borges is a good example. He knew the tradition way too well—one of my friends in grad school convinced me that “Funes” is actually an argument against Humean epistemology (e.g.).


Allen Hazen 12.07.15 at 6:06 am

In the “Compleat Enchanter” (L. Sprague de Camp and???), which I think dates originally from the 1930s, the method by which the hero travels to alternative realities is by concentrating on, internalizing, principles — written out in symbolic logic — characterizing the alternative: principles of magic, say, rather than of physics. The idea being that, if you think in terms of the alternative metaphysical framework, you organize sense data differently, and so experience a different world. (This isn’t gone into in any detail– it’s just the framework that allows the hero to travel, and most of the story is devoted to his romp through a literary or mythological world.) I’ve always assumed that this plot device was inspired by contemporary state-of-the-art philosophy: C.I. Lewis, maybe.


Dave W. 12.07.15 at 6:08 am

“Bluff,” by Harry Turtledove is explicitly rooted in Jaynes’ theory, being called out explicitly in the story.


bad Jim 12.07.15 at 6:12 am

R.A. Lafferty is always a lot of fun, and some of his stories featured an assortment of characters based on the four elements or the four humors, as well as stories about bears licking their cubs into shape, and bachelor uncles turning into bears. I didn’t understand the joke behind one character’s contention that the human race didn’t need to be grounded until I learned that Lafferty made his living as an electrician.


oldster 12.07.15 at 6:14 am

Allen Hazen–
Interesting, but I wonder if the inspiration wasn’t Tractarian instead? Logical symbolism plus ‘die Welt ist alles was der Fall ist’?


The Raven 12.07.15 at 6:34 am

That history I don’t have, but here’s a short list of direct applications of philosophies of mind that come to, ah, mind. Jack Vance explicitly relied on Sapir-Whorf in The Languages of Pao. Gene Wolfe drew on Jaynes for Soldier of the Mist. Blish relied on Jung in Midsummer Century. Oh, hell, theosophy and fundamentalist christianity in Stranger in a Strange Land?

Thinking it over, it seems to me that science fiction and fantasy are themselves an evolving source of popular philosophies of mind. Ideas go back from sf and fantasy into the popular culture. Odd, very odd.


TMD 12.07.15 at 6:35 am

If you’re going back to the early 19th century, then Frankenstein is presumably relevant – I don’t know the background particularly well, but Wikipedia notes the connections with late 18th-century galvanism and also that “the term ‘Modern Prometheus’ was coined by Immanuel Kant in reference to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity.”


Michael Furlan 12.07.15 at 6:41 am


max 12.07.15 at 6:46 am

Allen Hazen:In the “Compleat Enchanter” (L. Sprague de Camp and???), which I think dates originally from the 1930s

1941 and 1950, respectively. I think that book might be as influenced by General Semantics as Dianetics (from the big con job perspective) was, as was some of Heinlein, and apparently Dune. (Incidentally, the Compleat Enchanter is very much of its period.)

Racial ‘science’ was certainly a big thing in the early part of the period prior to the war but it dropped out as Hitler started taking off in the late 30’s.

The whole market-crash-to-Pearl-Harbor period in SF is just weird, and there’s so much going on that it’s quite hard to say who was influencing what and from whom and why. (And it continued after the war until 1950, when SF went through the whole gray flannel hyper-rationalist reactionary period.

After that period, any kind of theory of mind tends to be very faddish, with the exception of ‘cybernetics’ which really wasn’t a theory of mind so much as a desire for a thinking computer. (More a theory of emulation than anything else.)

[‘Professionalism killed the Astounding star.’]


Ben 12.07.15 at 7:21 am

Seconding the Blindsight rec for anyone remotely interested in sci-fi exploration of philosophy of mind.

(All I want for Christmas is a CT Peter Watts book event)


greg 12.07.15 at 7:31 am

Well, I don’t know if it is impossible, but it is certainly difficult to think about a concept you don’t have a word for. Even if the barriers to novel concepts are not impenetrable, they are certainly discouraging, confining, and confusing. Indeed, much of the power of the English language has come from the willingness of its practitioners to assimilate the words, and often directly the concepts associated with them, from other languages.

If you think this is not a problem, consider instead the truth of the following proposition: “The totality of the definitions of all the words of a language cover the space of all possible concepts in the universe.”

The mathematical notion of cover, and the possible characteristics of that cover, suggest the possibility of different partitions of the space of the universe of concepts, and thus different understandings of that space.

An alternative, but not exclusionary hypothesis, is that the universe of concepts has a structure independent of the languages which represent (some portion of) it. And that all languages tend to conform to this structure.

So consider Chinese. Whereas anybody can string together a series of letters in an alphabetical language, in a character based language like Chinese, combining radicals to create compound characters is something which is not causally done. Which raises the issue, how much has the nature of Chinese written language affected the character of the spoken language?

And does Chinese, and thus do the speakers of Chinese, partition the space of all possible concepts differently?

As for the macro-social effect, we would expect the boundaries of all different languages to conform to the demands of physical reality, although the cover at the boundary could still have different characteristics. However, representations of concepts which were not closely grounded in the concrete we should not expect to be identical in form or substance.

I believe this line of reasoning offers support to the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. As for the strong form, any society must conform to the demands of its physical reality, and its language must enable it to do so. Sapir-Whorf cannot contravene this. However, in the ability of different societies to adapt to previously unexperienced change, the strong form would seem to apply.

I am also posting this comment to my own blog, as it is relevant to the economic responses of a society to its changing environment.


novakant 12.07.15 at 7:33 am

Dennett: Consciousness Explained

Maybe one of Searle’s books, definitely cranky and already outdated but not sure how which and how popular.


PlutoniumKun 12.07.15 at 8:05 am

I don’t know if there are archives available, but the long defunct Omni Magazine was a great repository of science theories at the border between the respectable and the crank-ish from the late 1970’s to the ’80s. And it published some very good science fiction writing.


Perhaps not what you are looking for, but I’ve always been curious as to why Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was so hugely popular and influential for a decade or so, and yet (so far as I am aware) seems to have completely disappeared from both public consciousness and academic respectability.


ZM 12.07.15 at 8:25 am

“And does Chinese, and thus do the speakers of Chinese, partition the space of all possible concepts differently?”

I read that Western people tend to visualise Time horizontally (as in time lines, and how we read from left to right) whereas Chinese (or more generally Asian?) people tend to visualise Time vertically. I was talking to a woman who lived here for a while and she said in Alice Springs the Indigenous people use the expression “Under Today” for talking about things in the past (she made a performance and sound art project http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/soundproof/under-today/6080484)


Larry 12.07.15 at 9:10 am

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Greg Egan. Almost all of his early work is about the philosophy of mind, especially Axiomatic (collection of short stories), Quarantine, and Permutation City.


Francis Spufford 12.07.15 at 9:11 am

This seems like the place for a shout-out for Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself, due out this month: probably the only work of SF that is ever likely to take Kantian metaphysics as the S for its F, and then to mash them up with John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Also, further back, what about J W Dunne’s An Experiment with Time, hugely influential on fiction between the wars, which produces an argument for the immortality of the soul from precognitive dreaming and some vaguely Einsteinian hand-waving about time’s dimensional structure?


