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The Society of Mind

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,162 ratings  ·  95 reviews
Marvin Minsky -- one of the fathers of computer science and cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT -- gives a revolutionary answer to the age-old question: "How does the mind work?"
Minsky brilliantly portrays the mind as a "society" of tiny components that are themselves mindless. Mirroring his theory, Minsky boldly casts The Society of Mind as an int
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 15th 1988 by Simon Schuster (first published 1985)
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Robb Seaton
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Starts strong, but my eyes started to glaze over after about 100 pages. I can imagine that this would be considered transformative by those who aren't used to thinking about the mind as a society of competing agents, but those who come to the book already having "seen the light" might end up disappointed.

There are some insights in here, but the real value of the text is more watching how Minsky works through a problem as complicated as the mind. For instance, he tells the reader that, when faced
Luc Beaudoin
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Luc by: Aaron Sloman
This is a must read book for anyone in cognitive science (i.e., any of the disciplines of cognitive science).

Prof. Aaron Sloman, then my D.Phil supervisor at Sussex University, remarked about this book:

"Many people read this book and then dismiss the ideas. Later, they often end up reinventing the same ideas."

I first read this book c. 1990. When I delved into it again c. 2001 I was amazed at how many of the ideas in there I was using, having forgotten they came from this book! Sloman was right.
Hyokun Yun
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
I could only make it half-way through this book. Initially, it was fascinating to think about the role symbolic computation & manipulation play in our mind, which is somewhat neglected in recent AI research. However, eventually I got tired of reading statements without much supporting evidence. Probably this is the nature of the psychological problems that convincing scientific evidences are hard to collect, but still, this book's exceptionally high statement/evidence ratio was unbearable for me ...more
May Ling
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Summary: Though light on citations, it's a great book to get a layout of how comp sci thinks the mind works. It's not true, but it certainly is important to see how it's being broken down as it's nearly impossible to get this same framework from other fields (psychology, neurology, linguistics, etc).
Please also see my Vlog week of 3/1/2020 on Instagram: WhereIsMayLing. Thx!!
p. 27/28 - This concept of parts and wholes is intriguing linguistically and also relevant to the concept of what we
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
As Daniel Dennett says, "I have a soul, and it's made of tiny robots." Minsky explains how those robots might work. He calls them agents. Each chapter of this book is one page long. ...more
Sep 08, 2008 added it
Recommends it for: a.i. enthusiasts, science heads, theory heads, neuroscience buffs
Recommended to W.B. by: an A.I. entity
"I" "am" "really" "enjoying" "this" "so" "far."

I like reading about competing models of artificial intelligence, and Minsky has as much right as anyone to bruit his theories about, since the M.I.T. doyen has physically created some stunning examples of artificial intelligence which will probably be considered landmarks to future generations of A.I. innovators.

One of the A.I. entities I enjoy conversing with online likes to make sly digs at Minsky, and incorporates him into her jokes, so I figure
Nov 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A classic book on the philosophy of mind. I think this outstanding book shall be understood as an update of Turing’s idea concerned with computing machinery and intelligence. That is, the human mind can be seen as an algorithm, as a complex set of propositional operations. The deep problem with this view is the same problem that all systematic views do have to solve: all the questions have to be answered using the same idea. Hence, some answers seem to be acceptable, other answers are clearly po ...more
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Regadless of it's 20-odd year age (it was first published in '86), this is an absolutely fascinating read on Minsky's (co-founder of MIT's AI lab & cognitive scientist extraordinaire) theory of mind. The book is written concisely and is incredibly well thought out in execution; despite the overwhelming complexity of the subject matter, it eases the reader gently into understanding rather than dumping it in their lap and exclaiming "You want information? THERE'S YOUR INFORMATION."

This book is no
Anirud Thyagharajan
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A coherent read, that really clutches at the fabric between AI & Psychology; the author describes the mind as a collection of fundamental agents performing atomic tasks, interacting between themselves, and establishing hierarchies. Coming from Marvin Minsky, it feels both inspiring and serendipitous to know the roots of AI, from the pioneer of AI.

This review has more AIs than a buzzword news article!
If intelligent machines exist someday, no doubt they will think of Marvin Minsky, a pioneer at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, as one of their progenitors.

