Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Michael Egnor

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Can Physics Prove There Is No Free Will?

No, but it can make physicists incoherent when they write about free will

It’s hilarious. Sabine Hossenfelder misses the irony that she insists that people “change their minds” by accepting her assertion that they… can’t change their minds. 

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Unordnung im Kinderzimmer, Playmobil - und Legosteine warten auf eine Zusammensetzung
Legos and toys for assembly

Computers Are No Smarter Than Tinkertoys

Philosopher: You may as well believe that Penn and Teller really do magic

Philosopher Ed Feser wrote a great post recently on why it is irrational to believe that artificial intelligence is really intelligent. He begins with Arthur C. Clarke’s famous observation that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Clarke’s assertion, he points out, can be taken two ways: people can be fooled into thinking that advanced technology is magic and, as a metaphysical assertion, that advanced technology really is magic. He defends the first assertion and, of course, denies the second: There are, however, many people who believe a claim that is analogous to, and as silly as, the metaphysical thesis that sufficiently advanced technology really is magic — namely the claim that a machine running a sufficiently advanced computer Read More ›

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A hand stretched out in front

Does “Alien Hand Syndrome” Show That We Don’t Really Have Free Will?

One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it?

Alien hand syndrome doesn’t mean that free will is not real. In fact, it clarifies exactly what free will is and what it isn’t.

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Scapula on the background of fertile soil. Place for the text. The concept of agriculture. Metal garden tools
Scapula on the background of fertile soil. Place for the text. The concept of agriculture. Metal garden tools

Scientism is not a cure for stupidity

But never mind, quite a few science savants have rushed in fearlessly

A science writer tackled a big issue recently: stupidity. Who does he ask? Why, scientists of course. Surprisingly enough, it’s a question few scientists have grappled with, perhaps out of a desire not to wade into a subject that could so easily offend. After all, the field of intelligence studies is rife with controversy. Ross Pomeroy “What is Stupidity?” at Real Clear Science But never mind, quite a few science savants, unafraid to offend, have rushed in: Evolutionary biologist David Krakauer, President of the Santa Fe Institute,told Nautilus, “Stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting [a problem] right. In fact, it makes it more likely you’ll get it wrong.” I won’t contradict Read More ›

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Silhouette of a female as training her dog - website banner

The Real Reason Why Only Human Beings Speak

Language is a tool for abstract thinking—a necessary tool for abstraction—and humans are the only animals who think abstractly

In his discussion of why only humans have language, science writer Tom Siegfried gets a lot right, but he misses the crucial reason.

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Pinball chute

How Can Mere Products of Nature Have Free Will?

Materialists don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it

Although most compatibilists have a more or less materialist view of nature, they find it impossible to shake the conviction that free will is real.

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Woman's hands typing on a pastel pink keyboard
Woman's hands typing on a pastel pink keyboard of retro laptop. Work and technology.

Could Your Computer Be Transgender?

A shift in basic philosophy can account for the new dogma that biological sex is a matter of culture and choice
Nominalism is a philosophical dead end that does not reflect underlying reality. But it has permeated our culture. We are told that there are no categories; everything is infinitely plastic. Read More ›
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Yelling and screaming amidst colorful powder in the air

How the Internet Turns Coffee Klatches into Mobs

A philosopher sheds light on how the Covington high school kids became America's Most Hated
The chaos and violence rising in our own country and around the world get much of their fuel from the obscurity and contagion of the internet, which is kerosene sprayed on the sparks tossed up by civilization. If we are to survive this conflagration, we must understand how these fires grow. Read More ›
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Human Fetus Week Nine

The Junk Science of the Abortion Lobby

Fetuses not only experience pain but experience it more intensely than do adults
Much of pro-abortion advocacy is science denial—the deliberate misrepresentation of science to advance an ideological agenda. Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University, wrote a misleading essay on that theme in the New York Times, “Science won’t end this debate” (January 22, 2019). Read More ›
Abstract Looking Into a Kaleidoscope Background Geometric Shapes
Abstract Looking Into a Kaleidoscope Background Geometric Shapes

In One Sense, Consciousness IS an Illusion…

We have no knowledge of the processes of our consciousness, only of the objects of its attention, whether they are physical, emotional, or abstract
When we think, we think about reality, not about the neurological processes by which we connect to reality. It is by keeping this understanding clearly in mind that we escape the solipsism that bedevils modern neuroscience. Read More ›
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How is Human Language Different from Animal Signals?

What do we need from language that we cannot get from signals alone?
Language, which is the rule-based use of abstract designators, is essential for abstract thought because only designators can point to things that have no concrete physical existence. Only human beings think abstractly, and language is what makes abstract thought possible. Read More ›
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Hamlet: Did his perplexing neurotransmitters cause the tragedy?

The neuroscientist working from a mechanical perspective would study the material and efficient causes of Hamlet’s act of revenge.
It is essential to note that the Aristotelian neuroscientist, while delving into the complexities of Shakespeare’s remarkable psychological portrayal of this tortured man, can also study Hamlet’s murder of Claudius in just the same way that the mechanistic neuroscientist can. But he doesn’t lose the plot. Read More ›
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Yes, your brain is a machine—if you choose to see it that way

As a Nobel Prize physicist pointed out, our method of study determines what we learn

Anil Seth, a Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, gave a TED talk recently (linked below) in which he asserted that “the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…” So, is your brain really a biological “machine”? Or is that just an analogy, like saying that a restaurant kitchen is a “hive” of activity? If so, how good is the analogy? Why do we select the analogy of a “machine” rather than a different one? It’s an important question, as we will see, because the questions we ask of nature constrain the answers we obtain. A machine is an artifact. It is a human-built assembly of Read More ›

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Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?

If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?
The materialist interpretation of Reilly’s work is a misunderstanding of what the research actually shows. The stimulations did not evoke complex abstract intentions and acts—the patients didn’t reflexively decide to do integral calculus or donate to Amnesty International. Read More ›
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Does your brain construct your conscious reality? Part II

In a word, no. Your brain doesn't "think"; YOU think, using your brain
The brain understands nothing, imagines nothing, sees nothing. It wills nothing. We understand, we imagine, we see, and we will, using our brains. Read More ›
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Does your brain construct your conscious reality? Part I

A reply to computational neuroscientist Anil Seth's recent TED talk
His talk is a breathtaking compendium of fallacies on the mind and the brain. We can learn a lot from him—by understanding the errors into which he falls and the way out of those errors. Read More ›