Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive October 2020

Group of friends using smartphones to communicate in social media. Concept of a generation of millennials who are online all the time. Warm hipster filter.

The Social Dilemma: You’re Not the Customer, You’re the Product

A new Netflix documentary explores the techniques used to explore, then shape and sharpen, our attitudes, values, and beliefs

What is truth? This question has likely been pondered by man for as long as man has been able to ponder. How do you know that what you read or hear is true? How do you know that what you think is true? Why is it that people with different worldviews or belief systems can look at the exact same raw objective data and interpret it in radically different ways? The answers to these questions are important to “know”, insofar as anyone can know anything within a reasonable degree of certainty. However, in our society today, it is becoming more and more difficulty to determine what is true––with any degree of certainty. A recent 90-minute Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma,…

man sitting and feeding birds

Pigeons Can Solve the Monty Hall Problem. But Can You?

The dilemma pits human folk intuition against actual probability theory, with surprising results

Animals often outperform humans. My son’s dog is more friendly than I could ever be. Cheetahs run faster, baby horses walk earlier, and elephants can lift more. Birds fly and humans can’t. Is there anything else birds can do better than humans? Yes. Apparently, pigeons learn to solve the Monty Hall problem more quickly. Let’s Make a Deal was a television game show first hosted by Monty Hall (1921–2017) in 1963. There have been various remakes since then. The basic idea is that there are three doors and a contestant’s job is to barter with Monty for the most valuable prize behind the doors. The Monty Hall problem, loosely based on the quiz show, was popularized by Marilyn vos Savant…

Concentrated elementary student examining circuit board

Circuit Patterns, Part I: Understanding Circuit Schematics

You will get on much better in electronics if you learn to see the schematic line drawings as a series of patterns

When I was young, I wanted to learn how to build electronics. I bought a large number of books from Radio Shack and read them all, cover to cover. Unfortunately, the books that I read helped me to understand a little bit about the periphery of electronics but not the core subject. I learned what each type of part did in general resistors, capacitors, transistors, inductors, etc., but I never really understood how all of the pieces fit together. How do you go from understanding the parts to understand how they fit together into a circuit? Throughout my life, I have returned to electronics now and again, sometimes personally, sometimes professionally. I eventually learned that most electronics follows basic patterns…

Black Womans Burden

Why Does “Evolution Theory” Trivialize Everything It Touches?

A pair of evolutionary anthropologists try their hand at dealing with existential grief, anxiety, and depression

A couple of evolutionary anthropologists tried their hand recently at illuminating the depths of human anxiety. They started by getting one thing clear right away: Researchers in our field are trained to think about humans in the same way that we think about chimpanzees, macaques and any other animal on the planet. We recognise that humans, like all other species, evolved in environments that posed many challenges, such as predation, starvation and disease. As such, human psychology is well-adapted to meet these challenges. Kristen Syme and Edward H. Hagen, “Most anguish isn’t an illness but an evolved response to adversity” at Psyche (September 29, 2020) So humans are just like other animals. Syme and Hagen oppose treating “the common mental…

Closeup of housefly

Human, Mouse, and Fly Brains All Use the Same Basic Mechanisms

The study of brains in recent decades has yielded a very different picture from the patterns we might have expected

With differing outcomes, of course: A new study led by researchers from King’s College London has shown that humans, mice and flies share the same fundamental genetic mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of brain areas involved in attention and movement control. News Centre, “Humans and flies employ very similar mechanisms for brain development and function” at King’s College London (August 3, 2020) We might have expected a gradual increase in size and complexity, corresponding with ability, leading up to the human brain. But we have learned from recent research that lemurs, with brains 1/200 the size of chimps’, pass same IQ test (the Primate Cognition Test Battery). Human intellectual abilities are orders of magnitude greater than that of…

Dragon sleeps in a cave

Researchers: The aliens exist but they are sleeping…

And we wake them at our peril

Recently, science (and science fiction) writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that the aliens’ advanced technology ended up destroying them all and… the machines may be coming for us because destroying is all they know how to do. This week, let’s look at a quite different idea that Williams outlines in “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” V: What is the Aestivation Hypothesis?” (August 7, 2020). Aestivation is the summer version of hibernation in winter. The aliens, in this scenario are not dead; they are merely sleeping. Just as many life forms on Earth go…

World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›
Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

New Book: Our Bodies’ Cells Are a “Third Infinity” of Information

If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell.

Recently, computer engineer and philosopher Jonathan Bartlett pointed out that Elon Musk has inadvertently highlighted the biggest problem with origin of life studies: How life originated is not as difficult a question as how it originated with the ability to reproduce. If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell. The only cell, in fact. Musk, as it happens, was talking about the production of cars when he tweeted, “The machine that makes the machine is vastly harder than the machine itself.” He estimated “1000% to 10,000% harder.” Indeed, and that’s also true of the cells that comprise just about every living being. Our cells not only live…


They Say This Is An Information Economy. So What Is Information?

How, exactly, is an article in the news different from a random string of letters and punctuation marks?

We know information when we see it. An article contains information. A photograph contains information. The thoughts in our mind contain information. So does a computer program and so do our genomes. Yet other things we see around us clearly do not contain information. A handful of toothpicks dropped on the ground does not. Nor do the swirling tea leaves in a cup. Neither does a pair of tossed dice nor a sequence of 100 coin flips. But mere disorder is not the clue. An intricate snowflake does not contain information either. Can we state the difference between the article and the scattered toothpicks precisely? That’s tricky. Both Claude Shannon and Andrey Kolmogorov came up with information metrics. But the…