Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryBiology

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Backgrounds of Characteristics and Different shaped Colony of Bacteria and Mold growing on agar plates from Soil samples for education in Microbiology laboratory.

Bacterial Growth Patterns Can Spell Out Our Inmost Thoughts

Crazy? No. Researchers reduced them to an alphabet and you can test it for yourself

Biomedical engineers at Duke University have created an encoder/decoder using bacterial growth patterns. Because such growth patterns tend to be regular, they can be reduced to an encoding scheme they call “emorfi”: The encoding is not one-to-one, as the final simulated pattern corresponding to each letter is not exactly the same every time. However, the researchers discovered that a machine learning program could learn to distinguish between them to recognize the letter intended. Ken Kingery, Duke University, “An AI message decoder based on bacterial growth patterns” at Phys.org (September 23, 2022) The paper requires a fee or subscription. Go here to see how it works and test it yourself. We tried it with “Bacterial growth patterns can spell out your…

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Closeup of Hummingbird Hawk-moth butterfly (Macroglossum stellatarum) feeding of red valerian flowers (Centranthus ruber) in flight. Its a species of hawk moth found across temperate regions of Eurasi

Machine Uses Live Hawk Moth Antenna for Smell Detection

Human-created sensors are not sensitive, fast, or discerning enough to identify and process smells in the danger zones for which the Smellicopter was designed

We’ve often written about electronic prostheses that link up with the human nervous system — which essentially means controlling the prosthesis by thoughts alone. A reversal is also possible, as the University of Washington demonstrated in 2020: A machine (the “Smellicopter”) used an insect’s antenna to identify and seek out smells: “Nature really blows our human-made odor sensors out of the water,” said lead author Melanie Anderson, a UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering. “By using an actual moth antenna with Smellicopter, we’re able to get the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robotic platform where we can control its motion.” Sarah McQuate, “The Smellicopter is an obstacle-avoiding drone that uses a live moth…

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Sanger Sequencing. 3D illustration of a method of DNA sequencing.

If DNA Is a Language, Who Is the Speaker?

Philosopher Steve Meyer talks about the significance of Francis Crick’s sequence hypothesis that shows that DNA is literally a language of life

In a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Steve Meyer looked at the question of whether a multiverse, as in Multiverse of Madness (2022), or God, as in many traditions is the origin of our universe. That is, is our universe designed — as considerable evidence suggests — or is ours just one of a few lucky universes whose extra-lucky conditions allow for advanced life? Dr. Meyer is the author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021) which argues that the evidence from science favors God over a multiverse. (Sample here.) In this first of four transcripts of the talk, he talks about how and why it matters to ordinary people which…

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2 UAPS / Ufos in the night sky at a beach. UFO UAP Sighting at night

NASA on UFOs: Not Nearly So Snarky Now. Here Are 3 Reasons Why

In the three decades since the discovery of the first exoplanets, science has gradually been overtaking science fiction

As noted recently at Scientific American, thinking about UFOs is no longer presumptive evidence of membership in the lunatic fringe: On June 9, with only a few hours’ notice, NASA held a press conference to announce a study it was commissioning on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). The acronym is a rebranding of what are more popularly known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, a topic usually associated with purported extraterrestrial visitations and government conspiracy theories. The question on the public’s mind was why one of the U.S.’s premier scientific agencies was getting involved in something often considered to be at the farthest fringes of respectability. Adam Mann, “With New Study, NASA Seeks the Science behind UFOs” at Scientific American (August…

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Group of cute smart dolphins in the ocean

Why Some Life Forms Are Smarter Than Others Is Still a Mystery

Brains are not simple so many “just common sense” theories have fallen by the wayside

As biologist John Timmer notes at Ars Technica, some life forms appear much more intelligent than others despite having brains of roughly the same size: Animals with very different brains from ours—a species of octopus and various birds—engage with tools, to give just one example. It seems intuitive that a brain needs a certain level of size and sophistication to enable intelligence. But figuring out why some species seem to have intelligence while closely related ones don’t has proven difficult—so difficult that we don’t really understand it. John Timmer, “Brain size vs. body size and the roots of intelligence” at Ars Technica (July 12, 2022) As he points out, some things we might expect to be true — puzzlingly —…

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Colorful background made of fallen autumn leaves.

