Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

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Crowd of people walking street wearing masks

Why did the New York Times Discredit the Lab Leak Theory?

The Times led the way in zealously discrediting the quite reasonable COVID-19 lab leak theory. But what underlay its zeal?

Ashley Rindsberg, author of The Gray Lady Winked (2021), offers an eye-opening look at the close links between the New York Times and Chinese propaganda media. It may have been these relationships that caused the Times to go to considerable trouble to discredit the “lab leak” theory on the origin of COVID-19. It remains a viable theory despite powerful attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to discredit it. (For background, see “Lab leak theory vindicated: What that means for fighting COVID-19.”) Sound like tinfoil to you? Then consider this: In the opening months of the pandemic, the lab leak hypothesis was actively discredited by the media and scientific establishment, with anyone associated with it smeared as “racist”. The question we…

Stethoscope on computer with test results in Doctor consulting room background and report chart for medical costs in modern hospital on Laptop desk. Healthcare costs business and fees concept.

An Epic Failure: Overstated AI Claims in Medicine

Independent investigations are finding that AI algorithms used in hospitals are not all they claim to be

Epic Systems, America’s largest electronic health records company, maintains medical information for 180 million U.S. patients (56% of the population). Using the slogan, “with the patient at the heart,” it has a portfolio of 20 proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms designed to identify different illnesses and predict the length of hospital stays. As with many proprietary algorithms in medicine and elsewhere, users have no way of knowing whether Epic’s programs are reliable or just another marketing ploy. The details inside the black boxes are secret and independent tests are scarce. One of the most important Epic algorithms is for predicting sepsis, the leading cause of death in hospitals. Sepsis occurs when the human body overreacts to an infection and sends chemicals into the…

Environmental awareness, global warming consciousness and aspirations to protect future of the planet conceptual idea with close up on hand holding the earth in the open palm

The Day Philosophers Started To Take Consciousness Seriously

Of course, once they did, they found themselves deep in huge conundrums

We sometimes forget how far we are from solving the mystery of consciousness. An anecdote from 1994 might help us understand. Picture an utterly boring, pointless conference in Tucson, Arizona, one of whose attendees was an obscure philosopher from Australia, scheduled to give the third talk. And shook everything up: The brain, Chalmers began by pointing out, poses all sorts of problems to keep scientists busy. How do we learn, store memories, or perceive things? How do you know to jerk your hand away from scalding water, or hear your name spoken across the room at a noisy party? But these were all “easy problems”, in the scheme of things: given enough time and money, experts would figure them out.…

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Underpass near the subway in the city in the late evening

Do Only Western Religious People Have Near-Death Experiences?

Even famous atheist philosopher A. J. Ayer had a near-death experience

Gregory Shushan, author of Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions (2018) notes in a recent article at Psyche that near-death experiences are not a new discovery: NDEs have been popularly recognised in the West since the mid-1970s, but people from the largest empires to the smallest hunter-gatherer societies have been having them throughout history. Accounts are found in ancient sacred texts, historical documents, the journals of explorers and missionaries, and the ethnographic reports of anthropologists. Among the hundreds I’ve collected are those of a 7th-century BCE Chinese provincial ruler, a 4th-century BCE Greek soldier, a 12th-century Belgian saint, a 15th-century Mexica princess, an 18th-century British admiral, a 19th-century Ghanaian victim of human sacrifice, and a Soviet man who’d apparently killed himself…

Near death experience Andrew Charney Unsplash 4gP2EKPlU1Q-unsplash

Claim: “Evolution” Explains Near-Death Experiences

The problem is, there is no evolutionary reason to believe the claim

Some researchers believe that near-death experiences are a biological mechanism like the fight-or-flight response, a means of pretending death to avoid a predator. They call it thanatosis: The authors propose that the acquisition of language enabled humans to transform these events from relatively stereotyped death-feigning under predatory attacks into the rich perceptions that form near-death experiences and extend to non-predatory situations. Of note, the proposed cerebral mechanisms behind death-feigning are not unlike those that have been suggested to induce near-death experiences, including intrusion of rapid eye movement sleep into wakefulness,” Daniel Kondziella explains. “This further strengthens the idea that evolutionary mechanisms are an important piece of information needed to develop a complete biological framework for near-death experiences.” No previous work…

