Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Denyse O'Leary

Bone Cell Structure: Unveiling the Building Blocks of Bones - Generative AI

Can Cells Learn? Can Molecules Communicate? What We Are Learning…

We are learning that the world of life is full of intelligence that we just did not know about

As noted last Wednesday, the science journal Nature reported on an uproar in neuroscience while sidestepping the uproar’s underlying basis: the leading theory of human consciousness today, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), is panpsychist, not eliminationist. That is, instead of trying to show that even human consciousness is merely an evolved illusion, IIT is compatible with the idea that some form of consciousness might pervade all life forms. The real difficulty with assessing any claim about human consciousness is that we can’t even define clearly what it is. However, suppose we have a more modest goal. We just want to understand why eliminative materialism seems to be failing and panpsychism, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, is Read More ›

the head of a person is full of different numbers Generative AI

Did “Evolution” Wire Human Brains to “Act Like Supercomputers”?

In making such a claim, psychology researchers may have got more than they bargained for

Intelligent design theory is still a third rail in science. But a media release for a recent research publication seems to subtly adopt its language. Researchers associated with the University of Sydney found that human brains are “naturally wired to perform advanced calculations, much like a high-powered computer, to make sense of the world through a process known as Bayesian inference.” Bayesian inference is based on Bayes’ Theorem; essentially, it’s a decision-making tool, “a means for revising predictions in light of relevant evidence, also known as conditional probability or inverse probability.” (Britannica). Originally developed by Presbyterian minister and mathematician Thomas Bayes (1702–1761) and found among his papers after his death, Bayesian inference is used today to assess probabilities using advanced Read More ›

Soul Geometry Composition

Leading Consciousness Theory Slammed as “Pseudoscience.” Huh?

Integrated Information Theory’s panpsychist leanings are the 124 neuroscientist critics’ real target

Since last week, 124 neuroscientists, including some really big names, have signed an online letter,” to be published in a journal, denouncing a leading theory of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), as “pseudoscience.” If you don’t follow these controversies, IIT may not immediately ring a bell. But the theory featured in popular science news earlier this summer when dualist philosopher David Chalmers won a 25-year bet with IIT neuroscientist Christof Koch. He had bet that a “consciousness spot” would not be found in the brain and it was not. But they were both good sports about it and, as agreed, Koch bought Chalmers a case of fine wine. But the signatories to the letter are in no mood for parties. Read More ›

Businessman in split personality concept. High quality photo

Split Mind: The Strangest Theory in Neuroscience?

The idea that we might all have separate, undetected consciousnesses in each half of our brain supports materialism but there’s little evidence for it

A century ago, many scientists — though certainly not all — cherished the hope that science would some day show that our universe is entirely determined by laws of physics physicalism. Neuroscientists insisted, along these lines, that the mind is simply the physical processes of the brain. But neuroscience is identifying many facts that show that the mind is independent of the brain. While working on the book that neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and I are writing on neuroscience evidence for the human soul (Worthy, 2024), I learned something remarkable: Some people’s brains have been split in half (corpus callosotomy) to treat otherwise intractable epilepsy) typically continue to think normally. For people who believe that the mind is simply the buzz Read More ›

Doctor Defibrillating Critical Patient In Hospital

Near-Death Experience Study: Brain Is Active After Death

Science media are making surprisingly few efforts to attack or explain away the team’s findings

A recent study led by near-death researcher Sam Parnia of the consciousness of patients whose hearts have stopped is providing more baseline data about the circumstances under which many near-death experiences occur. A team at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, working with 25 hospitals mostly in the US and Britain, studied the “lucid death experiences” that can occur when heart attack survivors are apparently unconscious. Of 567 patients, only 53 (9.3%) survived. Most of them were flatlined, meaning that they had no brain activity at a certain point. Sometimes brain activity was restored as late as up to an hour later. Only 28 of them completed interviews. According to the media release for the open-access study, “Four in 10 Read More ›

Gallipoli, Canakkale, Turkey; close up of an octopus eye (Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797). Generative AI