Francis Spufford 12.07.15 at 9:11 am

Aargh. Must master the close-italics tag.


Bruce B. 12.07.15 at 9:34 am

Back at Theosophy and related stuff: John Shirley is very strongly influenced by Gurdjieff among others (and has written a biography of Gurdjieff, in fact).

Michael Kube-McDowell’s The Quiet Pools has a really interesting spin on determinism not much like other sf I can recall. I think it was a thought experiment rather than what he actually believes, though, whereas Michael Flynn is apparently moderately serious about the sort of psychohistory nouveau in The Country of the Blind.


heckblazer 12.07.15 at 9:45 am

Kiwanda @ 16:

You beat me to mentioning it. As it happens, before Hubbard expanded Dianetics out into a book it was first published as an article in Astounding Magazine . Since John Campbell was himself a fan I at least expect some influence from that as writers either developed an idea from Campbell, accepted edits he made, or pitched something they thought he’d like, or even in a negative fashion with writers avoiding the topic to avoid butting heads with him. For the curious I found scans of the introduction to the article on the blog linked here.


David Steinsaltz 12.07.15 at 9:48 am

#26: Einsteinian relativity was not merely “a generic imagine the impossible ticket”. What it did was to give a scientific imprimatur to half a century of popular fascination with the “fourth dimension”, which until then had only been based on abstract mathematical speculation.

The “fourth dimension” and non-Euclidean geometry had been adopted as a utopian principle by the theosophists long before Einstein, and it was mentioned not only by H G Wells, but also by Oscar Wilde (his Canterville ghost “hastily adopted the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape” and Proust. Flatland reflected the popular association between three dimensions and conventional limitations on human perception and cognition. The fourth dimension wasn’t generic weirdness: It was a separate place, vaster than all the world we know put together (which then creates scope for spirits, souls, and generic weirdness). The association of fourth dimension with time added to the sense that these new geometric ideas must somehow be linked with human consciousness in a profound way.

(Actually, it’s been pointed out that an English 17th-Century philosopher Henry More wrote, in a book on the nature of spirits, that “besides those THREE dimensions which belong to all extended things, a FOURTH also is to be admitted, which belongs properly to SPIRITS.” )

Cubism was heavily influenced by this tradition (the classic historical work is Dalrymple’s Non-Euclidean Geometry and the Fourth Dimension in 20th Century Art), and futurism was a post-Einstein expansion.

So you had Einstein coming in, saying, you know this weird thing that the spiritualists have been banging on about? Well, it’s real, and you can measure it, and I have an equation for it, and then the rest of the physics community comes along and says, he’s right, we’ve measured it, and Newton (the symbol of plodding deterministic rationalism) is overthrown. No wonder he was treated as sort of a sorcerer.


John Kozak 12.07.15 at 9:58 am

Alex Owen’s recent “The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern” is a direct source for Felix Gilman’s “The Revolutions” (admired here, I think).


Niall McAuley 12.07.15 at 9:58 am

I like Gateway, but I found all the Freudian analysis bollocks harder to take seriously than the eighth and ninth rays. When was Freud taken seriously again? (In pop culture, I mean, not as a scientist).


John Kozak 12.07.15 at 10:02 am

[sorry, premature close] and obviously all that Golden Dawn stuff was an big influence on contemporary fiction, if in a wider sense than theories of mind.


Peter Erwin 12.07.15 at 10:38 am

greg @37:
So consider Chinese. Whereas anybody can string together a series of letters in an alphabetical language, in a character based language like Chinese, combining radicals to create compound characters is something which is not causally done. Which raises the issue, how much has the nature of Chinese written language affected the character of the spoken language?

Since the vast majority of Chinese speakers — like speakers of any language — have up until very recently been illiterate, the answer is almost certainly “very little.”

People don’t, even in languages that happen to have alphabetic writing systems, create new words by rearranging written symbols, except in very recent and rather rare circumstances (e.g., acronyms becoming words). That’s not how languages work.

ZM @40:
I read that Western people tend to visualise Time horizontally

Well, except for tendencies to visually time vertically (family trees and lines of descent)…

Of course, a tendency for literate people to visualize — and diagram — time according to the mode of writing would mean that visualizing Time “horizontally” would hardly be just a “Western” thing, since all the languages of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia use horizontal writing.


Peter Erwin 12.07.15 at 10:55 am

The Raven @32:
Gene Wolfe drew on Jaynes for Soldier of the Mist.

That seems unlikely, given this comment from the Urth mailing list:

In 1991 I wrote Gene Wolfe, asking him whether he had read Jaynes,
and whether that had influenced _Soldier_.

He wrote back saying that he had not read Julian Jaynes’ book _The
Origin_of_Consciousness_in_the_Breakdown_of_the_Bicameral_Mind_ until
after he wrote _Soldier_, and found the book’s hypothesis implausible.


ZM 12.07.15 at 11:01 am

It was cross cultural psychological testing to see how people visualise time in their minds, not about visual representations of time in different cultures. Some people also visualised time as a circle, for some going clockwise and some counter-clockwise.


Peter Erwin 12.07.15 at 11:05 am

I think there might be some useful discussions in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; for example, the entry on psychology.


Nattering Nabob 12.07.15 at 12:17 pm

Ian Watson’s The Embedding (1973): riffs on Whorf-Sapir and Chomskyan Universal Grammar…


PJW 12.07.15 at 12:20 pm



Gary Othic 12.07.15 at 12:30 pm

@John Holbo (26)

“Relatedly, not a lot of behaviorist-inspired sf. (Too dry and conceptually ascetic.)”

Well, there’s A Clockwork Orange, although Burgess was critiquing the moral implications of behaviourism not so much critiquing the process itself.

I don’t know if William Gibson was inspired by philosophy of mind but Neuromancer does have a very strong physicalist bent, and was published around the time that those philosophies began to gain currency


Jim Fett 12.07.15 at 12:41 pm


Wasn’t there a bit of behaviorism in Gravity’s Rainbow?


greg 12.07.15 at 1:06 pm

Peter Irwin@50:

“Since the vast majority of Chinese speakers — like speakers of any language — have up until very recently been illiterate, the answer is almost certainly “very little.””

That the majority of speakers of any language have until recently been illiterate is a very good point. However, the idea that this implies that the written language has had very little effect on the development of the spoken language would seem to assume a completely bottom up origin for novelty in the evolution of languages. This seems unlikely. Consider the relative variations in experience of a peasantry, compared to the experiences of a literate elite. Indeed, the literati were reputed to be highly venerated and influential among all classes, sometimes even more so than the political and military, although that reputation may be somewhat self-serving. (I suppose that requires some verification.) Anyway.

On the question of new Chinese characters, this selection from Quora may be informative: “https://www.quora.com/Are-new-Chinese-characters-still-being-invented.”

