Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive April 2021

A Physicist and Philosopher Examines Panpsychism

Idealism says everything is an idea in the mind of God. Panpsychism says everything participates in consciousness (thus is not just an idea)

In last week’s podcast,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is the view that “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. As Gordon noted in the earlier portion of this podcast, idealism is actually a practical philosophy. It originated with Plato (c. 424–347 BC) but the modern form, which he himself holds, is that of George Berkeley (1685–1753). In Berkeley’s view everything that exists is an idea in the mind of God. Thus, Dr. Egnor asked him what he thinks of panpsychism, the view that everything in the universe…

No AI Overlords?: What Is Larson Arguing and Why Does It Matter?

Information theorist William Dembski explains, computers can’t do some things by their very nature

Yesterday, we were looking at the significance of AI researcher Erik J. Larson’s new book, The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do, contrasting it with claims that AI will merge with or replace us. Some such claims are made by industry insiders like Ray Kurzweil. But more often we hear them from science celebs like the late Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, who, on these topics, are more known than knowledgeable. So why does Larson think they are wrong? He offers two arguments. First, as information theorist William Dembski explains, is that there are some kinds of thinking that, by their nature, computers don’t do: With regard to inference, he shows that a form…

Exercise is Medicine: The Power of Regular Physical Activity

Recent research reveals that exercise is one of our most powerful defenses against illness and disease

The United States spent $3.8 trillion on health care in 2019, before COVID-19. That’s 17.7 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product and nearly$13,000 per person. That’s more than double the average spending in dozens of comparable countries, yet U.S. health care outcomes are near the bottom of any list. We have the highest obesity rates in all age groups and the second highest death rate from heart disease. For life expectancy at birth, the U.S. ranks 34th, behind Chile and Lebanon. We have arguably the best doctors, medicines, and hospitals. Why are so many of us in poor health and why do so many of us die young? We can blame the system or we can blame ourselves. Enter…

Why Idealism Is Actually a Practical Philosophy

Not what you heard? Philosopher of science — and pianist — Bruce Gordon says, think again

In last week’s podcast,,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Gordon thinks that idealism is defensible, reasonable, and too easily discarded: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-129-Bruce-Gordon.mp3 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: At its most fundamental level, is reality more like a mind? Or is it more like a physical object? That question — and questions like that — are fundamental to our understanding of nature and our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of God. I should point out…

New Book Massively Debunks Our “AI Overlords”: Ain’t Gonna Happen

AI researcher and tech entrepreneur Erik J. Larson expertly dissects the AI doomsday scenarios
AI researcher and tech entrepreneur Eric J. Larson has just published a book debunking the claims that AI is taking over. Read More ›

The Human Mind Adds Better Than It Subtracts

Getting control of the tendency might be a key to better decision-making skills, researchers say

When trying to solve a problem, a recent study showed that it is much easier for us to add things than to subtract them: In a new paper featured on the cover of Nature, University of Virginia researchers explain why people rarely look at a situation, object or idea that needs improving — in all kinds of contexts — and think to remove something as a solution. Instead, we almost always add some element, whether it helps or not. Jennifer McManamay/University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, “Why our brains miss opportunities to improve through subtraction” at ScienceDaily The paper is closed access. In a sense, we all know this. When we want to make something look better,…

When Half Our Time Is Spent Online, We Live in a Delusional World

A historian warns that many of us now live in bubbles where we need interact only with people who agree with us

Historian Adam Seagrave (pictured) reflects on the finding that more than half of Americans spend more than half of their waking time in “virtual worlds”: Living through electronic media, especially social media, causes us to live in entirely different worlds even from near neighbors: “The 50 percent threshold represents a tipping point that renders dialogue, deliberation, civic friendship, and compromise extraordinarily difficult in any society.” According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, roughly eight in ten Americans go online at least daily. Almost three in ten American adults say they are “almost constantly” online. According to a 2019 Digital Information World report, internet users in the United States spend an average of 6 hours and 31 minutes online every…

Cloud Computing? There’s a Lot of Smoke in Those Clouds

Big Tech creates many environment issues that we do not often hear about, the way we hear about coal mines and landfills

When we think about environment problems, we naturally imagine huge smokestacks turning the sky dark and coating the trees with soot. But glitzy high tech stuff like cloud computing and cryptocurrency use a lot of energy too. Cloud computing, where we use computing resources via the internet without installing and maintaining them, is a huge energy hog we never see: The music video for “Despacito” set an Internet record in April 2018 when it became the first video to hit five billion views on YouTube. In the process, “Despacito” reached a less celebrated milestone: it burned as much energy as 40,000 U.S. homes use in a year. Naomi Xu Elegant, “The Internet Cloud Has a Dirty Secret” at Fortune (September…

