Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

# Monthly Archive September 2022

## Amazon’s Rings of Power: Some Warning Signs But Still Hope

The screenwriters had to create dialogue from Tolkien’s notes about the world in which Lord of the Rings is set

## Taiwan Has Bet Its Uncertain Future on Advanced Microchips

An increasingly belligerent China has long claimed to own Taiwan, which manufactures 90% of the world’s *advanced* microchips

Taiwan is the world’s largest manufacturer of microchips*, and not just by a small margin. Taiwan manufactures 65% of the microchips used in everything from smartphones to missiles. This compares to the U.S. at 10% and China at 5%. South Korea and Japan produce the rest. More important, Taiwan manufactures 90% of the world’s advanced microchips. In other words, without Taiwan, the world’s supply of microchips would come to a standstill, something that has been keenly felt since 2021 when chip shortages affected the auto industry. So far, the world’s dependence on Taiwan’s chips has protected the self-governing island nation from a potential invasion or ruinous trade sanctions from China. Earlier, we looked at U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit Read More ›

## Can Religion Without Belief “Make Perfect Sense”?

Philosopher Philip Goff, a prominent voice in panpsychism, also defends the idea of finding meaning in a religion we don’t really believe

Durham University philosopher Philip Goff, co-editor of Is Consciousness Everywhere? Essays on Panpsychism (November 1, 2022), has an interesting take on religion. While it’s common to assume that religious people are “believers,” he thinks that people can meaningfully be part of a religion without actually believing in it: But there is more to a religion than a cold set of doctrines. Religions involve spiritual practices, traditions that bind a community together across space and time, and rituals that mark the seasons and the big moments of life: birth, coming of age, marriage, death. This is not to deny that there are specific metaphysical views associated with each religion, nor that there is a place for assessing how plausible those views Read More ›

## The Vector Algebra Wars: A Word in Defense of Clifford Algebra

A well-recognized, deep problem with using complex numbers as vectors is that they only really work with two dimensions

Vector algebra is the manipulation of directional quantities. Vector algebra is extremely important in physics because so many of the quantities involved are directional. If two cars hit each other at an angle, the resulting direction of the cars is based not only on the speed they were traveling, but also on the specific angle they were moving at. Even if you’ve never formally taken a course in vector algebra, you probably have some experience with the easiest form of vector algebra — complex numbers (i.e., numbers that include the imaginary number i). In a complex number, you no longer have a number line, but, instead, you have a number plane. The image below shows the relationship between the real Read More ›

## Don’t Worship Math: Numbers Don’t Equal Insight

The unwarranted assumption that investing in stocks is like rolling dice has led to some erroneous conclusions and extraordinarily conservative advice

My mentor, James Tobin, considered studying mathematics or law as a Harvard undergraduate but later explained that I studied economics and made it my career for two reasons. The subject was and is intellectually fascinating and challenging, particularly to someone with taste and talent for theoretical reasoning and quantitative analysis. At the same time it offered the hope, as it still does, that improved understanding could better the lot of mankind. I was an undergraduate math major (at Harvey Mudd, not Harvard) and chose economics for the much the same reasons. Mathematical theories and empirical data can be used to help us understand and improve the world. For example, during the Great Depression in the 1930s, governments everywhere had so Read More ›

## Analysis: Can “Communitarian Atheism” Really Work?

Ex-Muslim journalist Zeeshan Aleem, fearing that we are caught between theocracy and social breakdown, sees it as a possible answer

Zeeshan Aleem, an American journalist raised as a Muslim — but now an atheist — views his country as caught between “the twin crises of creeping theocracy and the death of conventional religion.” He seeks a new kind of atheism — communitarian atheism — as part of a solution: A rapidly increasing share of Americans are detaching from religious communities that provide purpose and forums for moral contemplation, and not necessarily finding anything in their stead. They’re dropping out of church and survey data suggests they’re disproportionately like to be checked out from civic life. Their trajectory tracks with a broader decades-long trend of secular life defined by plunging social trust, faith in institutions, and participation in civil society. My Read More ›

## There Really Is a “Batman” and He Isn’t in the Comics

Daniel Kish lost both eyes to cancer as a baby. With nothing to lose, he discovered human echolocation

Perhaps one should not really say that Daniel Kish “discovered” human echolocation. Yet, having no other options as a blind infant cancer survivor, he discovered early on — and began to publicize — a sense that few sighted persons would even think of: He calls his method FlashSonar or SonarVision. He elaborated for the BBC: Do people need to be blind to do it? Not necessarily: In 2021, a small study led by researchers at Durham University showed that blind and sighted people alike could learn to effectively use flash sonar in just 10 weeks, amounting to something like 40 to 60 hours of total training. By the end of it, some of them were even better at specific tests Read More ›

## News From the Search for Extraterrestrial Life 3

The Webb gets a good closer look at an exoplanet

Exoplanets are hard to spot but the James Webb Space Telescope got an image of one (HIP 65426b), reported September 1: The planet is more than 10,000 times fainter than its host star and about 100 times farther from it than Earth is from the Sun (~93 million miles), so it easily could be spotted when the telescope’s coronagraphs removed the starlight. The exoplanet is between six and 12 times the mass of Jupiter—a range that could be narrowed once the data in these images is analyzed. The planet is only 15 million to 20 million years old, making it very young compared to our 4.5-billion-year-old Earth. Isaac Schultz, “See Webb Telescope’s First Images of an Exoplanet” at Gizmodo (September Read More ›

## Madness: Why Sci-Fi Multiverse Stories Often Feel Boring

In a multiverse, every plot development, however implausible, is permitted because we know it won’t affect our return to the expected climax

Filmmakers communicate with audiences using common and accepted story devices (tropes) that viewers identify with — maybe the “average person takes the crown” or “love triangle.” Some tropes are overused or used in ways that undermine the story. In discussing what I think went wrong with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and some similar films, I’ll use the word trope to refer to any story element that is used to push the plot. I find four tropes particularly annoying: the Multiverse, Time Travel, the Liar Revealed, and the MacGuffin Chase. Because I’ve just finished reviewing Multiverse of Madness, let’s start with the Multiverse trope. Before reviewing the Dr. Strange sequel, I’d written an essay, “Dr. Strange: Can Read More ›