I’ve also wondered how the propensity of German speakers to create bigger words from smaller words reflects and affects their thinking. Does it make it more- categorical?

“How Dogs Bark in Different Languages:” “https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201211/how-dogs-bark-in-different-languages ” is also interesting regarding at least the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I find it difficult to maintain the belief that the various words for “bark” do not somehow reflect how a dog’s bark actually sounds in each of those languages. We do know that the auditory responsiveness in people to particular phonemes varies for people in different cultures.

I think people, when confronted with a novelty, try to represent, or describe, the new experience in the terms of the old language.

ZM @50: Yes, I have heard of the various geometrical representations of time. I have also heard about time’s flow being front to back, or back to front, (ie. people go ass-first through time,) and differing ways of describing one’s geographical relationships. It is of course all tied to language, but I don’t know of any information on the direction of influence, or its affect on the evolution of a culture, and so on the ‘hypothesis.’ I would think there would be some, though.


Jim Henley 12.07.15 at 1:14 pm

Time is a flat circle, people. We’ve been over this.


Monte Davis 12.07.15 at 1:48 pm

Both van Vogt’s War Against the Rull (a paste-up from Astounding stories of 1949-1950) and Dave Langford’s 1988 short story “Blit” make use of glyphs that cause mental lockup/breakdown in anyone who looks at them, presumably through a recursive loop in our wetware: neuro-visual programming? See also Peter Watts’ explanation for vampires’ response to the cross (=right angles) — still handwaving, yes, but such clever dexterous handwaving that…. I… uhh…



casmilus 12.07.15 at 1:58 pm

I think David Landsay’s metaphysics in “A Voyage To Arcturus” (1920) was influenced by Schopenhauer, but I’m basing that more on the fact that AS gets mentioned in the later novel “Devil’s Tor”.


Donald Johnson 12.07.15 at 1:58 pm

Dennet (sp?) and Hofstadter co -edited The Mind’s I back in the early 80’s. It has classic papers and SF short stories on the subject.


casmilus 12.07.15 at 1:58 pm

Lindsay, that should be.


casmilus 12.07.15 at 1:59 pm

Samuel Delany’s “Babel-17” for Whorf-Sapir influence as well.


DaveL 12.07.15 at 1:59 pm

There’s a whole literature about the possible influence of Blavatsky on Burroughs. Fritz Leiber and L. Sprague de Camp were proponents. Google “John Carter: Sword of Theosophy” to find a whole series of back-and-forth articles on the issue. (Look for “ERBzine” in the results.)


casmilus 12.07.15 at 2:01 pm

Not quite “phil of mind”, but J.W.Dunne’s “An Experiment With Time” and “The Serial Universe” were *hugely* influential, with Wyndham Lewis, C.S.Lewis, John Buchan and J.B.Priestley amongst others responding to his ideas.


casmilus 12.07.15 at 2:05 pm

Freud also underlies “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester.


Monte Davis 12.07.15 at 2:36 pm

Minsky’s The Society of Mind (1986) and Norretranders’ The User Illusion (English 1998) are both worth a look. They can be seen as “anti-philosophy of mind,” arguing in distinct but parallel ways that consciousness / self-awareness / qualia are not precious, ineffable fundamentals — “that which is to be explained above all” — but epiphenomena, integrating icon-and-folder interfaces, convenient executive summaries.


Trader Joe 12.07.15 at 2:49 pm

Its a little older than your timeline (18th c), but I think Mesmerism and Animal Magnetism should be on the list, which deal with both the ability to control minds and the life force found in living things having healing properties.

These memes are found in numerous sf stories and indeed have whole worlds devoted to variants of animal magnetism with healing creatures and life sapping creatures competing for supremancy.

I’ll leave it to wiser readers to identify definitive sources but

“De planetarum influxu in corpus humanum ( “The Influence of the Planets on the Human Body”) would surely have been on Freuds shelf.


lemmy caution 12.07.15 at 2:50 pm

The beast was reading “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” in this X-men comic:


I found this book just confusing but it may have something:



lemmy caution 12.07.15 at 2:55 pm

” I’ve always been curious as to why Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was so hugely popular and influential for a decade or so, and yet (so far as I am aware) seems to have completely disappeared from both public consciousness and academic respectability.”

lots of people hate that book on goodreads:


“I started reading this book because i’d heard from a number of people, including comedian Tim Allen, that it was good. In fact i read an entire Tim Allen book (“I’m Not Really Here”) which was kind of about his experience reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence. Tim Allen, although not exactly a respectable philosopher (maybe not even just respectable), had some of Robert Pirsig’s philosophy without all his inane bullshit. At least Tim Allen’s book was funny.”

I liked it when I read it in high school.


Michael Furlan 12.07.15 at 2:58 pm

In addition to Jung’s Shadow showing up in the Stat Wars Dark Side his collective unconscious is used in Herbert ‘ s Bene Gesserit.


Theophylact 12.07.15 at 3:02 pm

Well, okay: Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I, for one, have never felt comfortable about what constitutes “my self” since I read it.


oldster 12.07.15 at 3:03 pm

Jim @59–

It’s irritating, right? Why is it so hard to get the idea of eternal recurrence through people’s heads?

If I’ve told them once, I’ve told them a million times….


Fuzzy Dunlop 12.07.15 at 3:18 pm

Seconding PlutoniumKun @39 that Zen, and I think philosophical Taoism more generally, seems to have been pretty popluar and influential for a while, at least in the mid-to-late 20th century. East Asian ideas about spontaneity and freedom have influenced Euro-American thought goes way back to the 17th and 18th centuries and the origins of the English garden.* (Also, Nietzsche’s borrowing of Indian philosophical concepts, which I am less familiar with.)

You may find Asian philosophical ideas to be a good source of forgotten, defunct, or popular theories in the West, because the classical texts themselves never enter the Western canon, and there is not as well-established a tradition of commentary/re-use as there is with equally-ancient Greek philosophical texts, and so their intellectual contribution is not recorded, and they are easily forgotten and then rediscovered by later generations.

* see, e.g.: Yu Liu (2008), Seeds of a Different Eden: Chinese gardening ideas and a new English aesthetic ideal, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 9781570037696


James Wimberley 12.07.15 at 3:24 pm

Francis Spufford #43: You may not be interested in HTML, but HTML is interested in you.


bob 12.07.15 at 3:42 pm

Perhaps Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics which sold very well despite having some quite technical bits. Later he also wrote the popular The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society. And he even wrote a bit of SciFi himself http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/wiener_norbert
In addition, at one time Wiener worked very closely with McCulloch and Pitts, who originated the mathematical study of neural networks (previously mentioned). Unfortunately for all concerned, Wiener bizarrely turned against them as a result of baseless accusations by Wiener’s wife.


Bruce B. 12.07.15 at 3:53 pm

Niall McAuley@50: When was Freud taken seriously again? (In pop culture, I mean, not as a scientist). One of the fascinating things I got out of a college history class was a couple weeks going over the history of American advertising. Holy cow is it obvious when Freud hit the awareness of ad makers. in the course of a decade or a bit less, ads for everything from cars to canned food go from pretty much staid recitation of facts to innuendo-laden prose torrents. 1920, give or take five years on each side, is about when it happens.