Clothing Retailer H&M Canceled for Revealing China’s Forced Labor

About a fifth of the world’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, for which Uyghur labor is conscripted, partly through the detention camps complex

Recently, I wrote about the fact that many fashionable products consumed in the West are produced by forced Uyghur labor. Those who speak out pay a steep price, as Swedish clothing retailer H&M can attest. Two weeks ago, H&M was Canceled in China after the Communist Youth League decried the company’s comments on forced labor in Xinjiang on Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform. The comments themselves dated from last year (March 2020). The online vitriol is likely in response to sanctions recently imposed by the European Union, the U.S., the U.K., and Canada on Chinese officials for human rights abuses. Earlier in March (2021), Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy, an international independent organization, published a report showing that…

Here’s Why an Argument for God’s Existence Is Scientific

The form of reasoning and the type of evidence accepted is the same as with Newton’s theories or Darwin’s

Atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is a fountain of nonsensical arguments against the existence of God. If a scholar wanted to write a review paper on the most ridiculous arguments against God’s existence so far in the 21st century, he would need look no further than Coyne’s blog. Coyne’s latest post denying God’s existence takes issue with an essay by Samuel Benson in the Deseret News in which Benson makes the case that invoking both a miracle and a scientific achievement in the development of the COVID vaccine is not necessarily contradictory. Benson points out that the natural world, properly understood, can only be explained using both science and theology. In support of his view, he quotes the president of…

What Is Math About? Is It Discovered or Invented?

Philosopher Edward Feser suggests that the velociraptor, an extinct birdlike dinosaur, might illustrate the problem

Pasadena City College philosopher Edward Feser (pictured) offers some thoughts that may be relevant to the current war on math. Pointing to a recently published article by mathematician James Franklin, he writes, What is mathematics about? The Platonist says that it is about a realm of abstract objects distinct from both the world of concrete material things and the human mind. The nominalist says that it is not really about anything, since mathematical entities are in no way real. The Aristotelian approach rejects nominalism and agrees with Platonism that mathematical entities are real. But it disagrees with the Platonist about the location of these entities. They are, for the Aristotelian, properties of concrete particular things themselves, rather than denizens of…

Why Should We Believe Atheists on the Subject of God?

Logic and evidence both point to the existence of God, whatever atheists may think

Noting a recent article by philosopher Steve Meyer at The Federalist, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor comments, The public square is replete with books and articles written by atheist scientists claiming that cosmology or genetics or evolution properly understood disproves the existence of God. These atheist scientists profoundly misunderstand the implications of their science; they couldn’t be more wrong. As in his new book, The Return of the God Hypothesis, Dr. Meyer points to three particularly clear advances in modern science. Michael Egnor, “The God Hypothesis Versus Atheist Science Denial” at Evolution News and Science Today (April 5, 2021) The three arguments he addresses are ● The Big Bang: “The existence of a moment of beginning of our universe in an almost…

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Futurism Doesn’t Mean Smarter People?

Comic scenes would dot the aerial landscape, dispelling the usual earnestness of sci-fi films

“Floaters” at DUST by Karl Poyzer and Joseph Roberts (March 25, 2021, 4:03 min) “High in the sky of a sci-fi metropolis a lone spaceship is confronted by a much larger and more intimidating vessel. When the bigger ship asks the small one why they share the same identification number a strange quandary forms and a mile-high debate ensues.” This comic short (4 min) makes clear that a futurist landscape need not be inhabited by evolved superheroes or philosophical aliens. It could be inhabited by the same sort of people the traffic cop stops every day. Or denser. This animated film uses architectural rather than cartoon style. It also uses a technique too often neglected these days*: We hear the…

Neuralink Cofounder: We Can Bring “Exotic” Dinosaurs To Life Now

Whether Max Hodak can do that or not, many scientists ponder, when SHOULD we try to bring back extinct species?

