Studying some recent papers about Artificial Intelligence (AI), I came across Alfred Smee. No, not Captain Hook’s right-hand man, not that Smee. Alfred Smee (1818 -1877) was a pioneer English physician who made contributions to numerous disciplines, from biology to electrical engineering, and metallurgy to neurology.

Alfred was genius. At the age of twenty-two he was appointed surgeon to the bank of England. It was a post created especially for him by the directors of the bank, who very cleverly thought that would be good for the bank to use Smee’s genius to good account. And, so he did. He invented the electrotype plate, which technique the bankers applied to the printing of counterfeit-resistant English banknotes.

Among other interesting things and ideas, he also tried to explain, theoretically and experimentally the electrochemical basis of vision, memory and logic as well as the origination and recombination of ideas. What I found interesting was his definition of consciousness, as it was described in his book “Principles of the Human Mind deduced from Physical Laws” published in 1849.

“When an image is produced by an action upon the external senses, the actions on the organs of sense concur with the actions of the brain; and the image is then a Reality.
When an image occurs to the mind without a corresponding simultaneous action of the body, it is called a Thought.

The power to distinguish between thought and a reality is called Consciousness.”

In the preface of the book, Smee says


“I apprehend that the time is fast approaching, when no other system of mental science will be acknowledged but that which is based upon physical laws and the structure of the brain”.



The book can be found and downloaded as a pdf from google.books
Image Credit:The Global Intelligencer