Freud was a significant presence in American culture (I’ll let others speak to other countries) from the ’10s through the postwar era; it’s my impression that he started losing some intellectual mind share in the ’60s and that this continued on through the rest of the century. But, well, to grab a random example, Freudian interpretation is crucial to the wonderful paranoia comedy The President’s Analyst, from 1967, and there is nothing at all remarkable for the time for it being so.

Fuzzy Dunlop@74: That reminds me, Ursula Le Guin has certainly been influenced by Zen and Daoism and related ideas in a disciplined way. I remember being so tickled when taking an intro survey of Chinese philosophy/religion to discover that she’d embedded bits from Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) in The Lathe of Heaven, and of course she actually did a fresh English rendering of the Dao De Ching.


steven johnson 12.07.15 at 4:14 pm

In addition to J.W. Dunne, P.D. Ouspensky was explicitly cited in James Blish’s Jack of Eagles (also published as ESPer I think.) Blish’s later novel Midsummer Century explicitly cited John C. Lilly.

Korzybski was a huge influence in the Heinlein novella “Gulf.” General notions from spiritualism seem to have influenced his short story “They” and, along with Theosophy, the novella “Lost Legacy.”

Every pop lit and movie/TV “explanations” of ghosts that relies on vibrations and other dimensions and ecotplasm by any name is influenced by spiritualism I think. Or by older stories influenced by spiritualism.


Scott P. 12.07.15 at 4:20 pm

La Mettrie was a big influence on Shelley, and later ideas of ‘artificial consciousness’.


oldster 12.07.15 at 4:29 pm

“influenced by spiritualism I think. Or by older stories influenced by spiritualism.”

And there’s the rub. When do we have a case of direct influence, and when is there simply something in the air?

As an example, I think that Jung is credited with much more influence than he really had. Most of the so-called “Jungian” ideas aren’t proprietary to him at all–they are just universal, archaic patterns that derive from the collective unconscious.


casmilus 12.07.15 at 4:29 pm

“The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard has a lot of psychoanalytic theorising about the best advert strategies, if I remember.


Niall McAuley 12.07.15 at 4:38 pm

Terry Pratchett had a riff on Phrenology.

In Ankh-Morpork, if you have a problem with your personality, you can visit the retrophrenologist, who can adjust your character by changing the bumps on your head.

With a mallet.


Jim Henley 12.07.15 at 5:29 pm


As an example, I think that Jung is credited with much more influence than he really had. Most of the so-called “Jungian” ideas aren’t proprietary to him at all–they are just universal, archaic patterns that derive from the collective unconscious.

Oh, well played, sir or ma’am!


phenomenal cat 12.07.15 at 5:36 pm

Has anybody mentioned Gregory Bateson? Steps to an ecology of mind, among others of his works, are worth considering in this context. And Bateson was somewhat widely read b/c of his peculiar association with new-agey Esalen types and his use of “cybernetic” theories– also his work on schizophrenia.

Speaking of which. A now forgotten and out of print book that I stumbled upon in serendipitous fashion one night while browsing a university library as an undergrad– Operators and things. Published in the 50’s, it is a kind of memoir or autobiography of a woman’s rapid onset of schizophrenia. Completely fascinating read. The contents of her madness are kinda SF-like. Worth getting a copy if you can find one.


Layman 12.07.15 at 5:44 pm

Someone mentioned Van Vogt, but specifically, The World of Null-A and The Players of Null-A come to mind. Also, Bester, again specifically The Stars, My Destination. Quant suff!


Gary Othic 12.07.15 at 5:57 pm

@81, 82

I just got that joke!


oldster 12.07.15 at 6:07 pm

Thnks, Jim. You are kind to indulge an old man.


Peter Erwin 12.07.15 at 6:15 pm

greg @58
Consider the relative variations in experience of a peasantry, compared to the experiences of a literate elite. Indeed, the literati were reputed to be highly venerated

Three things:
1. I think you might be in danger of slipping into a bit of class snobbery here (“ignorent, lumpen peasantry” versus “creative, experienced literate elite”).

2. There’s ample evidence from historical linguistics that languages evolve in the absence of literacy.

3. Literate elites are probably just as likely (or more likely) to promote linguistic conservatism. In many cases, the literati write in an antiquated, formal style modeled on the greats of the past, while the language changes around them.

You can see this in Cicero, for example, who complains about (and gives examples of) the “bad” Latin that the lower classes speak. Which lets us see that the innovations the led to Late Latin, and thence to early Romance languages, were in some senses already underway in “lower class” Latin, even if people like Cicero clung to the older models of Classical Latin. Or the fact that literate European elites continued writing almost exclusively in Latin until the High Middle Ages, so it’s hard to argue that they were primarily responsible for the development of Italian, French, Spanish, etc.


steven johnson 12.07.15 at 6:23 pm

PS Clones whose individual mentalities depend upon their DNA are a kind of theory of mind, albeit a rather genetic determinist one. Ursula LeGuin’s “Nine Lives” and Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang.


TheSophist 12.07.15 at 6:24 pm

Not really philosophy of mind, I suppose, but it’s maybe apropos to note that Neo has the discs (at the very beginning of the first Matrix movie) hidden inside a hollowed-out copy of Baudrillard’s Simulation and Simulacra.

I’ll take this opportunity to make my approximately annual statement that the depth of knowledge exhibited by the CT commentariat (hive-mind?) regularly boggles my tiny mind.

…and, of course, there’s the hive-mind stuff in Ender’s Game (not sure if that counts as philosophy of mind.) The twist at the end of that book got a shout-out on The Simpsons last night.


Peter Erwin 12.07.15 at 6:36 pm

Michael Furlan @34:
Jung to Campbell to Lucas and Star Wars?

I’ve seen arguments to the effect that Lucas started claiming inspiration from Campbell only after Campbell started getting attention arguing for mythical patterns in Star Wars, and the latter was (of course) only after the movie had gotten really popular. (“The spiritual truths of universal human myth” is a lot classier than “old Flash Gordon serials and pulp sci-fi” as a source of inspiration, after all.)


Jim Buck 12.07.15 at 6:55 pm

@ 78 it’s my impression that he started losing some intellectual mind share in the ’60s

I wonder if Drs Leary & Alpert had anything to do with that?


rea 12.07.15 at 7:17 pm

” Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”

Not SF, of course, but:



Neville Morley 12.07.15 at 7:19 pm

Further on Freud, Bester – and Dianetics. Bester’s short story ‘Oddy and Id’ was explicitly Freudian – and very clever – and when it was reprinted in a collection (Star Light, Star Bright, I think) he offered a hilarious account of how it was accepted by Astounding and he was invited to meet Campbell. They went for lunch in a works cafeteria, and Campbell launched into an explanation of how Freud was over, L. Ron Hubbard had made the greatest discovery in human history in an essay about to be published in Astounding and would win the Nobel Peace Prize for it. He insists that Bester should try to think himself back into his childhood pain; Bester, surrounded by people loudly discussing baseball and trying desperately not to laugh, eventually says, “You’re absolutely right, Mr Campbell, but it’s just too painful.” “Ah yes,” says Campbell, “I could see your shoulders shaking.”


