Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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How Fine Tuned Was Our Universe’s Debut? The Mind Boggles.

All the details that were there at the beginning and all work together… The math is amazing. Steve Meyer explains

In this third portion of a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Stephen C. Meyer discusses the fact that our universe is fine tuned for life in smaller as well as larger ways — that’s remarkable. We could call it “finer fine-tuning,” perhaps. Dr. Meyer, author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021), reflects on the physics and the physicists. (A sample of the book is here.) This is the third of four portions of the transcript of the talk. The first is here and the second here. Tom Gilson is the moderator of the podcast: https://episodes.castos.com/id/91f5535b-1f52-41d8-ab90-d87ff21a6be1-IDTF-1632-StephenMeyer-God-Multiverse.mp3 Stephen C. Meyer: There are two basic types of fine tuning physicists talk about. One…

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Theoretical Physicist: Can’t Avoid a Beginning for Our Universe

Recent shakeups from the James Webb Space Telescope images invite fundamental questions like, Does the universe have a beginning?

The recent flutter over whether the James Webb Space Telescope’s data stream is a plus or a minus for the Big Bang and the Standard Model of the universe touched on some interesting cosmological issues. The Big Bang and the Standard Model support the assumption that our universe is finite and had a beginning. Could it have been eternal — with an infinite past instead of a beginning? The trouble is, as we saw last Saturday, when we try to apply concepts like infinity — typically used in mathematics — to the physical world, the basis of reality can collapse into absurdity. The world science observes seems to be finite; time starts at a certain point, flows in one direction,…

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News From the Search for Extraterrestrial Life I

Super-Earths that might have life, choosing life forms to take to Mars, and self-replicating robots…

A roundup from popular science news sources: ★ Are any super-Earths habitable? The largest single class of exoplanets discovered are super-Earths — bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, of which there are 1,577 confirmed discoveries. Some lie within the habitable zones — at least in principle — of their stars. Stony Brook astrophysicist Paul Sutter ponders the factors that go into determining how many of them are actually habitable, concluding, Perhaps the best candidate for a habitable super-Earth is LHS 1140b, which orbits a red dwarf star about 49 light-years from Earth. It’s about 60% wider than our planet but 6.48 times as massive. It orbits extremely close to its parent star — its orbital period is just 25…

Planet  illustration Earth Apocalypse

It’s the End of the Multiverse — And Yet No One Is in a Hurry?

Until close to the end, everyone continues to behave as if previous events and circumstances have no consequences and vital information is optional

Where were we? After the Mouse decided to disappoint the fans and humiliate a large portion of the Marvel Universe, we find Wanda chasing America Chavez, Christine, and Dr. Strange. She’s bloody and limping because she walked on a bunch of broken glass — and yet, our heroes are terrified of her. The scene looks great, and the concept was terrifying, so long as one forgets the fact that Wanda can fly and doesn’t ask why in the world she’d walk on glass when she could just float over it… At any rate, they reach the door leading to the Book of Vishanti, figure out the combination, and hop onto a platform where the book is resting on an odd-looking…

A brazilian wandering spider (Phoneutria sp.) waits in ambush on a leaf at night in Costa Rica.

Can Life Forms Like Spiders, That Lack a Neocortex, Really Dream?

Paleontologist Günter Bechly argues that it’s highly unlikely. Michael Egnor sides with Aristotle; they dream about what they can perceive

Recently, paleontologist Günter Bechly took issue with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the question of whether spiders dream. Egnor was willing to accept the possibility, noting that spiders can dream only about things they can think about: “If spiders and bacteria dream, they dream of flies or chemical gradients, but not of philosophy.” Bechly, on the other hand, thinks it’s a filament too far for the spider (never mind the bacteria) to dream at all: … I tend to concur with those neuroscientists who doubt any organisms possess phenomenal consciousness that lack a neocortex (found only in mammals) or a comparable structure (in birds and maybe cephalopods). Rapid eye movement may indicate neural activity, but the concept of dreaming for me…

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AI vs. Artists?: Here’s What DALL-E 2 Just Can’t Do

Artificial intelligence may be able to create generic images of particular items, but it can’t grasp and convey general concepts, says engineering prof Karl Stephan

(This article by engineering prof Karl D. Stephan originally appeared at Engineering Ethics Blog (August 14, 2022) under the title “AI Illustrator Still Looking for Work: The Shortcomings of DALL-E 2,” and is reprinted with permission.) The field of artificial intelligence has made great strides in the last couple of decades, and any time a new AI breakthrough is announced, critics voice concerns that yet another field of human endeavor has fallen victim to automation and will disappear from the earth when machines replace the people who do it now.  Until recently, the occupation of art illustrator seemed reasonably safe from assault by AI innovations.  Only a human, it seemed, can start with a set of verbal ordinary-language instructions and come…

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A Neurosurgeon on Why Some People Function With Only Half a Brain