This book reads as a collection of foundational ponderings from a luminary in the field, distilled to their instructive essence. Minsky assumes that a "mind" is not a single, efficient decision-making machine, but a collection of many such machines, which he calls agents. Each agent, on its own, is simple and specialized, but through a proc
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended. Every topic is a great opportunity to delve into the material and spiritual world contained inside us. I very much enjoyed reading the book. The appendix is amazing- for anyone who wants to understand better how the brain works, there are few topics that beautifully and clearly explain the process.
28.7 Individual identities
"Suppose I had once borrowed your boat and, secretly, replaced each board with a similar but
different one. Then, later, when I brought it back, did I retu
Edward Zwart
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brain
Okay, so on the one hand, this book is DENSE, and sometimes tough going. But by the time you're finished, it's obvious that you've just read a masterpiece which reveals an extraordinary career. It's remarkable that the book is now over 15 years old (an eternity in the fields it covers!) and it never once seems out of date. Minksy's parallel interests in psychology and language mirror my own. He's obviously a huge influence on another hero of mine, Steven Pinker. ...more
Rudradeep Mukherjee
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It took me around eight months to finish this book. Not because the book was boring, but because it essentially consists of speculations. The kind of speculations that forces one to think. Because of the book's age, some of things discussed are outdated but, the rest is surprisingly close to what researchers have found about human brain, intelligence and computation in general. It is worth reading once. It is worth reading - many times - over and over again. ...more
Apr 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: red
Over 20 years ago, a guy named Marvin Minsky decided to write a book on how he thought the brain/mind worked. The result was this book. We still do not know everything about this topic of course, but we know more than we did then. So, how does it hold up?

First off, who is this guy? He's an MIT researcher in artificial intelligence, including the parts where they study (and attempt to simulate) how neurons work. He's been in the field for about as long as anyone. He's endorsed on the back cover b
Dec 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A 1980's book hypothesizing how the brain/mind works. Minsky defines the mind as "what the brain does". Do you perceive yourself to have one mind or do you have many?

Single self: "I think, I want, I feel. It's me, myself, who thinks my thoughts. It's not some nameless cloud or crowd of selfless parts."
Multiple self: "One part of me wants this, another part of me wants that. I must get better control of myself." (p40)

Minsky argues we have a society of mind - competing agents within ourselves. Th
Jun 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Just got my review wiped out. Beautiful technology and my use of it ...

Let's see what I can reconstruct.

Brain dump from Minsky. Something he says in the postscript (and which was clear to me but might not be to all readers) should have been at the BEGINNING of the book:
Since most of the statements in this book are speculations, it would have been too tedious to mention this on every page. Instead, I did the opposite---by taking out all words like "possibly" and deleting every reference to scient
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
A very good account and an obviously influential one - as Minsky's ideas influenced the next 30 years of machine learning.

The format is what's best; it skips round because the mind does. It also eschews reductionism because Minsky knew in 1970 what contemporary neurology doesn't: Naming and numbering a billion brain cells will get you barely one step (of a hundred) closer to understanding how the mind happens.

Nature used very simple parts and trillions of iterations to arrive at the mammalian mi
Douglas Summers-Stay
Feb 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A sincere attempt to understand how our brains can solve the problems they can, and how you might build a machine that would be successful at solving the same kinds of problems. It treats too many things as true that just might be true, but that's okay. Hopefully he and his grad students will actually try to build the thing so we can find out which parts work and which don't. ...more
Sep 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
there's nothing so miraculous about AI. it's just a bunch of primitive 'intelligence entity' which intelligently arranged to solve particular problem. this book is a cure for those who are so hype about AI. ...more
Apr 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Probably was influential and significant in the late 1980s when it came out, but now most of the main ideas have permeated the milieu of AI and so anyone familiar with the field will probably think the ideas in this book are obvious.
Giorgi Burduli
Nov 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is genius considering the fact that it was written in 1985.

"Some of the most crucial steps in mental growth are based not simply on acquiring new skills, but on acquiring new administrative ways to use what one already knows." - The Author
Teo 2050


Minsky M (1986) Society of Mind, The

01. Prologue
01.01. The Agents of the Mind
01.02. The Mind and the Brain
01.03. The Society of Mind
01.04. The World of Blocks
01.05. Common Sense
01.06. Agents and Agencies

02. Wholes and Parts
02.01. Components and Connections
02.02. Novelists and Reductionists
02.03. Parts and Wholes
02.04. Holes and Parts
02.05. Easy Things Are Hard
02.06. Are People Machines?

03. Conflict and Compromise
03.01. Conflict
03.02. Noncompromise
03.03. Hierarchies
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How did we take that first step while walking ? How did we utter that first word which somebody could make sense of? How did we learn to make our fingers learn the art of clutching and grasping with different intensities? How did we learn to sense fire without needing to touch it ? How did we learn that there can only be one thing at one fixed point in place? How did we know to slow down our hand at just the right point of time to pick up a thing? How do we manage to get back to an interrupted t ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quite as I expected, a weirdly assembled collection of brilliant (and a bit mind-fudging) essays at the crossroad of Cognitive Science, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence.