Tom 12.07.15 at 7:22 pm

Another vote for Reich here. He influenced Woody Allen too!


greg 12.07.15 at 7:38 pm

Peter Irwin @89:

1. I think you might be in danger of slipping into a bit of class snobbery here (“ignorent, lumpen peasantry” versus “creative, experienced literate elite”).

1. I like to think I’m pretty careful about this sort of thing. No. 3. is indeed often the case, especially when a civilization enters decline. (As was going on about Cicero’s time, I believe. For which, thanks. However, I do not think this refutes my position that top down forces were strongly acting, at least during certain periods, in China. And I think that they were usually strongly conservative. I think for this, we would have to appeal to more data. ) My analysis suggests that, in a society increasingly experiencing stress, the entrenched elites sustain their privileges by imposing as much of that stress as they can onto the lower classes, as I believe is happening in the West today. Under these situations, the lower classes, especially those at the margins, are forced to adapt more and conform to an increasingly demanding reality. Their language would reflect these stresses and adaptations.

The language of the elites, no longer attached to an outer reality, would, under these circumstances, I believe, tend to drift away from that reality. Indeed, it seems it is the elites who more often enter denial, and fail to comprehend the changing situation their society is in. Societal collapse is very much a failure of management.

2. There’s ample evidence from historical linguistics that languages evolve in the absence of literacy.

I am aware of this science, and do not dispute its conclusions. But I believe the oral and written traditions ‘lean against’ and inform each other, although not always equally.
It does seem most natural that the written should follow the oral, but I do not think this implies that the written does not affect what comes after.

3. Literate elites are probably just as likely (or more likely) to promote linguistic conservatism. In many cases, the literati write in an antiquated, formal style modeled on the greats of the past, while the language changes around them.

The written tradition is certainly, on average, the more conservative, and especially with wide spread literacy, would limit and slow the degree of changes which would otherwise take root in the oral. I don’t know if there is data to support or refute either this, or the Chinese case. Hmm.


DavidMoz 12.07.15 at 7:43 pm

James Blish – A Case of Conscience; Phillip Kerr – A Philosophical Investigation


greg 12.07.15 at 7:57 pm

May I suggest this van Vogt novel, The Voyage of the Space Beagle. It is a mash up of four stories where a mentally rigid crew is saved from four disasters by the superior mental flexibility of a single crew member who, with his special training, was added as an afterthought.

“Nexialism,” I believe van Vogt called this science. He saves not only the crew but human galactic civilization. If I remember, the mental rigidities of the crew were not strictly a consequence of language.


Criminally Bulgur 12.07.15 at 7:58 pm

Bateson is actually still cited by people who work in extended mind / embedded cognition.

Kurt Goldstein, The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man (1934)

Though plenty of serious people dumped on it from the beginning, Teilhard de Chardin Phenomenon of Man (1955) probably counts.

John Eccles, The Understanding of the Brain (1973).


Hidari 12.07.15 at 8:49 pm

@77 Now Pitts was an interesting guy. From a working class background, he once ran away from home and got locked in the library with, so to speak, only Principia Mathematica for company, which he read in a three day frenzy. He found some errors (!), and felt that Bertrand Russell should know about them, so he wrote to tell him. Russell was so impressed that he said that he would put in a good word for Pitts if he were to apply for any University posts, which Pitts replied would be difficult….

on the grounds that he was 12 . After the contretemps with Weiner’s wife, he apparently drank himself to death.


Is anyone going to mention the fact that J.G. Ballard’s stuff is saturated with Freudianism? All of it basically but especially look at Manhole 69 and Zone of Terror.


Joseph Brenner 12.07.15 at 10:20 pm

I was going to mention Korzybski, also. He’s someone who never
seems to have been taken seriously by academia (e.g. what might
reasonably be called “the Korzybski doctrine” we call “the strong
form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis”), but he was very popular
with a number of odd thinkers like Heinlein, Englebart and
Burroughs (William Burroughs, that is). Korzybski’s General
Semantics was used explicitly in Van Vogt’s Null-A books.

William Reich is a good thought too… he was another thinker
popular with the Beats (Burroughs, Kerouac, etc), and could
easily be an influence on the likes of Sturgeon.

I picked up on Gregory Bateson from the Whole Earth Catalog
(Stuart Brand has much to answer for), and I don’t doubt
that their other enthusiasms had some influence on SF.
(maybe Huizinga, “Homo Ludens”?).

I read a minor SF pulp from the 50s (FUTURE, Sept 1952) and found
that a number of the stories played up civilized vs barbarians,
where the human explorers are very controled and rational and the
aliens are wild and sexually seductive. There’s a lot of that in
the first run of Star Trek (logic vs emotion, right?). That’s
all clearly in sync with a lot of anthropology, e.g. Margaret
Mead on Samoa.

By the way: the letter column of that issue of FUTURE had a
theosophist complaining about L. Sprague de Camp dismissing
Madame Blavatsky.

Anyway, to take all of this from the other side: there’s an
expectation in a lot of earlier SF that morality might be
grounded in science, e.g. E.E. Smith’s “Lensman” where possessing
a lens is a guarantee that you’re a Good Guy, or in Heinlein’s
“Starship Troopers” where there’s they use symbolic logic to
settle moral questions. Where exactly does that idea come from?
Most of us children of Descartes are more inclined to overplay
the fact-value dichotomy, where did they get the notion of
morality derivable from scientific reality?


tomk 12.07.15 at 10:58 pm

I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Robert Anton Wilson, and somehow I think Charles Fort would be relevant. Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science might be useful for this project and has a very entertaining chapter on Fort.


ZM 12.07.15 at 11:18 pm

Peter Erwin and Greg,

Peter Erwin: “2. There’s ample evidence from historical linguistics that languages evolve in the absence of literacy. 3. Literate elites are probably just as likely (or more likely) to promote linguistic conservatism. ….
… literate European elites continued writing almost exclusively in Latin until the High Middle Ages, so it’s hard to argue that they were primarily responsible for the development of Italian, French, Spanish, etc.”

Imperial Chinese is a good example of a written language that was distinct from the spoken languages. It was a bit like Latin in that the written language was the same throughout China — and there was a rigorous exam system to maintain standards — whereas the spoken languages were like the different Romance languages in Contintental Europe being quite different from one another so people from areas speaking different language groups couldn’t easily understand each other. There was also a women’s written language in Southern China. When the PRC wanted to mainstream literacy in the mid 20th Century, they changed the script into simpler characters, but traditional characters are still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.


Lee A. Arnold 12.07.15 at 11:38 pm

Conan Doyle’s History of Spiritualism (2 vols.) fits criteria 1 through 5.