Did Carl Sagan Think the Universe Shows No Design?

Like Fred Hoyle, he seems to have thought it showed design — until that view became politically associated with religion

It’s a complicated story. At one time, a religious skeptic like astronomer Carl Sagan (1934–1996) could write: The universe was made on purpose, the circle said. In whatever galaxy you happen to find yourself, you take the circumference of a circle, divide it by its diameter, measure closely enough, and uncover a miracle — another circle, drawn kilometers downstream of the decimal point. There would be richer messages farther in. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or what you’re made of, or where you come from. As long as you live in this universe, and have a modest talent for mathematics, sooner or later you’ll find it. It’s already here. It’s inside everything. You don’t have to leave your…

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Change Chance

The Salem Hypothesis: Why Engineers View the Universe as Designed

Not because we're terrorists or black-and-white thinkers, as claimed. A simple computer program shows the limits of creating information by chance

In the fun-filled world of internet debate between creationists and evolutionists, we encounter the Salem Hypothesis: Creationists tend to be engineers. Many explanations have been offered for this phenomenon (apparently named after Talk Origins contributor Bruce Salem): engineers are closet terrorists creationists are trying to protect their fragile beliefs a desire to exert authority engineers like simple black and white answers There’s a reason internet forums are not known for flattering character analysis! Anyhow, the true reason for the Salem Hypothesis is summed up in this graph. Read on to find out why. Engineers are more likely to be creationists because they are familiar with what it takes to design complex things for specific tasks. Which is exactly what we…

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Champagne Pool zone thermale Wai-O-Tapu en Nouvelle-Zélande

Earth’s Weirdest Life Forms Show That ET Life Is Possible

Whether it’s living in boiling water, breathing sulfur, or eating radiation, we’ve found life forms that do just that right here on Earth

Astrobiologists debate whether extraterrestrial life would be a lot like life on Earth or quite different. There may be a middle position… A number of life forms on Earth are just so weird that they demonstrate that life can come into existence — and stay in existence — in a variety of ways we never thought possible: ● A giant undersea meadow recently turned out to be one single plant – the world’s largest. Posidonia australis, a seagrass, kept all the genes from both parents so it reproduces by sprouting rhizomes, not by mating. Futurism (June 2, 2022) ● It’s not clear what The Blob at the Paris Zoo even is, in scientific terms. It has 720 sexes, no limbs,…

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Man making fire with tinder polypore fungus in a forest

Biochemist: Why Only Humans Could Learn To Use Fire

Many animals display intelligence but controlling fire requires other advantages as well

Biochemist Michael Denton contends, in an excerpt from Chapter 11 in his The Miracle of Man (2022), that humans were designed to use fire. Here is some of his evidence that “only a special type of unique being very close to our own biological design could have taken the first and vital step to technological enlightenment, fire-making”: From first principles, a creature capable of creating and controlling fire must be an aerobic terrestrial air-breathing species, living in an atmosphere enriched in oxygen, supportive of both respiration and combustion. This fire-maker must have something like human intelligence to accomplish the task, and while it is true that other species — e.g., dolphins, parrots, seals, apes, and ravens — possess intelligence and…

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weasel peering out of a burrow

Dawkins’ Weasel Program vs the Information Life Acquires En Route

To demonstrate what is wrong with fully naturalist assumptions like those of Richard Dawkins’ Weasel program, I developed Weasel Libs, modeled on Mad Libs

In his famous Weasel program zoologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins shows that the simple combination of random mutation and natural selection (Darwinian evolution) can produce the English sentence, “Methinks it is like a weasel”, in a short time period. The point of his program is to demonstrate that evolution can generate the complex, pre-specified DNA sequences we find in biology before the heat death of the universe. His argument sounds persuasive because both English sentences and DNA sequences are made up of symbols. Both can be randomly modified anywhere, and by cumulative selection, they can plausibly adapt to the environment in reasonably short order. Writers in English can learn to pen best-selling novels through trial and error and audience feedback.…

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Senior man wearing t-rex dinosaur mask withdraw money from bank cash machine with debit card - Surreal image of half human and animal - Absurd and crazy concept of ATM advertise

Could the Dinosaurs Have Had a Now-Lost Civilization?

