Artist, technologist, and philosopher James Bridle’s Ways of Being is an exploration of different kinds of intelligence―plant, animal, human, artificial―and how they transform our understanding of humans’ place in the cosmos.
The first step towards an interspecies future, Mr. Bridle argues, is showing more appreciation for other forms of intelligence...To some extent, this is already happening, starting with cephalopods...Through films and other initiatives many people now know that octopuses have an advanced and strange intelligence...Human beings’ last common ancestor with the octopus lived 600m years ago, compared with 16m years for the chimpanzee...Yet the octopus eye resembles the human kind. If similar eyes can evolve through separate routes, so might intelligences...The next step, Mr. Bridle asserts, is recognising that people live in an 'entangled' and 'more than human' world...Everything is messier than it seems...Other intelligences have developed from a common evolutionary base, and they overlap in ways that science is just beginning to discern...Mortal intelligence is not only limited by its capacity, but by its type: people are bipedal primates who see and hear better than they smell and touch.
Bridle offers a heady and often astonishing survey of recent discoveries from the 'more-than-human' world, where science is only beginning to glimpse the myriad forms that nonhuman intelligence can take ... Spanning millenniums, continents and academic disciplines, the scope of Bridle’s curiosity and comprehension is immense, and the possibilities of how other intelligences might augment or complement our own are exhilarating to consider ... Just as, 50 years ago, Berger challenged consensus societal values by questioning the assumptions viewers bring to bear when they look at a piece of artwork, so does Bridle now hold forth recent scientific discoveries as ways of upending our limited, self-serving and toxic understanding of what intelligence can be ... And yet, the Western, anthropocentric outlook that Bridle presents here, the one they seek to disrupt, seems in places both overly monolithic and outmoded ... Still, when seen through the clouded, ominous light of 'paranoia and social disintegration' Bridle conjures so vividly in New Dark Age, there is something hopeful and even heartening in their faith that our current disastrous course might be shifted not only by new policies and technologies but also — and more fundamentally — by the power of new ideas. Even if Bridle’s language occasionally overreaches or overgeneralizes, the urgency of the moment perhaps necessitates the hyperbole. After all, to ignore Bridle’s premonitions and revelations might be like ignoring those spooked goats on Mount Etna, frantic with the imminence of eruption under their hooves. Catastrophe is coming, and we might only save ourselves if we can find new ways to look and to listen.
If you plan on reading James Bridle’s Ways of Being — and I cannot recommend highly enough that you do — you might consider forming a support group first. The ideas in this book are so big, so fascinating and yes, so foreign, you are going to need people to talk to about them. Have your people on speed dial, ready to go. And make sure you set aside a good amount of time for reading. You probably won’t be reading this book once. You’ll want to read it several times. This book is going to stretch you ... In this book, Bridle has created a new way of thinking about our world, about being. How would we live our lives and change our world if we embraced this thinking? If we did not place ourselves at the center of everything? Please read this important book. Read it twice. Talk about it. Tell everyone you know.