The study results are reassuring and they point to two larger truths

Yesterday, we ran a story about a recent study in which 40 people who had half of their brains removed (hemispherectomy) as children — due to intractable epilepsy — did unexpectedly well on psychological tests. Some say that it’s easy to explain because the brain has so many redundant elements. But is that all we need to know? We asked pediatric neurosurgeon Michael Egnor for some thoughts on that approach and he replied: The means by which people with major parts of their brains removed maintain function are not understood. It’s nonsense to say, as some do, that “The brain is massively parallel and recursive and functions under network rules and laws.” That’s typical neuroscience gibberish. The fact is that…

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Octopuses Create an “Origin of Intelligence” Conundrum

Outstandingly bright — with eyes that strikingly resemble ours — yet their ancestors split from mammals and birds 600 million years ago…

In a recent book excerpt at Nautilus, James Bridle, author of Ways of Being: Beyond Human Intelligence (2022), reflects on the fact that “Octopus brains are nothing like ours—yet we have much in common.” Like many authors, he reflects on the cephalopod’s extraordinary intelligence, for example, Otto, an octopus living in the Sea-Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, first attracted media attention when he was caught juggling hermit crabs. Another time he smashed rocks against the side of his tank, and from time to time would completely rearrange the contents of his tank “to make it suit his own taste better,” according to the aquarium’s director. One time, the electricity in the aquarium kept shorting out, which threatened the lives of…

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What Gives NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) Their Value?

But first, a tour through the seamier side of the internet, supported in large part by the very blockchain that mints NFTs

Here’s the second part of Episode 2 of the discussion between computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks and computer engineering grad students Adam Goad and Austin Egbert on the wild new online world of digital money, fan gear, contracts, and art. In the first part, Adam and Austin explained how digital collectibles — non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — work (or don’t). In this second part, What are NFTs?, they look at how people use them, with a sidestep into the swashbuckling world of crypto crime: https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/08/Mind-Matters-199-Adam-Goad-Austin-Egbert.mp3 A partial transcript, notes, and Additional Resources follow. The discussion continued with the NBA’s use of NFTs as the new “trading cards.” How are NFTs like or unlike the iconic cards? Adam Goad: That one…

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People With Half Their Brains Removed Do Well on Psych Tests

In a recent study, adults who had had hemispherectomies as children — to combat severe epilepsy — performed within 10% of other study subjects on face and word recognition

At Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Institute, researchers recently found that people who had had half their brains removed as children (due to serious epilepsy) “scored surprisingly well on face and word recognition tests”: The researchers expected that those volunteers who had only their right hemisphere would do well at face recognition but not as well at word recognition, since the right hemisphere is generally used to process images while the left hemisphere processes words; they expected the opposite results for those who still had just their left hemisphere. Instead, the researchers found that both groups performed nearly equally well and both were on average 86% accurate on the tests compared to a control group consisting of…

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Turns Out, Computers Are Not Vacuuming Up All Our Jobs

Far from it, we can hardly find all the people we need to manage the computers

Let’s start with radiologists: In 2016 Turing Award Winner Geoffrey Hinton advised that “We should stop training radiologists now. It’s just completely obvious that within five years, deep learning is going to do better than radiologists.” Six years later, the number of radiologists has gone up, not down. Researchers have spent billions of dollars working on thousands of radiology image-recognition algorithms that are not as good as human radiologists. Jeffrey Funk and Gary Smith, “The right and wrong way to use artificial intelligence” at New York Daily News (August 6, 2022) Technology researcher Jeffrey Funk and business prof Gary Smith could — and probably will — fill a book with examples, some of which they list and link to at…


Debanking… When Your Bank Acts Like a Political Party

In Canada, ordered by the government, banks began to act like the party in power. Panic, chaos, and bank runs ensued

Earlier this year, we looked at debanking, during the Convoy protests in Canada. The government ordered the banks to freeze the private bank accounts of protesters against the federal government’s contested COVID-19 policies. As we’ll see, debanking, in various forms — where the bank decides, for political reasons — to freeze or end accounts, is becoming a “thing” in the United States too. What really happens? An investigation uncovered some sobering findings: The government invoked the rarely used Emergencies Act on February 14, insisting that doing so was constitutional (“Charter compliant”) and that freezing individuals’ bank accounts “did not amount to a seizure” of them. What happened afterward might give pause for thought: The banks were essentially handed a list…

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Animal Mind — Can You Clone Your Beloved Pet’s Personality?

People who can charge a great deal for cloning insist that the personality is not cloned… so why do it?

Michael Egnor has noted that the famous philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) thought that animals were biological machines that did not have minds at all. Many arguments can be mustered against that view but the recent development of animal cloning may prove a new one. Barbra Streisand brought attention to the business of cloning deceased pets when she had her dog Samantha cloned in 2018 (though the process had been available for more than a decade). The cost? US$35,000 for a cat, $50,000 for a dog, and $85,000 for a horse. That’s hardly spare change yet, we are told, some less well-heeled folk will put off a new car or down payment to bring back a deceased companion: Kelly Anderson never…

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When You Buy a Non-Fungible Token (NFT), What Do You Own?

