Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive May 2021

world-philosophy-day-education-concept-tree-of-knowledge-planting-on-opening-old-big-book-in-library-with-textbook-in-natural-background-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
World philosophy day education concept: tree of knowledge planting on opening old big book in library with textbook  in natural background

Why Do Some Famous Materialist Scientists Hate Philosophy?

Philosopher of biology Massimo Pigliucci takes Richard Dawkins to task for dismissing philosophy but he might have said the same of Stephen Hawking

Massimo Pigliucci (pictured) makes clear that he is a naturalist (materialist) like zoologist Richard Dawkins. For example, he tells us that they crossed paths at a conference whose purpose was to promote naturalism (materialism): Over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism: the view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings. Sean Carroll, “Moving Naturalism Forward (announcement)” at Preposterous Universe…

nairobi-kenya-ranger-feeding-orphaned-baby-elephant-in-david-sheldrick-wildlife-trust-conservation-center-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Nairobi, Kenya : Ranger feeding orphaned baby elephant in David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust conservation center

There Is No Escape From Human Exceptionalism

Author Melanie Challenger thinks we should embrace our true animal nature. But that’s impossible

Melanie Challenger, author of How to Be Animal (2021) thinks we would be less messed up if we could just accept our animal nature. She writes at Aeon, “Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature.” Further, Today, our thinking has shifted along with scientific evidence, incorporating the genetic insights of the past century. We now know we’re animals, related to all other life on our planet. We’ve also learned much about cognition, including the uneasy separation between instinct and intention, and the investment of the whole body in thought and action. As such, we might expect attitudes to have changed. But that isn’t the case. We…

a-man-likes-a-big-paper-box-in-the-apartment-a-emotional-man-fondle-a-big-package-in-the-empty-room-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
A man likes a big paper box in the apartment. A emotional man fondle a big package in the empty room.

Sci-fi Saturday: Why You Do NOT Want To Duplicate Yourself

“The Unboxing Video” offers philosophy as well as dark comedy around the question of what being “oneself” means

“The Unboxing Video” (2019) at DUST by Scott Pickett (April 27, 2021, 12:07 min, film info here. Language warning.) Unboxing? “Unboxing is the act of documenting oneself, mostly on video, of opening a packaged product from a box and displaying, reviewing, and showing off its contents.” – Dictionary.com “One man attempts to make the greatest unboxing video in the world. Not an easy task as at every twist and turn he unknowingly reveals more about himself than anything else.” Review: James, a lonely man, decides to replicate himself via a body scan, a DNA swab, and a brain upload. He invites us to watch as he unpacks his boxed replicant, James 1.0. But when James turns the replicant on, he…

deepfake-concept-matching-facial-movements-with-a-different-face-of-another-person-face-swapping-or-impersonation-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Deepfake concept matching facial movements with a different face of another person. Face swapping or impersonation.

Sci-fi Could Come To Life If You Fall For a Deepfake Friend

The friend you knew only online is a starkly believable software synthesis? A Carnegie Mellon prof says it could happen today

That’s the looming scenario astrophysicist and social scientist Simon DeDeo (pictured) sketched for journalist Kelly Catalfamo because the required technology — GPT-3, facial GANs, and voice synthesizers –- exists now. Catalfamo asks, Now imagine how you’d feel if you found out your friend didn’t really exist. Their profile turns out to be a Frankensteinian mashup of verbiage dreamed up by the powerful language generator GPT-3 and a face born from a generative adversarial network, perhaps with a deepfaked video clip thrown in here and there. How would it affect you to learn that you had become emotionally attached to an algorithm? And what if that “person” was designed to manipulate you, influencing your personal, financial, or political decisions like a…

flowers-and-a-toy-on-a-lamppost-in-memory-of-the-person-who-died-at-this-place-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Flowers and a toy on a lamppost in memory of the person who died at this place

Sci-fi Saturday: Could Stored Memories Bring Back the Dead?

A nerd sees a way to bring back his friend Adam from Adam’s girlfriend’s memories

“Adam 2.0” (2020) by Devin Dilmore and 101Exit (April 29, 2021 at DUST, 11:45 min.) “Two friends take a high tech risk for the chance to talk to their best friend one more time.” Review: The “main memory storage facility” on the U.S. West Coast has been destroyed, possibly by terrorists, and household memory storage capsules may be leaking deadly radiation. But two people, played by Caleb Thomas and Andrea Fantauzzi, have found a way to save their memories during the crisis. They attempt to recreate a dead friend, Adam (Chris Bradley), that way. Could the same technology that can store human memories “offsite” be used that way? But then a bigger question arises when one character asks, “Will it…

young-bearded-man-opens-the-bottle-of-milk-standing-near-fridge-at-home-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
young bearded man opens the bottle of milk standing near fridge at home

If the Mind and Body Are So Different, How Can They Interact?