Geoscientist Dirk Schultze-Makuch asks us to be sure why we believe it couldn’t be true. Not as simple as it first appears…

That’s just crazy talk, right? Geoscientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, author of The Cosmic Zoo (2017), asks us to think again before dismissing it: Let’s imagine for a moment that some civilization went extinct millions of years before hominids even appeared. Although there isn’t a precise definition of “civilization,” we usually associate it with a species capable of altering its physical environment on a regional or even planetary scale. How would we know, millions of years later, that they had been here? All evidence of their technological achievements is almost certain to have disappeared long ago, as persuasively shown by Alan Weisman in his 2007 book, The World Without Us. Cities and large constructions like dams would quickly crumble and return to…

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A trio of woolly mammoths trudges over snow covered hills.  Behind them, mountains with snow covered peaks rise above dark green forests of fir trees. 3D Rendering

Did Small Brains Doom the Mammoth and the Giant Armadillo?

A recent study showed that survivors had brains that were 53% larger, which was perhaps useful in avoiding predators

A recent study of mammal extinctions during and after the Ice Age found that the large mammals (megafauna) that went extinct during the period of 115,000 years ago through 500 years ago (the Late Quaternary) had smaller brains in relation to body mass than those that survived: The researchers explain that the last Ice Age was characterized by the widespread extinction of large and giant animals on all continents on earth (except Antarctica). Among these were, in America, giant ground sloths weighing 4 tons, a giant armadillo weighing a ton, and mastodons; in Australia the marsupial diprotodon weighing a ton, giant kangaroos, and a marsupial ‘lion’; and in Eurasia giant deer, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, and giant elephants weighing up to…

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scuba diving octopus lembeh strait indonesia underwater

Can Largely Rearranged Genomes Explain Why Octopuses Are Smart?

Even compared to each other, the genomes of three cephalopods studied had been broken up and extensively reorganized

Octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish are among the smartest invertebrates, rivalling mammals for complex behavior that can include delaying gratification, having good memories (even in old age), and getting emotional about pain. Yet they are related to life forms like the nautilus which displays few such qualities. Looking to solve the mystery, researchers began to examine the genomes of the two-spot octopus, the Boston Market squid, and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. And that’s where they discovered something interesting. Squid genomes were arranged differently from those of similar life forms.: Compared to genomes from some of their mollusk kin, the coleoid cephalopods’ genomes are very divergent, says [Oleg] Simakov. “You have this mosaic of chromosomes, where ancestral chromosomes were broken up and…

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Flying spacecrafts

New Study on Why Aliens Never Phone, Never Write, Never Visit

Planetary scientists suggest that civilizations follow a trajectory in which there is only a short window of time to look for intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations

On the one hand, the National Academy of Sciences has said that we may communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences during our lifetimes. On the other hand, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) asked, “Where are they?” (the Fermi Paradox). A new study suggests that the natural development of civilizations may be to blame: In the hopes of answering this question, a new paper published on May 4 in the journal Royal Society Open Science claims that “civilizations either collapse from burnout or redirect themselves to prioritizing homeostasis, a state where cosmic expansion is no longer a goal, making them difficult to detect remotely.” “Either outcome — homeostatic awakening or civilization collapse — would be consistent with the observed absence of [galactic-wide] civilizations.”…

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Backgrounds 3D illustration Alien planet Sci-fi Game

Would Advanced Aliens Be Fully Mechanical? Or Like Octopuses?

Astrobiologist Dirk Schultze-Makuch muses on the possibilities

Musing on a recent open-access study at PNAS, astrophysicist Dirk Schulze-Makuch notes at BigThink a couple of things that separate really smart life forms from the others. One of them, he guesses, is bilateral symmetry (life forms whose left and right sides are mirror images): “symmetry requires less information for DNA to encode and allows more flexibility to develop future traits that may be advantageous.” He also notes that smart life forms tend to be mobile rather than stationary: “We don’t know of any intelligent plants or fungi, for the simple reason that stationary things don’t have to be smart.” Well, wait. It’s not so much that stationary life forms don’t have to be smart as… what good would it…

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Light teleport with business panels

Can We Teleport? Find a Wormhole? Survive the Universe’s Death?

