It has been a long time since I read Consider Phlebas, which was my first introduction to the Culture and started me on the road of reading most of Iain M. Banks works in that setting.

I remember that Bora Horza Gobuchul was a Changeling working on the side of the Idirans during the Culture/Idiran war that is the background to the novel, and he was selected by the Idirans to attempt to retrieve the Mind after it ended up inside Schar's World, because he had spent time there previously.

I remember that the end of the book included a number of facts and figures about the causes and effects of the war itself, and IIRC there was a few sections in the novel which showed that the Idirans didn't utilise Artificial Intelligence in anything like the same way or degree that the Culture did. If I remember correctly the Idirans used computers but ensured that those computers were fully under control of an organic Idiran.

With this in mind I was wondering what reason the Idirans wanted the Mind for? Was this addressed at all in the story (and I've forgotten it?) or was it not stated and Iain M. Banks later explained this plot point?

3 Answers 3


A rather vague explanation is given to Horza when he is being briefed by the Idirans: "... the Mind involved is one from a new class of General Systems Vehicles the Culture is developing. The Mind's capture would be an intelligence coup of the first order.'

Later, when the Culture is analysing the situation, it is explained as:

Would it really make any difference? What would happen if the Idirans did get their hands on this admittedly resourceful kid Mind?'

'Assuming that we are going to win the war...' Jase said thoughtfully, '... it could lengthen the proceedings by a handful of months.'

'And how many's that supposed to be?' Fal said.

'Somewhere between three and seven, I suppose. It depends whose hand you're using.'

So it seems that the Idirans would derive useful information from analysing the Mind, but quite how is never fully outlined.

  • Once you have a Mind, you'll know how a Mind works. Then you can simulate war scenarios and see how the Mind reacts.
    – Valorum
    May 27, 2020 at 6:04
  • "Once you have a Mind, you'll know how a Mind works." But if you can find out ... you know already. This is evident around here. There are tons of minds on this planet, but we don't know much about them (very related: Undebuggability and Cognitive Science). Now it's worse in the Banksyverse because there Minds are not Turing Machines- Banks makes a difference between Minds and the AIs which just take over from humans when things need to be done precisely and fast. At some point a Mind calls an AI an "idiot". May 27, 2020 at 9:08
  • I'm accepting this as the correct answer for me, because of the quote from the book that accompanies it.
    – Alith
    May 28, 2020 at 14:36

At first they were pursuing the ship containing the Mind, which was the only one to escape the destruction of the place it was constructed (which was probably a GSV, but I think it's not explicitly stated or described only as a 'factory ship'). The Idirans disliked the Culture because the Minds were the ones in charge, so that would explain why they were trying so hard to destroy it.

Then, when they finally caught it, it performed a maneuver neither the Idirans nor Culture had been able to do before - traveling through hyperspace to appear in a planet (though the Mistake Not... does something similar in The Hydrogen Sonata, which I believe takes place a thousand or so years later). At that point they wanted it to find out how it performed that maneuver. I believe the term "wonder-Mind" or something like it is used.

This question has some background on the maneuver I'm talking about.

  • 2
    Quote from Xoralundra: 'The Mind appears to have transcended real space to within the planetary surface of the globe it chose, thus indicating a level of hyperspatial field management we had thought - hoped - was still beyond the Culture. Certainly such spatiobatics are beyond us for the moment.' This is right before the quote listed above that talks about the Mind's capture being an intelligence coup of the first order
    – Herbie W
    Jul 12, 2020 at 16:48

I suspect the vague explanation is kind of the point. The book is about this tiny, tiny piece of an unimaginably huge conflict which means so much to the participants but so little to everyone else.

And as shown in the epilogue, the conflict itself in turn is tiny in comparison to the rest of the Culture, which is almost unaffected by it.

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