You are buying someone’s digital idea. Just what legal rights that NFT confers is an open question. But the NBA is now selling them…

In the first episode of the discussion between computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks and computer engineering grad students Adam Goad and Austin Egbert (here and here), the discussion started with the projected metaverse and slowly turned to the wild world of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens — like Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet. What’s worth knowing about this burgeoning digital world? Here are Bob, Adam, and Austin again in Episode 2, What are NFTs?, Part 1: https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/08/Mind-Matters-199-Adam-Goad-Austin-Egbert.mp3 This portion begins at 00:10. A partial transcript, notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: We have been talking to Adam Goad and Dr. Austin Egbert both at Baylor University about Web3. Web3, which uses distributed computing, is the tool that’s…

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What Can AI Text-to-Image Generators Do for Artists?

Developer David Holz discusses his Midjourney generator in terms of the communities that grow up around art generated from words or phrases

In an interview with David Holz, founder of Midjourney, Verge senior reporter James Vincent asks about the new text-to-art AI image generators that are shaking up the illustration market: Generally, the “few dozen” current versions — which rely on combining materials from across the internet — work reasonably well but here are the drawbacks Vincent notes: They’re tricky and expensive to create, requiring access to millions of images used to train the system (it looks for patterns in the pictures and copies them) and a great deal of computational grunt (for which costs vary, but a million-dollar price tag isn’t out of the question). James Vincent, “‘An engine for the imagination’: The rise of AI image generators” at The Verge…

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Not All False Prophets Are Promoting Religions…

False finance prophets’ credentials or charisma are much more impressive than their track records — but we need a way to tell

Recently, our authors Jeffrey Lee Funk and Gary Smith alerted MarketWatch readers to the problem of “false prophets” in the investment world: We could write a long book about false prophets on Wall Street. What is interesting is how easily people are enchanted by charismatic personalities — some who peddle advice, some who run companies. A decade ago, for example, Yahoo tried to save itself by paying almost $1 billion to five charismatic CEOs (Terry Semel, Jerry Yang, Carol Bartz, Scott Thompson, and Marissa Mayer), four of them outsiders, who were hired over a five-year period and arguably did more harm than good. Jeffrey Lee Funk and Gary N. Smith, “Sensible stock investors put their money on a company’s real…

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Has a Superintellect Monkeyed With Our Universe’s Physics?

Groundbreaking astronomer Fred Hoyle was a staunch atheist but then he tried showing that carbon, essential to life, could form easily. Steve Meyer explains.

In this second portion of a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Steve Meyer discusses the ways in which groundbreaking astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) dealt with the fact that the universe seems fine-tuned for life. Hoyle’s widely cited comment on the subject was “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” That was an unsettling idea for Hoyle, who was a well-known atheist, and he certainly sought ways around it. How did he fare? Dr. Meyer, author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021), reflects on Hoyle’s struggle.…

The Big Bang

James Webb Space Telescope Shows Big Bang Didn’t Happen? Wait…

The unexpected new data coming back from the telescope are inspiring panic among astronomers

Physicist Eric J. Lerner comes to the point: To everyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising—not at all what was predicted by theory. In the flood of technical astronomical papers published online since July 12, the authors report again and again that the images show surprisingly many galaxies, galaxies that are surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old. Lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: “Panic!” Why do the JWST’s images inspire panic among cosmologists? And what theory’s predictions are they contradicting? The papers don’t actually say. The…

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Multiverse of Madness Skirts the Edges of Story Collapse

Oh well, it IS a multiverse, so maybe, in this reality, all the heroes stink

Just as Wanda Maximoff is about to catch America Chavez, she is met by the Illuminati, a team of superheroes which comprises Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Mordo, and Professor X. Mordo and Professor X are not present, but Wanda must still face four heroes at once. There is only phrase which can describe the ensuing scene and that is missed opportunity. To understand why, we must first look at two major factors at play. First, the actor chosen to play Reed Richards is none other than Jared Krasinski, who is famous for his roles in the TV series (2005–2013) The Office and the film A Quiet Place (2018). Now, anyone remotely familiar with comic book films…

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Why Breeding Smarter Humans Won’t Work: Basic Genetics 101

Biochemist Michael Denton explains that, in human genetics, everything is connected to everything else; geneticists call it pleiotropy

Recently, we looked at the question of whether human IQ could be artificially increased via genetic engineering. One proposal was to mass produce human embryos, implanting only the smart ones and discarding the rest. All other issues aside, it’s unclear how to determine which kids will turn out to be the smart ones. Now biochemist Michael Denton, author of a number of books including the recent Miracle of Man (2022), writes to tell us that the idea won’t work due to fundamental genetics. Noting that theoretical physicist Stephen Hsu, who advanced the idea of discarding embryos above, is not a medical geneticist, he told Mind Matters News, Its true there are many genes involved in brain development but most genes…