Mike Furlan 12.07.15 at 11:43 pm

Peter Erwin @92

Having seen the films, your story makes more sense.

They show the workings of a mind “unencumbered by the thought process”.
T. Magliozzi


jake the antisoshul soshulist 12.08.15 at 1:19 am

Van Vogt was explicitly influenced by Korzybski. And was a big believer in Dianetics and a friend of ElRon. He even ran a storefront promoting Dianetics. Later he had some sort of falling out with Hubbard and/or Dianetics. He claimed that harrassment by Hubbard and his followers hurt his career after that. He was widely thought to have been paranoid and to have blamed his decline on outside sources. But considering they way that Hubbard and the Church of Scientology have treated apostates since, I suspect he was mostly correct.
As far as Hubbard influencing Heinlein, I have heard that at one time Heinlein, his wife and Hubbard lived together in a menage a trois.
Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus is a critique of philosophy disguised as an S-F book


pnee 12.08.15 at 1:47 am

@11. Neural networks were a hot area in AI research when Terminator was made. I’m not sure there’s much more to it than that.

Intelligence emerging unexpectedly from a sufficiently sophisticated computer is explored in previous works such as Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Adolescence of P-1.


ozajh 12.08.15 at 2:16 am

ZM @ 104,

That implies that there were (are?) people who couldn’t understand each other’s speech, but who could understand each other’s writing. Surely there has to be a way to make that a major plot point, either in Science Fiction or Historical Fiction. (Or in Alternative History, which can be a sub-genre of both.)


ozajh 12.08.15 at 2:25 am


I know it isn’t primarily a Philosophy of Mind, but Objectivism would appear to meet your first 4 criteria? (But, alas, still far too influential to meet #5.)


Peter T 12.08.15 at 2:53 am

ozajh @109

Sure there are. I, for instance, cannot understand the speech of Glaswegians, yet there writings are admirably clear (if often terse).


Peter T 12.08.15 at 2:54 am


“their writings”, of course


bad Jim 12.08.15 at 8:34 am

I’ve often been frustrated by people who can’t navigate. My youngest brother, walking up a street on a sunny day at noon, complaining on the phone to his daughter, “How do I know which way is north?” My Australian cousin, at the beach in Southern California, “How do I know which way is south?”

Australian aborigines supposedly describe spatial relationships in cardinal terms: this is to my west, that’s to my east, in contrast to our usual self-centered right and left, or boat-centered starboard and port. This is perhaps at play in “Rabbit-Proof Fence”: the girls’ confidence that they can find their way home across a continent.


Jameson Quinn 12.08.15 at 9:03 am

HPMoR, and more generally Less Wrong, is a gold mine in this regard. Those people are of course aware of their own crank factor, and take some measures to avoid going off the deep end, but those measures don’t always work. Or, for more a mainstream work that gestures towards a similar nexus of singularity, simulation, etc., there’s A Fire Upon the Deep and sequels.


Frederick 12.08.15 at 9:13 am

Isnt the Bible the most influential source of science fiction/fantasy writing?
But then again doesnt the Bible itself belongs in the genre of science fiction/fantasy.


duaneg 12.08.15 at 9:52 am

I don’t believe anyone has mentioned Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” yet, which inspired John Brunner’s “The Shockwave Rider”, amongst others.

I think it definitely meets points 1-4 and probably 5. It isn’t a theory of mind as such, though. Still, any excuse to mention the rather brilliant “Shockwave Rider”!


Lige 12.08.15 at 11:00 am

Poul Anderson’s work of the 60’s really goes into great depth on theme of the greatness of Libertarian Capitalism – “The Man who Counts” is the one I can remember. Also Toynbee historical ideas are referenced by H. Beam Piper and Ray Bradbury. And don’t forget the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” the perennial model for most Galactic Empires.


Bill Benzon 12.08.15 at 12:42 pm

In movies, the 1956 SF classic Forbidden Planet was based loosely on The Tempest and the Caliban character was called The Monster from the Id.



casmilus 12.08.15 at 1:08 pm

@107 I suppose you know the Philip K.Dick short story “The Turning Wheel”, in which the philosophy of “Elron Hu” is dominating a post-apocalyptic world?


casmilus 12.08.15 at 1:09 pm

Anyone else read “Operators And Things” by Barbara O’Brien?


casmilus 12.08.15 at 1:13 pm

@85 there is now a reprint edition – but it has errors, like all those new “scanned” POD editions (why can’t we get the computers to work at the simple stuff?)


Lee A. Arnold 12.08.15 at 1:22 pm

John, your post gave me the key to the very good, simple description of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: It could be classified as science fiction about the “collective unconscious”.

Consider: It is a novel. It expresses a fictional dreamer’s guilt, confusion and denial about a failure that happened, perhaps during the previous day.

In his sleep, out pours the entire European mental-soup circa 1930, including a cornucopia of references by name and quotation to reams and reams of psychology, philosophy of mind, mysticism and spiritualism — both serious and pop, from the ancients up to the time of its composition, even Conan Doyle and Blavatsky.

It’s not clear that Joyce really believed in the “collective unconscious” (unlike Jung). Yet Joyce obviously took it as a literary theme that is necessitated by a major trend in modernism (and he locates the beginning of the trend in Vico, another writer who fits your five criteria, although an English translation of Vico did not appear for 150 years).

So, Finnegans Wake has been difficult to explain because, in addition to its broken language, it is a genre-bender. It’s a fictional representation of where myth is generated; in essence, it’s a science fiction about meta-myth.

Joyce had serious purposes, and one reason he may have led himself down this path was an intent to update Dante’s encoded presentation of mystical experience for the modern era.

But “modern” means “scientific”, and Joyce took every theory or creed, whether serious or popular — including science — to be provisional if not misleading. Because that would suit the unconscious! Accordingly, everything is leveled into the soup of dream puns.


Paul Davis 12.08.15 at 1:39 pm

It seems to me that Arthur Koestler, particularly “The Ghost in the Machine”, deserves a mention here. Very popular among a certain “well-read” crowd in the mid-20th, and now very much viewed as near to irrelevancy, despite his ideas having propagated quite widely and probably still having an influence.


Lee A. Arnold 12.08.15 at 2:23 pm

Something valid remains of Arthur Koestler. His short essay, “Some general properties of self-regulating open hierarchic order” (1969), which I think was derived from The Ghost in the Machine, is a remarkable statement of systems-hierarchical epistemology. It’s about ten light-years beyond anything Hayek wrote, and still unsurpassed.

I think that Gregory Bateson hasn’t come into his own, yet. He was beginning to describe the contours of a life science/social science which would posit “information” as a basic thing, to stand alongside “mass-energy”. This is a return to the ancient dichotomy of form vs. substance. Bateson won’t lead to deterministic quantitative prediction, but then, neither will much of social science.

So far however, the monists will have none of it, even the neutral ones. Perhaps it’s because, in their futile search for the quantifiable, they become addicted to great quantities of pages of science fiction… Leavened by reams of realms of sword and sorcery! Yet, if only they paid attention, the philosophy of mathematics and the rise of “philosophy of computation”, if we could call it that, would throw a big chink into their armor.


