There are two aspects to this fantastic book by Anthony Simola, however, neither of them are really what I was expecting. When I think of cognitive enhancement, I imagine a range of behavioural and decision-making techniques, such as CBT, and while Simola does touch on methods to enhance one’s own cognitive skills via pure psychology, it is a brief excursion from the real theme of this book, which is enhancing intelligence by artificial means, such as medication and advanced technology. If you are expecting a CBT/mindfulness type of self-help book, you will not get it with “The Roving Mind…”… at least not extensively.
Simola closely correlates “cognitive” with “intelligent”, right from the off and throughout, and then proceeds to demonstrate in great detail all the ways in which we have progressed, medically and technologically, to achieve optimisation of the latter, and the ways in which we can and will continue to do so. The book is written in three parts, the first of which includes some great advice about brain and body self-training for optimum performance, and appears orientated heavily towards students and those entering the professional arena. This part of the book is incredibly holistic, and Simola leaves no stone unturned; his advice for obtaining the best performing you includes everything from healthy lifestyle to healthy relationships, addictions, time spent on the internet and social media, and even diet. He advocates the strategy of eradicating bad habits, distracting environments and negative influences, evaluates spiritual techniques and sexual practices, and bemoans the increasingly negative impact of the time we spend online; the theory that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind is clearly asserted here, and I did feel that were I to follow all of Simola’s advice I would emerge as some kind of cognitive superman.
This section is really the only part which touches on cognitive psychology, as many may know it and expect. Following it, Simola details extensively the medical advances which have and will enable us to improve as a species, and psychiatry is brought very much to the fore. As well as medical equipment and neuro-science, this part goes into great depth about performance enhancing drugs and supplements - legal, illegal, on prescription and in production. He makes some very good points regarding the ethical argument of their use, including that to do so may counter the social inequality which already exists in the life-success of individuals, regardless of the intelligence they are “born” with; on the other hand, of course, it may also accentuate it. The whole premise of “The Roving Mind” does seem to revolve around Simola’s notion that intelligence is far more effectively engineered than inherited – of course, he is right to point out that the achievements of individuals from different social groups do not reflect this today.
In the third part of the book, the author delves into the world of artificial intelligence, and the technology which is being used to create self-awareness in computers and machines. This part is presented as comprehensively as the rest of the book, though there does seem to be a cautionary note beneath it: that of the increasingly accepted theory that artificial intelligence will place computers at the top of the world’s hierarchy, and in turn place our own position as a species at grave risk. However, bleak as this realization is, Simola does offer brief hope with the suggestion that the possibility of enhanced human intelligence via the methods above may provide some defence against “rogue artificial intelligence”.
Far more science than psychology, this book presents a plethora of hugely interesting information, and will appeal particularly to those with an interest in the future of human intelligence. Well researched and thoroughly sourced and referenced, “The Roving Mind…” is fascinating; it is incredibly well-written and flawlessly proofread and presented, by a highly educated professional in the field. Simola puts a lot of his personality into his work, and writes with a real sense of fun. Perhaps not what I was expecting, and in many ways much better, “The Roving Mind” was enjoyable to read, if a touch intense, and I recommend it very highly.
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