A look at different models of the mind–body problem

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the notoriously difficult mind–body problem. In the first part, they talked about we know we are not just bodies, citing the immateriality and indivisibility of the mind and the evidence from near-death experiences. But then how does the immaterial mind interact with the material body? Menuge offers some initial thoughts: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 12:30 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge: Many philosophers, materialists like Hobbs, but even people sympathetic with Descartes, raised this issue — they couldn’t really see what was the mechanism or the medium by which mind and matter could interact. When…

american-staffordshire-terrier-dog-with-little-kitten-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
American staffordshire terrier dog with little kitten

Researchers Ponder Why Animals Adopt Other Species’ Orphans

Beliefs about what animals “should do” are often hampered by a lack of common sense reasoning and an outdated evolution theory

At The Conversation, evolutionary anthropologist Isabelle Catherine Winder (pictured) and anatomist Vivien Shaw pose a question, “Animal adoptions make no evolutionary sense, so why do they happen?“ For instance, scientists working with gorillas in Rwanda recently found the gorillas band together to take care of orphans. In these cases, young peers and (surprisingly) dominant adult males can be key to immature orphans’ survival. Perhaps it really does take a village to raise a child. Meanwhile researchers in DR Congo found that bonobos (apes closely related to chimpanzees) go even further, and sometimes adopt babies from a different social group. We even have examples of cross-species adoption, such as the dolphin who adopted and nursed a melon-headed whale, and a group…

double-multiply-exposure-abstract-portrait-of-a-dreamy-cute-young-woman-face-with-galaxy-universe-space-inside-head-human-spirit-astronomy-life-zen-concept-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Double multiply exposure abstract portrait of a dreamy cute young woman face with galaxy universe space inside head. Human spirit, astronomy, life zen concept Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

How Do We Know We Are Not Just Physical Bodies?

The mind–body problem is one of the most difficult issues in modern philosophy

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the notoriously difficult mind–body problem. Dr. Marks asks, “Is there a part of you that is not physical? Are we meat puppets limited to scientific analysis described totally by the laws of nature? “ That’s the mind–body problem! It’s more complex today because some claim we will build computers that have minds like humans (but not bodies like humans). But first, how do we know we are not just bodies? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 04:06 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge (pictured): Well, the real question is how two such different realms can relate. If…

ancient-forest-hoh-rain-forest-in-olympic-national-park-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Ancient Forest, Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park

Plants Help Each Other. Are They Self-Aware? Can They Suffer?

Recent discoveries that plants can do many things that we used to think only animals could do raise some interesting questions

In recent decades, we have learned that plants are much more like animals in their use of information than earlier thought. They have nervous systems that use glutamate to speed transmission, as mammals do. And seeking to thrive and grow, they communicate extensively. Recently, environmental journalist Richard Schiffman interviewed forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of the just-released Finding the Mother Tree on the intelligence of trees: You also found that birches give sugars to fir trees in the summer through the mycorrhizal networks and that firs return the favor by sending food to birches in the spring and fall, when the birches lack leaves. Isn’t that cool? Some scientists were having trouble with this: Why would a tree send photosynthetic…

active-nerve-cells-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Active nerve cells

Human Neurons Are Different From Animal Ones, Researchers Say

A Canadian research team got a rare chance to compare live brain tissue from donors undergoing surgery with that of rodents

Most neuroscience studies on live neurons depend on animal neurons. But a group of researchers in Canada got the opportunity to study live neurons from 66 human donors undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy and tumors. So they had a chance to compare human with rodent neurons: “The goal of this study was to understand what makes human brain cells ‘human,’ and how human neuron circuitry functions as it does,” says Dr. Taufik Valiante, neurosurgeon, scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute at UHN and co-senior author on the paper. University Health Network, “Researchers Identify Unique Characteristics of Human Neurons” at Neuroscience News (May 3, 2021) Looking specifically at live human cortical pyramidal cells, they found “notable and unexpected differences between their…

artificial-intelligence-concept-robotic-hand-is-holding-human-brain-3d-rendered-illustration-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Artificial intelligence concept. Robotic hand is holding human brain. 3D rendered illustration.

