What does it mean to be intelligent? Is it something unique to humans – or do we share it with other beings?
Recent years have seen rapid advances in ‘artificial’ intelligence, which increasingly appears to be something stranger than we ever imagined. At the same time, we are becoming more aware of the other intelligences which have been with us all along, unrecognized. These other beings are the animals, plants, and natural systems that surround us, and are slowly revealing their complexity and knowledge – just as the new technologies we’ve built are threatening to cause their extinction, and ours.
In WAYS OF BEING, writer and artist James Bridle considers the fascinating, uncanny and multiple ways of existing on earth. What can we learn from these other forms of intelligence and personhood, and how can we change our societies to live more equitably with one another and the non-human world? From Greek oracles to octopuses, forests to satellites, Bridle tells a radical new story about ecology, technology and intelligence. We must, they argue, expand our definition of these terms to build a meaningful and free relationship with the non-human, one based on solidarity and cognitive diversity. We have so much to learn, and many worlds to gain.
"From what are we alienated? Some kind of godlike being, transcending the physical world? The truth is exactly the opposite. What is godlike is our embodied being as symbiotic lifeforms in a biosphere. Right now your brain is reading this, in a bath of flesh and bone and air and … Alienation means thinking humans are special and different. James Bridle’s wonderful book will make you feel and think the power of knowing how like all other lifeforms we are. There is nothing more important." - Timothy Morton
"James Bridle’s brilliant WAYS OF BEING shows we can only face the challenges of the 21st century if we go beyond the fear of pooling knowledge: Bridle shows the importance of listening to one another and our surroundings, and of creating new forms of community. As the late Etel Adnan said: the world needs togetherness and not separation – a common future and not isolation." - Hans Ulrich Obrist
"James Bridle encourages you to widen the boundaries of your understanding, to contemplate the innate intelligence that animates the life force of octopuses and honeybees as well as apes and elephants. We humans are not alone in having a sense of community, a sense of fun, a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of nature. Be prepared to re-evaluate your relationship with the amazing life forms with whom we share the planet. Fascinating, innovative and thought provoking I thoroughly recommend WAYS OF BEING." - Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace
"A profound and elegant exploration of nonhuman intelligence that unfurls a wider, more expansive notion of thought itself. Bridle’s view of the mind, embedded in a more thoughtful world, is a revelation."
- Alexandra Kleeman
“There’s a new breed of thinkers - people who’ve grown up through the collapse of an old order and are looking at the first shoots of a very different future. James Bridle is right at the front of this thinking. His writing weaves cultural threads that aren’t usually seen together, and the resulting tapestry is iridescently original, deeply disorientating and yet somehow radically hopeful. The only futures that are viable will probably feel like that. This is a pretty amazing book, worth reading and rereading.” - Brian Eno
"A human-centric notion of intelligence takes the backseat in this fascinating survey...This enlightening account will give readers a new perspective on their place in the world." - Publishers Weekly
“[A]n absorbing, existential and ultimately hopeful book.” - Geographical
“In making clear the patience, imagination and humility required to better know and protect other forms of intelligence on Earth, he has made an admirable contribution to the dawning interspecies age” - The Economist
“In WAYS OF BEING, James Bridle, who uses they/them pronouns, imagines how technology could help build a more just and equitable future, one that works with the natural world instead of condemning it to domination and destruction… the book’s answer to adversarial AI appears to be the hope that the intelligences we construct will join the envisioned planetary web of more-than-human solidarity.” - Wall Street Journal
“Bridle is a clear, artful writer and a sweeping thinker.” - Post Magazine
"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." - New York Times
“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.” - Washington Post
"In James Bridle’s glittering and mind-bending book, he takes our perspectives on intelligence and the ‘more-than-human-world’ further still... Brindle's book is a brilliant way into a general perspective shift that I’ve been myself experiencing in conversations with biologists. Most of my biological education was to do with the labelling and categorisation of animals, plants and their body parts. With new technology comes the ability to move from just comparing bodies to looking at what those bodies do - at their inter-relationships.
There are far more questions than answers in this book, but I defy anyone to read it and go for a walk through a forest, or a swim through kelp, and look at the intelligence around them as they did before." - Tom Mustill, BBC Science Focus
“If I had to summarise my feelings about this book I came away feeling as if someone had given me a treasure map and from the moment I looked it over I felt a passion to let its journey influence my own. This marvellous book describes what Emergence might become for us, that’s really something to shout about.” - Tim Smit
“In his survey of the intelligence of plants, animals, and artificial intelligence, [James Bridle] synthesizes an impressive range of contemporary scientific research while also drawing on Indigenous and non-Western ways of knowing that have long recognized the significance of nonhuman modes of thinking . . . [Ways of Being] makes a remarkably compelling case for the universality of reason, the benefits to be reaped by acknowledging it, and the urgent need to do so given the reality of looming ecological collapse . . . A provocative, profoundly insightful consideration of forms of reason and their relevance to our shared future.” - Kirkus Reviews
“This is the theme of his book: we must rethink what it means to be intelligent in a spirit of collaboration with non-humans… For Bridle, the point is we should become Doctor Dolittles, not so much talking to the animals as attending mindfully to their wisdom and emulating non-humans’ stirring capacity for co-operation and selflessness. Think dancing bees and self-sacrificing ants. We must embrace what he calls the more-than-human-world. What makes his book new and interesting is its insistence that AI, rightly used, can help in this project.” - Stuart Jeffries, The Spectator