Marvin Minsky's theory of the Society of Mind asserts that the mind is the product of the interaction of a vast society of distinct and individually simple processes known as agents. Agents are the fundamental particles from which minds are built, and together produce the many abilities we attribute to minds.

The great power in viewing a mind as a society of agents, as opposed to as the consequence of some basic principle or some simple formal system, is that each agent can be based on a different type of process with its own special kinds of purposes, languages for describing things, ways to represent knowledge, and methods for drawing inferences.

This idea is perhaps best summarized by the following quote from Minsky:

What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle.

-- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, page 308

Minsky's ideas have been developed further by other cognitive scientists, including Daniel Dennett and Douglas Hofstadter.

See also:

Books: Minsky, Marvin; The Society of Mind ISBN 0671657135