Failed Prophecies of the Big “AI Takeover” Come at a Cost

Like IBM Watson in medicine, they don’t just fail; they take time, money, and energy from more promising digital innovations

Surveying the time line of prophecies that AI will take over “soon” is entertaining. At Slate, business studies profs Jeffrey Funk and Gary Smith offer a whirlwind tour starting in the 1950s, with stops along the way at 1970 (“In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being”) and at 2014: In 2014, Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence and will have all of the intellectual and emotional capabilities of humans, including “the ability to tell a joke, to be funny, to be romantic, to be loving, to be sexy.” As we move closer to 2029, Kurzweil talks more about 2045. Jeffrey Funk and…

the-war-of-logic-vs-creativity-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
The War of Logic vs Creativity

Are You Left-Brained? Right-Brained? That’s Nice. Now Forget It.

The rise and fall of a really Cool myth about the brain

If you have a few minutes waiting in line, you can try various tests on the internet to help you “figure out the huge dilemma”: Are you left- or right-brained? Or, at least, “Which side of your brain is more dominant?” (in 30 seconds). Buzzfeed, more elaborately, offers a Triangle Test to reveal the dominant side. This stuff is fun (maybe). But should we take it seriously? No. Many of us have heard one version or another of the pop psych myth that the brain functions as two separate departments, logic (left) vs. creativity (right). The myth carries conversations and sells workshops, books and TV shows. In reality, the brain’s two hemispheres work together for most jobs, the degree of…

matrix eye code.jpg
Digital eye. Green matrix background. Concept of Artificial Intelligence

Researcher: Fear of AI Caused by Four Common Misconceptions

AI isn't panning out the way so many popular media articles predicted and there are reasons for that, a computer science prof says

As part of the Demystifying AI series, software engineer Ben Dickson, founder of TechTalks, tackles some of the most serious misunderstandings he thinks the public has about AI. For example, while AI can win in board games, where the map is the territory, “some of the early goals of AI like housekeeper robots and self-driving cars continue to recede as we approach them.” So why isn’t AI panning out the way so many popular media articles predicted? Dickson points to a recent article at ArXiv by professor Melanie Mitchell of the Santa Fe Institute, author of Artificial Intelligence: A Guide For Thinking Humans (2019): The year 2020 was supposed to herald the arrival of self-driving cars. Five years earlier, a…

happy-april-fools-day-and-funny-pranks-concept-with-a-pair-of-comical-glasses-with-bushy-eyebrows-and-thick-mustache-isolated-on-blue-background-with-copy-space-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Happy april fool's day and funny pranks concept with a pair of comical glasses with bushy eyebrows and thick mustache isolated on blue background with copy space

Comedy: An Endangered Art Form in the Age of Rage?

A deeper issue underlies the current posturing against the Babylon Bee and the cartoon skunk PePe LePew

The Babylon Bee, an evangelical Christian satire site, has become unFunny to much of the elite commentariat of our day. The comedy gold the commentariat attacks has created says a good deal about the role of Big Social Media in funnelling and shaping our culture. Many commentators were not used to hearing their icons mocked, even gently. By 2019, fact-checking site Snopes started “fact-checking” obvious satire and the Bee responded (of course) with ridicule. But a New York Times headline of the day raises the issue that must really have been nagging at many aspirants to social power: “Satire or Deceit? Christian Humor Site Feuds With Snopes.” The Bee has its defenders, notably David French: Snopes has fact-checked whether Democrats…

social-media-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Social media concept.

Fallout From Facebook’s Huge Privacy Hack: A Serious Unfriending

The Big Hack in April, in which even Mark Zuckerberg’s data got scraped, was hardly the first one Facebook faced

We’ll let engineering prof Karl Stephan start the story, comparing Facebook to God: For purposes of discussion, we will compare Facebook to the traditional Judeo-Christian God of the Old and New Testaments. And we will restrict the comparison primarily to two matters: communication and trust (or faith). Users of Facebook communicate with that entity by entering personal information into Facebook’s system. That act of communication is accompanied by a certain level of trust, or faith. Facebook promises to safeguard one’s information and not to reveal it to anyone else without your permission… Karl D. Stephan, “In Facebook we trust” at MercatorNet Safeguard the information? As recent news reports revealed, a month ago today, a hacker released roughly 533 million users’…

closeup-of-hand-female-caregiver-holding-oxygen-mask-with-cute-child-patient-in-hospital-bed-or-homelittle-girl-putting-inhalationdoctor-or-nurse-intensive-carehealth-caresupporthelp-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Closeup of hand female caregiver holding oxygen mask with cute child patient in hospital bed or home,little girl putting inhalation,doctor or nurse intensive care,health care,support,help concept

