Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Denyse O'Leary

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Hands of a man tearing a piece of paper with inscription free will

Free Will: What Are the Real Reasons to Believe in It?

Some say that free will might be a useful delusion but neuroscience provides sound reasons to believe that it is real.

University of Missouri psychology professor Kennon Sheldon’s message is neatly summed up in an opening statement: “Regardless of whether humans do or don’t have free will, psychological research shows it’s beneficial to act as if you do”. The author of Freely Determined: What the New Psychology of the Self Teaches Us About How to Live (Basic Books, 2022) responds to philosophers who say that we do not have free will: All my life, I’ve struggled with the question of whether humans have ‘free will’. It catalysed my decision to become a psychologist and continues to inspire my research to this day, especially as it relates to the kinds of goals people set for themselves, and the effects of goal-striving on Read More ›

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Primeval Caveman,Neanderthal Family , ai generated

Researchers: Neanderthals Invented Process to Produce Birch Tar

The tar can be used for glue, bug repellent, and killing germs. This finding tracks growing recognition of Neanderthals as intelligent

Many of us grew up with “Neanderthal!” used as a term of abuse for a stupid person. A 2021 study from the University of Tübingen and others, dusted off at ScienceAlert, paints quite a different picture, in connection with Neanderthals’ manufacture of birch tar. The tar from burnt birch wood can be used as glue, insect repellent, and antiseptic. It can be scraped from a fire naturally or it can be produced in a controlled way. Which method Neanderthals used says something about the development of their culture. The study authors, Patrick Schmidt et al., went to a lot of potentially messy trouble to try to answer the question: Some think of black tar as a happy accident that Neanderthals Read More ›

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Robot paints picture at home, humanoid robot creating as artist, generative AI.

All We Need To Do To Give a Robot a Soul Is… (Error 404)

The author of Robot Souls argues that programmers have failed to put the “junk,” that is, the soul, into machines — but that they could do so

Academic publisher Taylor & Francis asks in TechXplore, “Should robots be given a conscience?” (June 11, 2023). I spoil no surprise by revealing that we are meant to think that that is both doable and desirable. T & F is publishing Eve Poole’s Robot Souls later this year. Poole is a British writer and academic, and author of Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions, Buying God, and Leadersmithing. Her thesis is that, in our quest for the most functional software, we left out the “junk,” which includes our “emotions, free will and a sense of purpose”: Our junk code consists of human emotions, our propensity for mistakes, our inclination to tell stories, our uncanny sixth sense, our capacity to cope with uncertainty, an Read More ›

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Iguana Eye

Look Out! The “Reptilian Brain” Is Still Here!

Many psychology students are subjected to this day to an exploded pop neuroscience myth endorsed by celebrity scientist Carl Sagan

Do we have a three-part brain — reptilian, mammalian, and human? Curiously, psychology textbooks teach us that we do and neuroscience studies teach us that we don’t. Who to believe? And how did that happen anyway? In the 1960s, Yale University physiologist and psychiatrist Paul D. MacLean (1913–2007) offered the triune brain theory. On that view, the reptilian brain (brain stem) controls things like movement and breathing; the mammalian brain controls emotion (limbic system); and the human cerebral cortex controls language and reasoning (neocortex). That might have been just another theory except that it was widely promoted by celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan (1934–1996) in his book, The Dragons of Eden (Random House, 1977). Praised in The Atlantic as “a rational, Read More ›

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Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

Cognitive Cells? A Newer Challenge to Neo-Darwinism

The origin of self-referential cognition is unknown, say a trio of researchers who call it “biology’s most profound enigma”

In September 1957, Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist Francis Crick (1916–2004) announced the “Central Dogma” in biology, at a symposium at Oxford University. The dogma is currently given in the Biology Dictionary thus: “genetic information flows primarily from nucleic acids in the form of DNA and RNA to functional proteins during the process of gene expression.” This view that genes rule underpins mainstream assumptions about how traits are inherited; from there, it governs accepted assumptions about evolution. So the ground on which Darwin’s modern defenders stand, propounding the only true history of life, is narrow but it is firm. Sir Francis Crick is perhaps better known to laypeople for his 1994 book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul, which he Read More ›