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Adult and child hands holding encephalography brain paper cutout, Epilepsy awareness, seizure disorder, mental health concept

The Reality of the Mind: The Argument From Epilepsy

Why do epileptic seizures evoke many odd behaviors but not abstract thought?

In the recent debate between neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and philosopher David Papineau, “Atheist Philosopher and Christian Neurosurgeon Debate Materialism” at Theology Unleashed, there was sort of digression at 49:30 on the nature of thought. Dr. Egnor talks about what he learned from his experiences with treating epilepsy and Dr. Papineau responds. Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Michael Egnor: There are three metaphysical questions that I think can be answered in an inferential way,…

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Dna test in the lab. a laboratory technician with a dispenser in his hands is conducting dna analysis in a sterile laboratory behind glass

China Is Building the World’s Largest Global DNA Database

The government violates the country’s own privacy laws in the name of security and stability

A January 2021 study by a U.K. cybersecurity and privacy watchdog, Comparitech, found that China was the world’s worst offender for “widespread and invasive biometric data collection” out of ninety-six countries studied. The Chinese government aspires to build the world’s largest police-run DNA database. Its Made in China 2025 plan places a priority on building its biotechnology industry, which involves collecting a large number of DNA samples. The way Chinese authorities obtain DNA is often intrusive and without consent. In a previous article, we looked at how U.S. companies’ DNA sequencing and identification technologies end up in Xinjiang despite U.S. sanctions. In this article, we will look at how China is using DNA collection to further its national goals. China’s…

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Seniorenpaar mit Rollator unterwegs mit Tochter

Computer Program Predicts When Seniors Have 6 Months to Live

Developed in Canada, the program is further evidence that medicine is growing increasingly impersonal

As if we needed further evidence that medicine is growing increasingly impersonal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal has published a study that claims a computer program can predict when seniors have six months to live. From the Global News story: Amid a lack of proper support for Canadians receiving home-based support towards the end of their lives, a new risk calculator is helping predict how long seniors have left to live. The Risk Evaluation for Support: Predictions for Elder-Life in the Community Tool — dubbed ‘RESPECT’ for short — can predict death within six months, and was developed using data from more than 491,000 community-dwelling adults aged at least 50 years who used home care between 2007 and 2013. Always with the acronyms to hide…

Coronavirus 2019-nCov novel coronavirus concept resposible for asian flu outbreak and coronaviruses influenza as dangerous flu strain cases as a pandemic. Microscope virus close up. 3d rendering.

COVID-19’s Origins: Uses and Misuses of the Explanatory Filter

How a critic of intelligent design theory misunderstands the application of design inference

Last year in July a prominent critic of intelligent design theory, Dr. Adam Shapiro, took the Discovery Institute to task for not debunking the lab origin theory. He says, Behe seems to miss an opportunity to demonstrate that intelligent design theory shows how those pathways are not irreducible complex. Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist and, How better to demonstrate its own apolitical nature than to apply its scientific process to debunk the Chinese lab myth? Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist First of all, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of ID. ID theory is only resilient against false positives, not false negatives, as Dr. Ewert…

Gold chess piece on computer mainboard. Concept of IT strategy, making decision, technology background.