Neuralink is currently best known for brain-computer interfaces, including a test monkey playing pong ball with his mind. But Elon Musk’s co-founder Max Hodak has a bigger idea: Breed and engineer “super exotic novel species”of dinosaurs: “We could probably build Jurassic Park if we wanted to,” Hodak tweeted on Saturday. “Wouldn’t be genetically authentic dinosaurs but [shrugging emoji]. Maybe 15 years of breeding + engineering to get super exotic novel species.” Dan Robitzski, “Neuralink Co-founder Says We Have the Tech to Build An Actual Jurassic Park” at Futurism Any life forms that resulted from dino DNA studies would not be “genetically authentic” dinosaurs because we don’t have living dinosaur sexual cells to work with. They might, however, be more or…

Sci-fi Saturday: When “The Workplace” Is Anything But

The short film (less than 10 min) starts with a woman reassuring herself, unsettlingly, “I AM the boss”

“The Workplace” at DUST by Carlyn Hudson (April 1, 2021, 9:32 min) We’ve been warned: “You are very qualified.” For what though? “In a future economy subsumed by technological employment, humans continue to find meaning through their ‘work’ — where the lucky ones get to show up to an “office” from 9-5 and live out their mundane workplace fantasies.” This sci-fi short will appeal to many who have had a job at the corner of Rat and Race and sense that’s a blessing compared to the alternative. It starts with a woman reassuring herself, “I AM the boss,” and cuts to her interviewing a job candidate who seems off-putting at first but appears qualified — and then things get weird.…

Why Some Experts Hope We DON’T Find Life on Mars

Many thinkers worry about what will happen if the extraterrestrials land. But will they feel worse if we never find ET?

Recently, prominent theoretical physicist Michio Kaku (pictured) told media that reaching out to extraterrestrials is a “terrible idea.” Kaku, author of The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (2021). So long SETI, after all these years? Well, not quite. He explains, Soon we’ll have the Webb telescope up in orbit and we’ll have thousands of planets to look at, and that’s why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilisation. There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortés in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago.…

Fermat’s Last Tango: Lively Musical For Nerds

The ghost of Fermat and other giants from the Aftermath Club help (frustrate?) a mathematician’s effort to prove Fermat’s famous Last Theorem

If you are a nerd, the musical Fermat’s Last Tango (2001) is hilarious. Mathematician Pierre de Fermat proposed his last theorem around 1637. He wrote a note in the margin of a copy of Arithmetica, a book written by a 3rd-century Alexandrian mathematician, Diophantus. Fermat’s short scribble claimed that he could prove that a specific Diophantine equation had no solution. But whatever Fermat was thinking died with him in 1665. A proof of Fermat’s last theorem eluded mathematicians over 300 years until Princeton’s Andrew Wiles proved it in 1995. Fermat’s Last Tango is a fantasy account of Wiles’s life while he was working on the proof. The play is a musical sprinkled with nerdy inside jokes. For example, part of…

What Your News Feed Will Look Like If Big Tech Runs It

Reading Elkus’s essay, one wants to ask, “Who is the collective ‘we’ who are supposed to be out of control?”

In an essay at The New Atlantis, Adam Elkus, a graduate student in computational social science at George Mason University, reflects on a curious change in public panics in recent years: Pundits’ obsession with AI doom has given way to “primal fear of primates posting,” with demands that top government or Big Tech crack down on social media: Once upon a time — just a few years ago, actually — it was not uncommon to see headlines about prominent scientists, tech executives, and engineers warning portentously that the revolt of the robots was nigh. The mechanism varied, but the result was always the same: Uncontrollable machine self-improvement would one day overcome humanity. A dismal fate awaited us. We would be…

Artificial Unintelligence

The failure of computer programs to recognize a rudimentary drawing of a wagon reveals the vast differences between artificial and human intelligence

In 1979, when he was just 34 years old, Douglas Hofstadter won a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for his book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which explored how our brains work and how computers might someday mimic human thought. He has spent his life trying to solve this incredibly difficult puzzle. How do humans learn from experience? How do we understand the world we live in? Where do emotions come from? How do we make decisions? Can we write inflexible computer code that will mimic the mysteriously flexible human mind?  Hofstadter has concluded that analogy is “the fuel and fire of thinking.” When humans see, hear, or read something, we can focus on the most salient features, its “skeletal essence.”…

What Is the Essential Feature of Creative Intelligence?

Creative intelligence is easier to describe by what it is not than by what it is. But there is a clue in that very fact…

I’ve spent the past couple articles debunking artificial intelligence. It is just as artificial as its name suggests. It takes on the appearance of intelligence through speed but it lacks the fundamental ability to create a well-matched start and end. So a perceptive reader has returned with another good question: “What is creative intelligence?” The reader is right to ask. Yes, telling someone that the exquisite dessert is not celery and not cod liver oil does not help us understand what the dessert itself is. There is a mystery regarding the very nature of human intelligence. Like its antithesis, randomness, creative intelligence is easier to describe by what it is not than by what it is. But, we can try!…