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tunnel of light

Near-Death Experience Research Is Slowly Filling In the Picture

When an 87-year-old man was having his brain scanned, he died — unexpectedly — of a heart attack. So, in a rare event, the scan recorded his unanticipated final brain activity

In a survey article at Business Insider, Erin Heger points to several studies that shed light on what happens when we die. She starts by referencing Julia A. Nicholson’s recent account of her own NDE when she was eighteen, as a result of a near-fatal car crash: I didn’t feel any pain but I heard voices around me. I could then hear my sister screaming, “She’s dead, my sister is dead.” So I believed that I must have died. I remember my sister, Allan, and John saying, “If you can hear us, move, or touch something,” but I couldn’t move at all. After I started to regain consciousness, I remember seeing the faces of the people that I loved flashing Read More ›

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Mousetrap with a piece of cheese on a dark vintage background. The concept -

Finding From Recent Brain Research Supports Free Will

Researchers, altering Libet’s classical experiment, found that human brains show no “readiness potential” when a decision is important

Philosopher Alessandra Buccella and experimental psychologist Tomáš Dominik, both at Chapman University, offer some interesting support for free will. Many commentators interpreted Benjamin Libet’s experiments that showed that the brain’s readiness to make a decision (readiness potential) often preceded the subject’s conscious awareness of the choice that had been made. There! they said, that proves that there is no free will: To many observers, these findings debunked the intuitive concept of free will. After all, if neuroscientists can infer the timing or choice of your movements long before you are consciously aware of your decision, perhaps people are merely puppets, pushed around by neural processes unfolding below the threshold of consciousness. Alessandra Buccella, Tomáš Dominik, “Free Will Is Only an Read More ›

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Butterfly on a glass ball on the beach refecting the lake and sky

Physicist: Life After Death Is Incompatible With Physics

In 2011, Sean Carroll wrote an essay for Scientific American on why — from a science perspective — our minds must be extinguished at death

Back in 2011, particle physicist Sean M. Carroll wrote a guest blog at Scientific American, dismissing the idea of life after death or the immortality of the soul. He began by responding to astrophysicist Adam Frank’s reflections at NPR: For myself I remain fully and firmly agnostic on the question. If ever there was a place where firm convictions seem misplaced this is it. There simply is no controlled, experimental verifiable information to support either the “you rot” vs. “you go on” positions. In the absence of said information we are all free to believe as we like but, I would argue, it behooves us to remember that truly “public” knowledge on the subject — the kind science exemplifies — Read More ›

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Neurons cells concept

A Game Developer Looks at Human Consciousness

Gino Yu tries to explain the Asian approach to consciousness to Robert Lawrence Kuhn at Closer to Truth

A few years back, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed game developer Gino Yu at Closer to Truth on the topic, “What is Consciousness?” Consciousness is what we can know best and explain least. It is the inner subjective experience of what it feels like to see red or smell garlic or hear Beethoven. (Jan 18, 2016, 8:34 min) The interview raises some interesting issues. Yu is the founding head of the Multimedia Innovation Center at Hong Kong Polytechnic University: “His main area of research focuses on the application of media technologies to cultivate creativity and promote enlightened consciousness.” (Closer to Truth) So how does he understand consciousness? Selections from the transcript and some notes follow: Robert Lawrence Kuhn: you know I’ve Read More ›

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Tyrannosaurus Rex in the jungle. Generative AI.

Was the Tyrannosaur as Smart as a Monkey? Assessing a New Claim

One researcher argues that, based on bird studies, the huge predators may have had many more brain cells than we have supposed

Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel tells us, in a recent paper, that tyrannosaurs had similar numbers of brain neurons as “primates.” But how would we know? Herculano-Houzel stats with the assumption that dinosaurs are descended from birds and makes a distinction between the theropod dinosaurs like the tyrannosaur and others: From that assumption, Herculano-Houzel realized that theropods in particular had a similar correlation between body mass and brain size to pre-impact birds, or basal birds. From there, she used the neuron count of modern birds like emus and ostritches and applied the same rules of scaling to figure out how many neurons theropods like the T-Rex may have had. Frank Landymore, “In terrifying news, big brained T-rex may have been Read More ›

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Peaceful old man looking at his hound and holding the paw of it. Tranquil man is sitting in wheelchair and wearing eyeglasses. Hound is sitting near the chair