Octopus Intelligence Shakes Up Darwin’s Tree

There does not seem to be a Tree of Intelligence, which deepens the mystery of intelligence

(This article was first published in Salvo 64, Spring 2023, as Spineless Wonders.) The octopus presents a conundrum in animal intelligence: A highly intelligent invertebrate. We used to live in tidy world, where vertebrates, with backbones terminating in a brain, were more intelligent than invertebrates, with a variety of nervous system layouts and structures (or, in many cases, little or none thereof). Mammals and birds are, of course, highly favored for intelligence because they are warm-blooded (endothermic), and the brain is a high metabolic area. The traditional “tree of intelligence” makes sense, actually. But then we got to know the octopus. A “Second Genesis” Called by some a “second genesis of intelligence”, the octopus is the hero or perp of Read More ›


Theoretical Physicist Admits That Humans Are Unique

In his forthcoming book, Marcelo Gleiser challenges us to acknowledge our responsibility to save the planet

Yesterday, I noted a new book by Durham University philosophy professor Philip Goff, Why? The Purpose of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 2023). Notwithstanding his choice of topic, Goff is a panpsychist, not an intelligent design theorist. He originally tried approaching the massive evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe by supposing that there must be a very large number of flopped universes out there (multiverse theory). But he realized that that assumption is simply pulled out of thin air. We have no evidence for the existence or conditions of any other universe. So he is now working with the assumption that the universe is itself conscious in some sense. Significantly, Goff is given a respectful hearing despite having touched Read More ›

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If Panpsychism Is Now Mainstream, Is Fine-Tuning Next?

In his new book, panpsychist Philip Goff argues for fine-tuning of the universe and cosmic purpose

In a recent interview, Durham University philosophy professor Philip Goff told contributing editor Ricky Williamson at IAI News that panpsychism, for which he is famous, “has gone mainstream.” That is, the idea that consciousness is real and that perhaps all life forms (or the whole universe) share in it is increasingly considered a reasonable idea. Thus Goff is now tackling the concept of purpose behind the universe in a forthcoming book, Why? The Purpose of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 2023). He’s right about the mainstreaming of panpsychism in the last few years. When New Scientist can write a sympathetic account of panpsychism and University of Chicago biochemist James Shapiro, can tell us in a prestigious science journal that all Read More ›

An image of a robot meditating. Generative AI

Study: Robotic Preachers Reduce Interest in Religious Faith

They are certainly not the answer to declining attendance and involvement that some have hoped they would be

Here at Mind Matters News, we’ve covered recent attempts to automate religious practices — for example, the android Mindar (Kannon, a deity in the Buddhist tradition), the robot Pepper performing funeral rites, and proposals for robot Catholic priests. There’s even an AI Jesus out there, spluttering from the King James Bible… Mindar, in particular, has been invested with great hopes: To learn countless things and solve everyone’s problems: Many of us have just assumed that robo-religion — often introduced to combat declining adherence — would not play well with the genuinely devout. But no one had tested that rigorously. Now someone has. Joshua Conrad Jackson, a behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, studied the Read More ›

canine astronaut, with his paw on button to activate rocket thrusters, in the cockpit of spacecraft, created with generative ai

Do Cool Floor Buttons Really Cause Dogs To Talk?

The latest fad in “Talk to the animals” appears to be a classic in confirmation bias

Science writer Stephanie Pappas looked recently at the latest fad in communicating with dogs: Paw-friendly floor button sets that the dog can press (potty, play, come, etc.), available for US$20– $200. The anecdotes about the things dogs have thus told their loving humans practically write themselves: On TikTok, some of these “button dogs” seem to be doing surprisingly intelligent things, such as combining two words to create a unique meaning—“squeaker” and “car,” to refer to an ambulance, for example. One of the more famous members of this doggie bunch on TikTok, a sheepadoodle named Bunny, can apparently put together four-word phrases. In one instance, for example, she pushed buttons to refer to her friend: “Tenrec, come, look, play.” – Stephanie Read More ›

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The Left and Right Brain Both Want Pop Science Media to Chill