Why AI Chess Champs Are Not Taking Over the World

Mastery of closed-world games does not mean that AI can take over and run everything

At one time, the AI that beat humans at chess calculated strategies by studying the outcomes of human moves. Then, it turned out, there was a faster way: In October 2017, the DeepMind team published details of a new Go-playing system, AlphaGo Zero, that studied no human games at all. Instead, it started with the game’s rules and played against itself. The first moves it made were completely random. After each game, it folded in new knowledge of what led to a win and what didn’t. At the end of these scrimmages, AlphaGo Zero went head to head with the already superhuman version of AlphaGo that had beaten Lee Sedol. It won 100 games to zero. Joshua Sokol, “Why Artificial…

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Human brain with an implanted chip.

Can Implanted Computer Chips Cure Depression?

Brain–computer interface (BCI) is promising for paralysis and prosthetics but raises concerns in the treatment of depression

Brain computer interface (BCI) shows promise in treating paralysis or enabling prosthetics to work almost naturally. But BCI for treating depression sounds like hype: Say goodbye to pills, therapy, and all that. With such gloomy prospects, it was only a matter of time scientists realized there must be better ways to treat depression rather than pills. After all, drugs only work because they act on certain brain regions to modulate the concentration of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine. Therefore, in the end, the regulation of mood depends on stimulating brain signals in certain parts of the brain — that is, neurons firing — and this can be done more accurately by just zapping the neurons directly with electricity. Diego…

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Real Python code developing screen. Programing workflow abstract algorithm concept. Lines of Python code visible under magnifying lens.

How Do We Know the Machine Is Right If No One Knows How It Works?

We don’t, and that’s a problem, says Oxford philosopher John Zerilli

Oxford philosopher John Zerilli, author of A Citizen’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence (2021), asks us to consider how machine learning, the most widely used type of AI, might be deciding our lives without our knowing it: There are many reasons not to take job rejections personally, but there’s one in particular you might not consider: you might have been screened out by an algorithm that taught itself to filter candidates by gender, surname or ethnicity – in other words, by factors that have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. Even if you’re unfazed by the spectre of runaway robots enslaving humanity, this little tale shows how the ascendancy of machine learning (ML) comes with risks that…

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African American woman studing and reading the Bible.

Does Religious Belief Help People Think in a More Complex Way?

One psychologist became interested in the question because many studies have associated religious belief with better health and greater longevity

University of South Florida psychologist Jay L. Michaels, who has a background in experimental social psychology and quantitative psychology, designed a study to test that proposition: In the study, 630 adults from from 48 countries completed a cognitive assessment in which they were asked to pick a phrase that best described a given behavior. They had the choice of picking a high-level description (which focused on why the action was performed) or a low-level description (which focused on mechanistic aspects of the action.) For example, one item asked whether “reading” was better described as “Gaining knowledge” or “Following lines of print.” Eric W. Dolan, “New study links intrinsic religious motivation to higher-level patterns of thought” at PsyPost (May 22, 2021)…

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Coronavirus covid-19. Child praying to God requesting that the coronavirus covid 19 not spread beyond control.

Side effects: COVID Got People Praying Again

Despite the fact that many could not go to houses of worship

McLean Hospital psychologist David H. Rosmarin has the stats: In the early days of the pandemic, economist Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen examined Google searches for the word “prayer” in 95 countries. She identified that they hit an all-time global high in March 2020, and increases occurred in lockstep with the number of COVID-19 cases identified in each country. Stateside, according to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans prayed to end the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, and nearly one quarter reported that their faith increased the following month, despite limited access to houses of worship. David H. Rosmarin, “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” at Scientific American (June 15, 2021) Not…

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Young man wearing coverall and safety mask working on production line of modern pharmaceutical factory, portrait shot

U.S. Moratorium(ish) on Gain-of-Function Research

Evaluating the effectiveness of the 2014 U.S. moratorium on gain-of-function experiments

In the last two articles, we discussed the vindication of the lab leak theory through the publication of several investigative articles, and the risky nature of gain-of-function research and the evidence that it may be a key component to the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we turn to the U.S. Due to the risky nature of gain-of-function research, what actions has the U.S. government taken to mitigate those risks? In 2014, the U.S. government placed a moratorium on new gain-of-function experiments for influenza, MERS, and SARS. That moratorium defines “gain-of-function” in very broad terms covering any “research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease.” The moratorium expired in 2017 and was replaced by an oversight board,…

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Medical science laboratory. Concept of virus and bacteria research

What Is Gain-of-Function Research and Why Is It Risky?