1000 Dogs Tested on Standardized Dog IQ test. What Was Found?

There were no breed differences for short-term memory or logical reasoning but some differences in how much they needed to interact with humans when problem-solving

Assessing dog intelligence is one of those sensitive areas because of the difficulty in agreeing on what to measure. Experts tend to say that border collies are the smartest dog breed but the response they may get is, “My shih tzu understands me and I am a difficult person to understand!” Nonetheless, a Finnish research group decided to try their hand at administering a battery of standardized intelligence tests (smartDOG) to over 1000 dogs between 1 and 8 years old, of 13 different breeds, with a minimum of 40 dogs from each breed. Here’s what they were testing for: The battery involves measuring different cognitive traits, from spatial problem solving to logical reasoning, to impulse control and an ability to Read More ›

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Abstract digital human face.  Artificial intelligence concept of big data or cyber security. 3D illustration

If Consciousness Is Not Physical, How Can an AI Duplicate It?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed Berkeley philosopher Hubert Dreyfus on the question before his death in 2017

At Closer to Truth, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed the late philosopher Hubert Dreyfus (1929–2017) a couple of years back on the question “Is consciousness entirely physical.” The interview was released May 18, 2022 (10:03 min). Here’s the big question about consciousness, our inner experience of what things feel like. Is consciousness a product of the physical world alone? Because if consciousness is the output of the physical brain by itself, however complex, then consciousness as physicalism would defeat those who believe, or hope for, the existence of nonphysical realities. Some philosophers (physicalists) do maintain that consciousness is entirely physical or, more commonly, they dance around the point. For example, philosopher David Papineau said in 2020, “If only we could stop Read More ›

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3D illustration of Escher's inspired stairs

How Surreal Artist MC Escher Influenced Physicist Roger Penrose

Escher’s mathematical art was all the more remarkable because he had no formal training in mathematics

Last month, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed eminent British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose on a number of topics, including the influence of surrealist artist M. C. Escher (December 9, 2022/32:00 min). Here is a transcribed selection from the second part of the discussion in Part 1 above*, beginning around the 12-minute mark, with some notes: Robert Lawrence Kuhn: We talked about the impossible Penrose triangle which really opens up another area of your life in terms of visual representations of remarkable things. Penrose tiling really new ways of thing of seeing visual representation of fiery fundamental geometric and algebraic transformations and things. But what I wanted to ask you is, as youdeveloped that you had this interaction with the artist Read More ›

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the drawings from the ceiling of Altamira cave in Santillana Del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

Do Cave Paintings From 20,000 Years Ago Show Symbolic Writing?

In an article in the Cambridge Archeological Journal, researchers say they’ve deciphered the dots and Y’s among the animal paintings

London-based wood carving conservator Ben Bacon has, with academic colleagues, shaken up Ice Age paleontology by demonstrating that the marks on the 20,000-year-old cave paintings of animals found across Europe could be interpreted as a lunar calendar timing their reproductive cycles: Prof Paul Pettitt, of Durham University, said he was “glad he took it seriously” when Mr Bacon contacted him. “The results show that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systemic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar.” News, “Londoner solves 20,000-year Ice Age drawings mystery” at BBC (January 5, 2023) The paper is open access. Bacon had spent many hours both on the internet and in the British Library, studying Read More ›

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Lost and confused man walks puzzled on a penrose triangle. Perplexed person looks disoriented ahead, don't know which way to choose. Surreal and conceptual scene, mental maze, optical illusion

Nobelist Roger Penrose Talks About His Impossible Triangle

At Closer to Truth, the mathematical physicist explains to Robert Lawrence Kuhn how he understands the relationship between mathematics, the mind, and the physical world

Last month, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed eminent British mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose on the relationship between mathematics, the mind, and the physical universe (December 9, 2022/32:00 min). Penrose likes to illustrate the relationship between the three with an “impossible” triangle (see below). Here are a couple of transcribed selections from the first part of the discussion in Part 1*, concerning the Penrose Triangle, with some notes: Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Let’s start with your grand metaphysical framework, your three worlds — three mysteries: the physical world, the mental world, the platonic or mathematical world — each connected to the other two in your famous diagram of an equilateral triangle. What’s the origin of this vision of yours of foundational reality? Read More ›