Neuroscience is not an especially rewarding field for the pursuit of dogma

A staple of coffee room chatter has been left brain vs. right brain thinking. You know, “He’s one of those left-brain types; he’d fire us all to save money!” Or, “She’s really a right-brain kind of person so if something looks beautiful, she probably isn’t thinking about what would happen if…” Left brain, right brain. It’s one of those complex cultural concepts that starts in conventional science fact, explodes into pop psychology chatter, and then settles into a small, murky world that can only be navigated by serious thinking. First, vertebrates generally have brains divided into two lobes, an arrangement that may go back half a billion years. The right hemisphere usually controls the left side of the body and Read More ›

The arched stone colonnade with lanterns

When Science Writers Say Things We Hardly Expected…

Some science writers are monotonous boosters for Answers from Science but the better ones challenge themselves, and thus challenge us too

Science writers have the sort of relationship to science that automotive writers do to cars. Readers often hear a thumbs up! or down! about one trend, theory, or school of thought. But in the rush and press of news, we less often hear a philosophical reflection that goes beyond cliches like “Science is self-correcting.” But, every now and again, we do. Here are three recent examples. The “Scientific Method” is Rather Messier than We Think… Philip Ball, author of Beautiful Experiments: An Illustrated History of Experimental Science (University of Chicago 2023), discusses the messy truth about how theories win out in a recent article at Nautilus: Scientists often assert that their practice is governed by the “scientific method,” in which Read More ›

abstract scene of overcoming the temporary space

The Big Bang: Last Summer, Doubt Suddenly Exploded. Why?

Why did a story that cast doubt on the Big Bang quickly go viral about a year ago? An experimental physicist offers some thoughts

Earlier this month, we learned from the National Academy of Sciences that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is prompting a rethink of how galaxies form. Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon wrote to comment that “The doubts about ‘galaxy formation’ are trickling upwards into mainstream channels.” There is talk of the JWST observations as a “watershed moment,” of dark energy and dark matter failing, and … while theorists are not quite at the point yet of criticizing the Big Bang model itself, that’s certainly not as implausible now as it might have seemed a decade ago. Many People Seem to Harbor Doubts About the Big Bang Well, we do live in unsettled times. Roughly a year ago (August 13, 2022), I Read More ›

Close-up image of a human cell nucleus with chromatin strands, cytology Generative AI

Can Information Be Separated From Intelligence? Part 3

Theoretical biologist Barbieri’s practical dilemma is that a popular, dominant idea like “life is just chemistry” need not be proved, only insisted on

We’ve been following the efforts of University of Ferrara theoretical biologist Marcello Barbieri to make sense of the enormous amount of information in life forms. His 2016 paper proposes to do it in a thoroughly physicalist science environment where life is just chemistry that once happened to swish together in an unusual way. As we have seen in Part 1 and Part 2, the project is not going well. Meaning Cannot Exist in an Intellectually Null Universe The idea that information is a mere linguistic metaphor that does not really belong in science is popular in biology today. It supports conventional biologists’ greatest intellectual commitment: That Darwinian evolution, by natural selection acting on random mutation, creates the entire complex, specified Read More ›

aerial perspective of a crop circle with mathematical symbols

Does Deep Social Change Underlie the War on Math?

Why is the universal language of science sinking under the weight of claims about trauma and privilege?

Citing a recent article in the journal Urban Education aimed at “healing practices through the use of Social Justice Mathematics.” education watchdog Joanne Jacobs notes a trend, aimed at California schools, toward turning math class into a soap opera: … Another problem read: “I have US$100. I owe 1/4 of my money to my mom, 2/5 to my grandmother, and 4/10 to my brother. Do I have enough money to pay everyone back? How much money should each person get?” After students calculate that this woman owes more money than she has, they watch a video of a single mom struggling to make ends meet. They are then asked questions like, “What are some feelings that you are having when Read More ›

Ideas escape from brain of pensive african man

Does Left Brain-Only Thinking Impoverish Our Mental World? How?