Many ideas, once thought science fiction, have become science fact. How will these ones fare?

If anyone thinks that, by definition, none of this stuff could possibly happen, it’s worth remembering that many people would have said that decades ago about invisibility or the bionic hand. But here we are. Some things are impossible in principle, some in practice. In other cases, all we can do is see where we are in relation to the problem. Could humans be teleported to Mars? With teleportation, as in Star Trek, geologists could get from Houston to Mars to pick up some rocks injust minutes. Science writer Marcus Chown tells us that one reason the feat was considered impossible in the recent past was the inability to be certain of every atom in a human body, due to…

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Sensitive plant or mimosa pudica plant.

How Plants Talk When We’re Not Around

Some aspects of plant behavior can be studied in the same terms as animal or human behavior

One genuine surprise in recent decades has been the discovery that plants have nervous systems like animals and use some of the same compounds in communications — for example, TMAO to relieve stress and glutamate to speed transmission. Biologist Peter Rogers pointed out recently that the similarities may shed a bit of light on issues around anaesthesia. Surprisingly, it is possible to anesthetize a plant. The shameplant (Mimosa pudica) and the Venus flytrap demonstrated that: Thirty years after anesthesia debuted in the operating room, Claude Bernard, a French physiologist, demonstrated that the shameplant (Mimosa pudica), which bashfully folds into itself when touched, was unresponsive to touch after exposure to ether, a commonly used anesthetic. The plant also folds into itself…

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alien planet landscape, beautiful forest the surface of an exoplanet

NASA Develops a Scale for Assessing the Chances of ET Life

We’ve come a long way from mere snatches of (maybe) information to the need for standards in evaluating the expected incoming mass

Geoscientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, co-author with William Bains of The Cosmic Zoo (2017) and a number of other books on planetary habitability, thinks science needs standardized scales for assessing claims about extraterrestrial life. There are lots of claims: life on Mars detected by the Viking landers (1976), fossil life in a Mars-origin meteorite (1996), phosphine on Venus (2020) … all have some evidence in their favor. But scientists need a way to express degrees of certainty. Recently, NASA has proposed the Confidence of Life Detection Scale (CoLD), featuring seven benchmarks. The main problem is that evidence that might suggest life could just as easily be a non-biological process: Consider Jupiter’s moon Europa. A large asteroid impact could have volatilized ice on…

Curious weasel looks out from behind a rock

Dawkins’ Dubious Double Weasel and the Combinatorial Cataclysm

Dawkins has successfully reduced a combinatorial explosion to a manageable problem...or has he?

In Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, he proposed a famous (and infamous) computer program to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection, known as the “Weasel program.” The program demonstrates that by varying a single letter at a time, it is possible to rapidly evolve a coherent English sentence from a string of gibberish. The way the program works is as follows: First, a sequence of characters is randomly assembled by drawing from the 26 English letters and the space. Then, one character is randomly reassigned. The resulting sequence is compared to the phrase from Hamlet, a quote uttered by Polonius: “methinks it is like a weasel.” For every character that matches, a point is scored. If the new sequence…

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View of a white marble hindu temple

What Do Hindus Think About the Big Bang? The Cyclic Universe?

Hinduism posits a creator God but assumes the creation of cyclic universes

In last week’s Mind Matters News podcast, “Hinduism and the beginning of the universe,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu in New Zealand. The first podcast looked at what the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus generally think about the mind and the second explored the Hindu view of free will and evil. Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — for example, philosopher David Bentley Hart and neuroscientist Mark Solms (along with Egnor). https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/03/Mind-Matters-News-Episode-179-Arjuna-Gallagher-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript, notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow: The Big Bang and cyclical universes Michael Egnor: How do Hindus understand creation? Is the universe eternal? Was it created at a…