A Short Film Explores the Dreamscape of a Child in a Coma

While her faithful father waits and tries to connect with her…

Last week, five animated short films competed for Oscar gold, with the top prize going to the emotionally charged “If Anything Happens I Love You.” The short is a bold examination of bereavement as two parents grapple with the violent loss of their young daughter. It’s a worthy winner. However, my own pick didn’t make the shortlist. WiNDUP (2020), written and directed by young creative Yibing Jiang, is also a poignant meditation on parenthood and grief — in this case, for a child in a possibly irreversible coma — as well as a technical gem. Jiang’s company, Unity, uses custom-built software to create shorts in “real-time 3D” on standard computers. Doing without certain tools that animators take for granted today,…

concept-of-rivalry-between-robots-and-humans-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concept of rivalry between robots and humans

Will Humans Ever Be Fully Replaceable by AI? Part 2

Particles and energy can be translated into each other. Might man also be a type of duality, with a natural and a spiritual reality?

In Part 1, we looked at the many dimensions to our thinking. Now, we ask, What then is man? Is man simply a complex biological machine that is fully explained by analyzing it in the four dimensions of space and time? Is the brain just a biological computer fully contained in four dimensions? Most of the world’s religions hold that man exists beyond the mere physical. Man has a soul, a spirit; these exist outside of the physical universe. There are characteristics, attributes, and values that are very real and have great impact, but which defy direct observation or quantification. String theory, an active research area in modern physics, requires 10 or 11 dimensions to fully explain what we see…

boy gears.jpg
boy standing and looking at broken golden gear wheels, digital art style, illustration painting

Trying To Disprove Free Will Shows That Materialism Doesn’t Work

If you have a metaphysical theory and it contradicts science, logic, and everyday experience, then your metaphysics should be abandoned

Biologist Jerry Coyne, who is also an atheist activist, offers another post denying free will. Journalist Oliver Burkeman published an essay at the The Guardian last week, asking, “The clockwork universe: is free will an illusion?”, quoting Coyne among others. Coyne, who believes that free will is indeed an illusion, offers support at his blog. Read at your leisure but note: He ignores critical science issues around free will, including the following: 1. Nature is not deterministic. The fact that nature is not predetermined in detail has been shown quite convincingly by the experimental confirmation of Bell’s theorem in quantum mechanics. Succinctly, over the past 50 years, at least 17 teams of researchers have asked and answered the question: does…

woman-experiencing-sad-emotions-and-evaluate-their-emotions-from-the-side-emotional-intelligence-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Woman experiencing sad emotions and evaluate their emotions from the side. Emotional Intelligence Concept

Neuroscientist: We Are Closing In On the Secret of Self-Awareness

But then he turns around and admits that we are frustratingly far from understanding how it all works. His frustration is understandable.

Cognitive neuroscientist Stephen M. Fleming, author of Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness (2021), offers an excerpt at Slate in which he implies that we have made some headway in understanding self-awareness. Size alone is not the key to intellectual capacity, he says, but rather the “brain soup,” the number of neurons that can be packed into the brain. Primates of all types (monkeys, apes, and humans) are much more efficient at packing neurons into the brain than rodents are: “Regardless of their position on the tree, it seems that primates are evolutionary outliers—but, relative to other primates, humans are not.” He points to a portion of the prefrontal cortex, the “association cortex” which is “particularly well-developed” in humans, relative…

futuristic-and-sci-fi-human-android-portrait-with-pcb-metallic-skin-and-binary-code-green-background-ai-it-technology-robotics-science-transhumanism-3d-rendering-illustration-concepts-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Futuristic and sci-fi human android portrait with pcb metallic skin and binary code green background. AI, IT, technology, robotics, science, transhumanism 3D rendering illustration concepts.

Sci-fi Saturday: The Artist’s Android Has a Surprise for Him…

He makes the fateful decision to allow her to depart from her programming during a crisis

“Muse” (2020) by Azhur Saleem and (April 13, 2021 at DUST, 12:33 min) “An artist turns to his android muse for help when trying to sell his newest paintings, but events take a dark and disturbing turn when the android learns what has inspired the work.” An artist welcomes in an art gallery owner to view his latest offerings, his in-house android at his beck and call. When the meeting turns sour and the guest tries to leave, Alderman calls on Kay and… So begins the next day. When police officers come knocking regarding an altercation outside, it transpires that Alderman has amended Kay’s CPU to respond to un-programmed demands – including murder to which she complies and the police…