Lee A. Arnold 12.08.15 at 2:28 pm

John, you made me realize that philosophy of mind, including fun with its barmier reaches, is another of Joyce’s premeditated topical epicenters in Finnegans Wake. It’s obvious and I should have seen this before. Joyce told several people that the justification of his book was the argument between St. Patrick and an archdruid, representing western and eastern styles. (p.611) For a taste, the archdruid states,

“…whereas for numpa one puraduxed seer in seventh degree of wisdom of Entis-Onton he savvy inside true inwardness of reality, the Ding hvad in idself id es, all objects (of panepiwor) allside showed themselves in trues coloribus resplendent with sextuple gloria of light actually retained, untisintus, inside them (obs of epiwo).”


casmilus 12.08.15 at 2:37 pm

It’s great that there are so many “not exactly phil of mind but…” responses here. The on-line equivalent of “My question is more of an observation…”


casmilus 12.08.15 at 2:38 pm

There is an Arthur Koestler Chair Of Parapsychology, so he does have a continuing small influence in academia.


casmilus 12.08.15 at 2:40 pm

There’s a passage in a Philip K.Dick novel speculating that FW was inspired by alien or time-travelling influences, I think it’s in “The Divine Invasion”.


Lee A. Arnold 12.08.15 at 2:51 pm

Casmilus: “It’s great that there are so many ‘not exactly phil of mind but…’ responses here.”

John writes in the top post, “There is no disciplinary coherence to the sorts of works that might quality: spirit, will, mind, brain. Experimental psychology and spirit-rapping. We are all over the map.”


Lee A. Arnold 12.08.15 at 2:55 pm

John, I think that, in terms of a history of this, you are almost asking for a book with universal subject matter. When the Great Chain of Being was inverted in the popular mind in around the middle of the 18th century (see Arthur O. Lovejoy), all sorts of myths, legends, and religious stories became psychologically available to “repurpose” into fiction, and into speculative nonfiction about the constitution of the psycho-social world. There appear to have been many dozens of bestsellers in several languages, now all but forgotten, and this may have influenced the earliest SF and horror.


Niall McAuley 12.08.15 at 2:59 pm

Toynbee is also heavily referenced in The Paradox Men by Charles Harness


steven johnson 12.08.15 at 3:34 pm

PS on computer theories of mind: John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. The AI Shalmaneser V (if I remember the name correctly) is a practicing solipsist.


Peter Erwin 12.08.15 at 3:48 pm

David Steinsaltz @ 46:
So you had Einstein coming in, saying, you know this weird thing that the spiritualists have been banging on about? Well, it’s real, and you can measure it, and I have an equation for it, and then the rest of the physics community comes along and says, he’s right, we’ve measured it…

I’ll certainly grant this as a popular and influential (mis)interpretation of relativity, though strictly speaking Einstein and the rest of the physics community said no such thing.

The mathematician Hermann Minkowski was the first to suggest that special relativity made sense as a description of a four-dimensional spacetime manifold (three spatial dimensions + time as an extra dimension; no fourth spatial or “spiritual” dimensions involved), something Einstein was actually scornful of at first (calling it “superfluous erudition”). General relativity made spacetime fundamentally non-Euclidean, though it still didn’t add any extra dimensions.


Peter Erwin 12.08.15 at 4:09 pm

I seem to recall reading somewhere that part of the initial appeal of Dianetics was that it promised some of the same mental-health benefits that Freudianism was famous for (while claiming to be superior to the latter, of course), at a time when Freudian psychiatry was largely unavailable to the general public — mainly because Freudian psychotherapists were a) rather rare; and b) expensive.


Lawrence Stuart 12.08.15 at 4:35 pm

Not sure if this would qualify under the ‘philosophy of mind’ rubric, but but Margaret Atwood’s sci fi writings owe a lot to Northrop Frye’s meditations on the genre conventions of both romance and sci fi/fantasy (the latter pair being a sub-species of romance). For Frye ‘mind’ (or at least the juicy bits of mind) is synonymous with creative imagination. Creative imagination, as both utopian and anti-utopian narratives, is what sci fi deploys against the crush of ‘there is no alternative.’

In any event Frye is a treasure trove of slightly outmoded (sadly, in my view) thought on the utopian aspects of sci fi and romantic fiction:

‘New utopias would have to derive their form from the shifting and dissolving movement of society that is gradually replacing the fixed locations of life. They would not be rational cities evolved by a philosopher’s dialectic: they would be rooted in the body as well as in the mind, in the unconscious as well as the conscious, in forests and deserts as well as in highways and buildings, in bed as well as in the symposium. ‘

And, of course, they may be rooted in bodies and minds in the future, or in galaxies far, far away.



phenomenal cat 12.08.15 at 6:44 pm

casmilus, you are the first person I’ve come across who has heard of Operators and Things, never mind read it.

I didn’t know about the the shoddy reprint. I was lucky enough to find an old paperback of it for cheap some years ago.


Raven on the Hill 12.08.15 at 8:06 pm

Peter Erwin@51: I stand corrected.

phenomenal cat@85: anthropology as a whole was used. Andre Norton drew on anthropological studies for her cultures (I’d have to dig around in the books to find a specific reference.) Heinlein had a minor anthropologist character in Citizen of the Galaxy named Margaret Mader, and Gordon Dickson’s No Room for Man (also published as Necromancer) borrows terminology from Edward T. Hall’s The Silent Language.

Bateson’s ecological critique of our culture remains a source for various “green” books, though it is likely that most sources that rely on him are not aware of his work, or sympathetic to his austere philosophical formalism.


Jack Morava 12.08.15 at 8:33 pm

i find it remarkable that an audience of this level of erudition and sophistication has paid
so little attention to Philip K Dick. Like Nietzsche and Blake, he takes some getting used
to; but he deserves (and rewards) serious attention.

[In a recent discussion of film adaptations of his books, it was said that his `Do androids dream of electric sheep’ has been misinterpreted as being about how closely robots might
resemble people, when its real concern is why people act like robots.]

For the curious,


is a good place to start…


Jack Morava 12.08.15 at 8:44 pm

PS, cf also Gogol…


phenomenal cat 12.08.15 at 8:47 pm

“anthropology as a whole was used. Andre Norton drew on anthropological studies for her cultures (I’d have to dig around in the books to find a specific reference.) Heinlein had a minor anthropologist character in Citizen of the Galaxy named Margaret Mader, and Gordon Dickson’s No Room for Man (also published as Necromancer) borrows terminology from Edward T. Hall’s The Silent Language.” raven on the hill @137

Say what now? Do you mean that Bateson drew on anthro to develop his theories? He was married to Margaret Mead after all…

To your last point, he did seem bemused by the eco-mystical ends to which his work was often put.


phenomenal cat 12.08.15 at 8:51 pm

Well, and Bateson himself was an something of anthropologist in his own right…


casmilus 12.08.15 at 9:02 pm

@136 I heard of it as it is mentioned here:


The reprint does have an Introduction setting out the history of the book. There was a film version mooted at one point. It’s had waves of popularity over the years.