The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the NIH find themselves in a tough spot

Last time, we talked about the vindication of the lab leak theory, as a growing number of investigative articles have pointed to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now,we turn to the role risky gain-of-function research may have played in the affair. To understand why some in the U.S. government and the NIH want to downplay funding of gain-of-function research, we need to understand what exactly it is. All viruses mutate, some faster than others. Influenza is one of the fastest mutating viruses, followed by HIV. SARS-CoV-2 mutates slower than both viruses, which is why many scientists believe vaccine booster shots will likely be every few years, rather than annually, like the flu. Scientists need to…

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Science laboratory research and development concept. microscope with test tubes

Lab Leak Theory Vindicated: What That Means for Fighting COVID-19

What was the U.S. government's role in downplaying the lab leak theory?

Vanity Fair adds to the growing number of investigative articles pointing to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at the U.S. government’s role in downplaying that lab leak theory. Behind closed doors, however, national security and public health experts and officials across a range of departments in the executive branch were locked in high-stakes battles over what could and couldn’t be investigated and made public. Katherine Eban, “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins” at Vanity Fair At a time when the Mainstream Media has sullied its reputation by parroting experts rather than seeking multiple viewpoints and checking sources, several articles stand out as excellent pieces of long-form writing and…

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In the Hospital Sick Man Lying on the Bed, His Visiting Wife Hopefully Sits Beside Him and Prays for His Rapid Recovery. Tragic, Somber and Melancholy Scene.

Is It Safe to Revise the Standard for Legally Recognized Brain Death?

People have a right to not have a controversial concept of death imposed upon them

Originally published on MercatorNet on May 28, 2021 by Nancy Valko I have been writing for many years about the implications of brain death, the lesser known “donation after cardiac/circulatory death”, diagnosed brain death cases like the supposedly “impossible” prolonged survival and maturation of Jahi McMath, and unexpected recoveries like Zack Dunlap’s. Some mothers declared “brain dead” were able to gestate their babies for weeks or months to a successful delivery before their ventilators were removed. Last August, I wrote about the World Brain Death Project and the effort to establish a worldwide consensus on brain death criteria and testing to develop the “minimum clinical standards for determination of brain death” (emphasis added). I also wrote about the current effort “to revise the (US) Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA) to assure a…

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Little brave pawn wearing artificial paper crown suit on chessboard with figures, business entrepreneur leadership concept

Do You Have a “Selfish Prefrontal Cortex”?

Do you tell “white lies” only for selfish motives?

A recent neuroscience paper claims to determine whether your motives are selfish: You may think a little white lie about a bad haircut is strictly for your friend’s benefit, but your brain activity says otherwise. Distinct activity patterns in the prefrontal cortex reveal when a white lie has selfish motives, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience. White lies — formally called Pareto lies — can benefit both parties, but their true motives are encoded by the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). This brain region computes the value of different social behaviors, with some subregions focusing on internal motivations and others on external ones. Kim and Kim predicted activity patterns in these subregions could elucidate the true motive behind…

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Human brain with an implanted chip.

What Will Elon Musk’s Neuralink Really Change, If It Catches On

Neuralink’s computer chip implants may help restore function in people with motor or sensory disabilities

Finishing the third and final podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, had a look at entrepreneur Elon Musk’s implanted brain chip venture, the Neuralink: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 14:28 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Let me end our discussion together by asking you an outlier question. Elon Musk is developing something called Neuralink. It’s a chip which goes into the brain. Its immediate application is going to be for those that are handicapped. It is going to allow them communicate directly to objects that they can’t control normally because of their handicap.…