A discussion of the left brain vs the right brain that avoids pop science can set us thinking, as psychiatrist McGilchrist and neurologist Dirckx show

Recently, we looked at a discussion between Christian neuroscientist Sharon Dirckx and eclectic psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist on the nature of the mind. The stimulating level of their conversation on Justin Brierley’s show Unbelievable pointed up — by omission — the wasteland that eliminative materialism brings to so much discussion of the mind today. The middle part of the discussion focused on McGilchrist’s approach to the difference between “right-brain” and “left brain” thinking. Essentially, our brains are lateralized, such that two duplicate halves control opposite sides of our bodies — but they also specialize for some specific functions. So your right brain controls your left hand, and so forth. This topic often degenerates into debunkable pop science fluff. The fluff loses Read More ›

pig farm industry farming hog barn pork

A Warning From the Unpublished Preface to Orwell’s Animal Farm

Only discovered in 1971, the Preface offers George Orwell’s critical but neglected insights into the nature of censorship in a free society

George Orwell‘s novella Animal Farm (1945) was a political fable. The cleverly portrayed animals who chase off the farmer and try to run the farm as a utopia slowly begin to replicate all the attitudes and practices against which they had rebelled. The story, summarized here, satirizes the Soviet Union’s transition from revolution to totalitarianism under Joseph Stalin (1878–1953). In fact, the animal characters and incidents are often allusions to historical Soviet figures and events. His Preface, “The Freedom of the Press,” was omitted from the first edition of the book, then disappeared, and was not rediscovered until 1971. From it, we learn that Orwell had considerable difficulty getting his fable published. That wasn’t principally because of wartime issues. There Read More ›

Anasazi Ruins in Mesa Verde

Can Information Be Separated From Intelligence? Part 2

Theoretical biologist Marcello Barbieri envisions life’s origin in terms that only make sense if we assume life is the work of an intelligent agent

Earlier this week, we looked at a most interesting paper, by University of Ferrara theoretical biologist Marcello Barbieri. He was discussing the discomfort biologists feel with the vast amount of information in life forms, which — in the view of many — “does not really belong in science.” The divide, he says, is between biologists who insist that life is chemistry only and those who, like him, see it as chemistry plus information. The problem is obvious: Information is by its nature immaterial. It is measured in bits, not kilograms or joules. It is understood in terms that invoke mathematics and probability more than chemistry and physics. A physicalist biologist ignores or discounts the role of information. Barbieri wants to Read More ›

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Preforming a pre-trip inspection on a truck,Concept preventive maintenance truck checklist,Truck driver holding clipboard with checking of truck,spot focus.

Science Is Self-correcting? Time for a Reality Check!

In the wake of the Stanford scandal, the reasons why science often ISN’T self-correcting are attracting much more attention

Many of us grew up with the claim “Science — unlike religion — is self-correcting!” Why so many science boosters dragged religion into it was never clear to me. It sounded too much like saying “The chemistry department, unlike the (stupid) philosophy department, is self-correcting!” Oh? Well, let’s see then. Self-absorbed nonsense often followed, which only heightened suspicion. The recent resignation of neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of Stanford University, over yet another peer-reviewed research scandal has forced science thinkers to accept a, perhaps unaccustomed, moment of serious self-reflection. Here’s a sampling from recent news, first from veteran whistleblower Ivan Oransky: You may have thought, given the voluminous coverage of this case, that Tessier-Lavigne’s defenestration demonstrates such failures are highly unusual Read More ›

Create yourself concept. Good looking young man drawing a picture, sketch of himself

Our Essential “I”ness … the Search for Its Address in the Brain

Does “I” — the first person singular — have or need a fixed address in the brain?

Neuroscience seems caught between a quest for the exact spot where self-awareness is generated and theorizing that self-awareness is really an illusion. A search for the spot in the brain that corresponds to “I” — as in Descartes’ famous formulation, “I think, therefore I am” begins with an assumption: That there is any such address in the brain. How is the search coming? Historically, we have located our sense of self in our hearts or heads. Both locations make sense, in different ways. Our hearts pound when we have strong feelings. As for our heads, it’s more complicated… When, in as-yet unpublished work, Christina Starmans and her colleagues showed people from the US and India pictures of flies circling around Read More ›