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An internet email symbol and a group of people are separated by a red prohibitory symbol No. restrictions on access to the global Internet. Censorship. Information control, society isolation policy

Big Tech Censorship Goes Well Beyond Twitter

Big Tech media is not, in itself, an answer to current legacy mainstream media if we would like to know information that our betters would prefer that we didn't

The big news (if it is even news) is that most Big Tech media are involved in censorship of opinions disapproved by the governing elite. Elon Musk has certainly shone a light by buying Twitter and releasing the house files to independent journalists. Legacy media entities still refuse to cover the story seriously (probably because they cannot take inevitable further blows to their relevance, numbers, or prestige) First, some updates on the Twitter Files via indie journalist Matt Taibbi: Twitter files 11 deals with — among other things — the way Twitter was pressured in 2016 by political friends, then out of power, to discover that there was Russian involvement in the outcome of the U.S. 2016 election. Twitter was Read More ›

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Evolving Soul Geometry

Brain Scientist: Consciousness Didn’t Evolve. It Creates Evolution

With a tremor in his voice, Donald Hoffman tells Robert Lawrence Kuhn that even the Big Bang must be understood in a universe where consciousness is fundamental

In a recent episode of Closer to Truth, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed University of California cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman on a challenging topic, “Why did consciousness emerge? (7:41 min, December 10, 2022): There was a time when there was no consciousness in our universe. Now there is. What caused consciousness to emerge? Did consciousness develop in the same way that, say, the liver or the eye developed, by random mutation and fitness selection during evolution? Inner experience seems to be radically different from anything else. Are we fooling ourselves? Donald Hoffman is the author of Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See and coauthor of Observer Mechanics: A Formal Theory Of Perception (Norton, 2000) A partial transcript and some Read More ›

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Cat hunter with a caught mouse in her mouth

Can Animals Be Held Criminally Responsible for Their Acts?

While the idea is handled provocatively in philosophy literature, in practice, animals are envisioned as plaintiffs, not defendants, in animal rights cases

In an essay at Psyche, Ed Simon, a journalist who investigates the eclectic, looks at the history/mythology of trying animals like pigs and rats for criminal offenses. He sees an opportunity there for animal rights activism: Dismissing animal trials as just another backwards practice of a primitive time is to our intellectual detriment, not only because it imposes a pernicious presentism on the past, but also because it’s worth considering whether or not the broader implications of such a ritual don’t have something to tell us about different ways of understanding nonhuman consciousness, and the rights that our fellow creatures deserve. From our metaphysics, then, can come our ethics, and from our ethics can derive politics and law. There need Read More ›

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zen garden meditation stone background with stone and lines in sand for relaxation balance and harmony spirituality or spa wellness

Philosopher: I Accept Dualism But Don’t Believe in the Soul

David Chalmers, whose background is in physics, talks to Robert Lawrence Kuhn at Closer to Truth about his struggle to accept that the mind is immaterial

David Chalmers, the New York University philosopher who coined the term “Hard Problem of Consciousness” was willing to take the risk of openly identifying as a dualist — that is, he believes that, on evidence, the human mind is immaterial. On that view, widely accepted worldwide, the human being has a dual nature: a material body and an immaterial mind. But Chalmers draws the line at believing in the existence of a soul. Here is his discussion at Closer to Truth with Robert Lawrence Kuhn, “Is the ‘Soul’ Immortal?” (May 4, 2021, 9:06 min): The claim that human beings have or are an ‘immortal soul’ goes back to the ancient Greeks, if not further. In a pre-scientific world, it would Read More ›

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Depression and sadness concept artwork

Is Depression an Altered Global State of Consciousness?

Cecily Whiteley and Jonathan Birch from the London School of Economics and Political Science argue that altered consciousness prevents depressed people from just "seeing the bright side"

PhD student Cecily Whiteley and philosophy prof Jonathan Birch, both of the London School of Economics and Political Science, think that depression is often misunderstood. In this 2021 article, noted again at Psyche, they point out that it is not just “feeling low”; it is an altered form of consciousness: The psychologist Andrew Solomon hints at some of these transformations in his memoir The Noonday Demon (2001): “When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better. Being upset, even profoundly upset, Read More ›