If you like that sort of thing, check out the many different styles of cover design it’s had, from the 50s through 70s to 90s and teens.


Andrew 12.08.15 at 9:25 pm

#35 already mentioned de Camp and Pratt’s THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER which featured symbolic logic as the key to apprehending reality as it ‘really’ is, unencumbered by the accidents of perspective. Asimov’s FOUNDATION novels have a similar feature – in the first book I think – in which the newly-established Foundation uses its mastery of symbolic logic to decode how treaties work and how to communicate more effectively.

I’ve always wondered what the intellectual underpinnings of this mid-century fetish of symbolic logic was. Apparently it was Whitehead and Bertrand Russell.


steven johnson 12.08.15 at 9:30 pm

Leibniz’ characteristica unversalis to Bertrand Russell to John W. Campbell?


Joseph Brenner 12.08.15 at 10:06 pm

Lige @117

“Poul Anderson’s work of the 60’s really goes into great depth
on theme of the greatness of Libertarian Capitalism – ‘The
Man who Counts’ is the one I can remember.”

I’ll believe you that Anderson played up free markets some where or other,
but that’s not really the point of “The Man Who Counts”– Anderson was
arguing with the self-flattering belief common in Astounding/Analog stories
that Engineers are a superior breed. In “The Man Who Counts”, the engineer
is of less importance than the schmoozy wheeling-dealing businessman.
(Anderson in general often seemed to write stories that were criticisms of
the premises of other SF stories… e.g. “Corridors of Time” is a reaction
to Heinlein’s “Glory Road”).

“Also Toynbee historical ideas are referenced by H. Beam Piper
and Ray Bradbury.”

Toynbee is a good thought. Spengler is often cited as underlying
Blish’s “Cities in Flight” series, though I’ve never been familiar
enough with Spengler to confirm that myself.

“And don’t forget the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’
the perennial model for most Galactic Empires.”

Asimov cites Gibbon as the foundation of The Foundation series, of course,
though more to the point would be “psychohistory”: what were it’s


Joseph Brenner 12.08.15 at 10:07 pm

Jack Morava @138

“i find it remarkable that an audience of this level of
erudition and sophistication has paid so little attention to
Philip K Dick.”

A number of people have referenced Dick already. Myself, I think his
(largely posthumous) popularity is itself an odd phenomena, he seems to
have been discovered and championed by people who aren’t terribly familiar
with other Science Fiction… there’s no question he was a very good
writer, but they give him more credit than he deserves. E.g. A.E. van
Vogt was just as weird (if not weirder) than Philip K. Dick, though it
seems that van Vogt was less self-aware about it.

I’ve read Ubik, and thought it was fun but not tremendously heavy.
It’s got an improvised first draft quality to it– I don’t think
Dick knew where he was going when he started.


Jack Morava 12.08.15 at 10:26 pm

J Brenner @146:

There’s a coherence in Dick that vVogt lacks; he (Dick) was not at all sure that the
world makes sense, and struggled seriously to cope with that idea. Late works like Valis, Timothy Archer, A scanner darkly (and earlier things like Martian Timeslip and Simulacra) are heart-breaking in a way most SF avoids – see Ursula LeGuin’s essay
on his work. He seems to have written on speed a lot, and not knowing where he was
going was part of what he was doing. Blake’s Mental Traveller has many of the same
kind of inversions and reversals…


Greg 12.08.15 at 11:20 pm

I think there is an implicit theory of mind in The Second Sex< and its popularisation The Female Eunuch. They fulfil the first three criteria and possibly the fifth, but because the theory is implicit, it might be too much work for you, John.

Feminists seem to focus on the self as a whole rather than its parts.


ozajh 12.08.15 at 11:25 pm

Peter T @111,

Yes. Of course. I should have thought of UK examples myself.


Tyrone Slothrop 12.09.15 at 1:24 am

Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin presents an anti-Spenglerian, rather uniquely brilliant unfolding of human consciousness from the flattened linearity of the Archaic through to the eteological parturiency within the Integral of our modern present. A philosophy of mind via the prism of culture, in a manner of speaking…


Jim Henley 12.09.15 at 1:48 am

Perhaps Gregory Bateson’s greatest contribution, along with Mead, was serving as the template couple for Nicholas Mosley’s novel, Hopeful Monsters. Which wasn’t really about philosophy of mind (that I recall) and also wasn’t quite SF, so isn’t strictly germane. But it’s a wonderful book.


PJW 12.09.15 at 12:14 pm



Peter Erwin 12.09.15 at 1:25 pm

PJW @ 152:

… what?
Yeats wrote science fiction?
(About phrenology?)


Jerry Vinokurov 12.09.15 at 4:15 pm

There’s also Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind.”


Daniel Nolan 12.09.15 at 5:04 pm

John Eccles has already been mentioned above, but the Eccles and Popper 1977 The Self and its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism is a book that meets most of the criteria mentioned above. I don’t know what science fiction it influenced, apart from a general influence of keeping dualism scientifically respectable so authors could dip into psychics etc. in their science fiction with only moderate qualms.


The Raven 12.10.15 at 6:23 am

phenomenal cat@140, 141: Bateson and Mead met doing anthropological research and worked together for, IIRC, about 15 years before Bateson left her. Bateson’s later work was rooted in his early anthropological work. But perhaps the strongest anthropological connection comes through Ursula Kroeber LeGuin, daughter of anthropologists Alfred and Theodora Kroeber.

Joseph Brenner@145: Blish himself acknowledged Spengler as an influence. Psychohistory, as far as I know, was an invention of Asimov himself, though it was built on macro-historical theory (which Alfred Kroeber also dabbled in.) It’s a fairly obvious step if you were a science-fiction writer of the period and also underlies some time-travel stories: if a science of history can exist, even a rough, statistical science, why not shaping history as an engineering practice? And that, of course, leads back to Marx and perhaps other 19th-century philosophers.


A H 12.11.15 at 5:05 am

Heinlein’s “Jerry Was A Man” is kind of an amazing short story that deals with the question of how smart does a genetically engineered ape have to be to be considered a person. It is very cynical which makes it good.


Tomm Undergod 12.11.15 at 11:03 pm

Blish spent some fiction addressing issues of Roman Catholic theology. and Lafferty’s work is similarly informed– his beautifully written novel “The Fall of Rome,” for example, passing as nonfictional history.

Similarly, Jewish topics and themes often inspire genre works. See for instance the marvelous short story master Avram Davidson.

Robert Sheckley ‘s “Options,” a short novel in 64 sections is based on I Ching hexagrams. His sometime collaborator, Roger Zelazny, based his “Chronicles of Amber” series on the tarot and is hardly the only writer to base works on the cards . Do those books qualify for this comversation? Or do tarot and the Chinese oracle not count as philosophies of mind?

BTW, Lafferty also has a story in which everything in the universe needs to be held specifically in mind or it ceases to exist. Bishop Berkeley, anyone?

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