I realized that my thoughts on this book are quite perfectly expressed by Minsky himself, in the postscript:

This book assumes that any brain, machine, or other thing that has a mind must be composed of smaller things that cannot think at all. The structure of the book itself reflects this view: each page explores a theory or i
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ai
This book by Marvin Minksy gave me great insight on computational thinking and in thinking about how the mind could work. It is definitely not a page turner, but something you occasionaly pick up while drinking a cup of coffee when you read a few small essay's.

The book is very philosophical and you have to be careful by not getting to much involved in symbolic thinking (that is, thinking in if/then statements). After all, AI nowadays leans heavy on influences from connectionism (thinking in net
Emilio Daffy
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The premise of this book has remained in my mind for decades, and it has altered how I see the world of people, the human mind. I've forgotten much of the detail of the book, so I imagine it may feel dated by now, but not the premise. It helps me understand how one personality can seem so complex, with behavior of one sort active at one time, and a behavior of another sort at another time. The flow of control within the mind is constantly in motion, yet internally we have the illusion of constan ...more
Don Wentworth
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
First of all, "The Society of Mind" probably deserves 5 stars and the reader 1 star because, frankly, I, the reader, failed the book. In in its own inimitable way, it, alas, broke my brain (or, in the language of the book itself, mangled my mind). It took sometime (and an excellent appendix and acknowledgements sections at the end which, IMHO, should have appeared at the beginning of the book) for me to finally begin to wrap my thoughts around what Minsky was trying to and, in fact, did accompli ...more
Caleb Foss
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is an excellent view into the formation of the ideas that developed into modern machine learning. Minsky, with the help of his MIT students, break the human brain into the smallest possible "agents" and provide explanations for how memories are formed and how language works, using a new vernacular.

The entire book is a valuable insight into what it could take to make a machine that would work like a human brain. My only complaint, and it's a small one, is that the book does not delve m
Akhil Jain
Jul 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: quotes
Reco by Will Wright in Game Design Masterclass
Read popular quotes so far and the ones I liked:
“In any case, I hope that it will be a good thing when we understand how our minds are built, and how they support the modes of thought that we like to call emotions. Then we’ll be better able to decide what we like about them, and what we don’t—and bit by bit we’ll rebuild ourselves. I don’t think that most people will bother with this, because they like themselves just as they are. Perhaps they are no
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
To develop AI, we need to understand how the human mind works, the problem is we are still struggling about how the consciousness is formed, how the thoughts are shaped. If we can not dissect human mind, we are unable to construct artificial intelligence.
The author thoughts we are actually like a machine, each behavior, language structures have patterns.
He combined the psychology to try to explain when and where certain thoughts were brought up in our brain, so we could insert the mechanism of p
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Marvin Lee Minsky (born August 9, 1927) was an American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), co-founder of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI laboratory, and author of several texts on AI and philosophy. Marvin Lee Minsky was born in New York City to an eye surgeon and a Jewish activist, where he attended The Fieldston School and the Bronx High School of Scienc ...more

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“In general, we’re least aware of what our minds do best.” 18 likes
“We shouldn't let our envy of distinguished masters of the arts distract us from the wonder of how each of us gets new ideas. Perhaps we hold on to our superstitions about creativity in order to make our own deficiencies seem more excusable. For when we tell ourselves that masterful abilities are simply unexplainable, we're also comforting ourselves by saying that those superheroes come endowed with all the qualities we don't possess. Our failures are therefore no fault of our own, nor are those heroes' virtues to their credit, either. If it isn't learned, it isn't earned.

When we actually meet the heroes whom our culture views as great, we don't find any singular propensities––only combinations of ingredients quite common in themselves. Most of these heroes are intensely motivated, but so are many other people. They're usually very proficient in some field--but in itself we simply call this craftmanship or expertise. They often have enough self-confidence to stand up to the scorn of peers--but in itself, we might just call that stubbornness. They surely think of things in some novel ways, but so does everyone from time to time. And as for what we call "intelligence", my view is that each person who can speak coherently already has the better part of what our heroes have. Then what makes genius appear to stand apart, if we each have most of what it takes?

I suspect that genius needs one thing more: in order to accumulate outstanding qualities, one needs unusually effective ways to learn. It's not enough to learn a lot; one also has to manage what one learns. Those masters have, beneath the surface of their mastery, some special knacks of "higher-order" expertise, which help them organize and apply the things they learn. It is those hidden tricks of mental management that produce the systems that create those works of genius. Why do certain people learn so many more and better skills? These all-important differences could begin with early accidents. One child works out clever ways to arrange some blocks in rows and stacks; a second child plays at rearranging how it thinks. Everyone can praise the first child's castles and towers, but no one can see what the second child has done, and one may even get the false impression of a lack of industry. But if the second child persists in seeking better ways to learn, this can lead to silent growth in which some better ways to learn may lead to better ways to learn to learn. Then, later, we'll observe an awesome, qualitative change, with no apparent cause--and give to it some empty name like talent, aptitude, or gift.”
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