Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

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Heap of red hot chili peppers

Nobel Prize Medicine Win Solves a Mystery in Hot, Cold Sensing

Researchers discovered the exact path by which chili peppers feel “hot” and mints feel “cold” when the signals reach our brains.

The 2021 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to David Julius of the University of California, San Francisco, and Ardem Patapoutian of Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, for “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.” It’s been a longstanding mystery why chili peppers feel hot to the taste: In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers and wasabi give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire, and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case. Failing to pinpoint any immediate benefits of this response, they speculated it…

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young man working freelance in laptop at home

The Bionic Man Was Science Fiction; the Bionic Hand Is Not

A recent internet-savvy bionic hand, developed by an American neuroscientist and computer engineer, is the most flexible yet, with sensory feedback

Many people associate bionics with a 70s sci-fi TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man (“After a severely injured test pilot is rebuilt with nuclear-powered bionic limbs and implants, he serves as an intelligence agent”). It’s not science fiction any more: According to the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago, roughly 100,000 Americans — and 10 million people worldwide — are missing a hand. The award-winning Ability hand shown in the video, made by Psyonic, a Champaign, Illinois-based startup, is a useful illustration of how far prosthetics has come via electronic and internet technology. Representative of a new generation of prostheses, it is both electronics and internet-friendly: It charges in roughly an hour and the…

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Molecules, abstract molecular and research background

Top World Chemist, James Tour, To Speak at COSM 2021

Tour builds molecules for a living, a position that causes him to stand in awe” of God: “Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith.”

Rice University chemistry professor James Tour is officially best known for his many research papers (700) and patent families (130). He is popularly known more for his passion for introducing the lay public to the awesome chemistry of life. The ORCID database of science achievements puts it like this: Tour’s scientific research areas include nanoelectronics, graphene electronics, silicon oxide electronics, carbon nanovectors for medical applications, green carbon research for enhanced oil recovery and environmentally friendly oil and gas extraction, graphene photovoltaics, carbon supercapacitors, lithium ion batteries, CO2 capture, water splitting to H2 and O2, water purification, carbon nanotube and graphene synthetic modifications, graphene oxide, carbon composites, hydrogen storage on nanoengineered carbon scaffolds, and synthesis of single-molecule nanomachines which includes molecular…

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Foam cell, a macrophage cell with lipid droplets

Life Is So Wonderfully Finely Tuned That It’s Frightening

A mathematician who uses statistical methods to model the fine tuning of molecular machines and systems in cells reflects…

In Episode 2, “Life is fine-tuned in a fearful and wonderful way” (September 9, 2021), Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer discusses fine tuning in biology with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks. It’s a bit scary to think that each of our cells is like a city because it certainly gives us some idea of all the things that can (but, thankfully, usually don’t) go wrong, Note: Episode 1 was “Run the gambit of complexity” (September 20, 2021) discussed here and here. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-Episode-151-Hossjer-Diaz.mp3 This portion begins at 01:14 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Today we’re going to talk about fine tuning in biology. How biology is fine tuned to allow us to…

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Vaccine or flu shot in injection needle. Doctor working with patient's arm. Physician or nurse giving vaccination and immunity to virus, influenza or HPV with syringe. Appointment with medical expert.

COVID-19, Bayes’ Rule, and Simpson’s paradox

Israeli data, when studied carefully, confirm the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines

Israel has a very high COVID-19 vaccination rate and yet, on August 15, 2021, 58% of those Israelis hospitalized for COVID-19 were fully vaccinated — suggesting that vaccinations are ineffective or even harmful. This is a great example of two common statistical traps. The first is confusion about inverse probabilities. One hundred doctors were once asked this hypothetical question: In a routine examination, you find a lump in a female patient’s breast. In your experience, only 1 out of 100 such lumps turn out to be malignant, but, to be safe, you order a mammogram X-ray. If the lump is malignant, there is a 0.80 probability that the mammogram will identify it as malignant; if the lump is benign, there is a 0.90 probability that…

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Blume des Lebens mit Sternenkosmos und Lichtstreifen

The Science “Advances” Disproving the Mind Are Ever More Elusive

A friendly interview with an important neuroscientist makes that starkly clear

University of Sussex neuroscientist Anil Seth, author of Being You: A new science of consciousness (October 2021), is quite determined to stamp put consciousness as an immaterial idea. It’s “stubbornly mysterious,” according to Tim Adams for The Guardian. But, we are assured, “Advances in understanding how the brain functions undermine those ideas of dualism, however.” But those advances prove increasingly elusive. From the interview: Anil Seth: It’s the boring answer of continuing to do rigorous science, rather than proposing some eureka solution to “the hard problem” [the question of why and how our brains create subjective, conscious experience]. My approach is that we risk not understanding the central mystery of life by lurching to one or other form of magical…

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Electrocardiogram in hospital surgery operating emergency room showing patient heart rate with blur team of surgeons background

Why Some Scientists Think Consciousness Persists After Death

We should not assume that pepole who are near death do not know what we are saying

A very significant change that happened in the last century or so has been the ability of science professionals to see what happens when people are thinking, especially under traumatic conditions. It was not a good moment for materialist theories. Here is one finding (there are many others): Death is a process, usually, not simply an event. Consciousness can persists after clinical death. A more accurate way of putting things might be that the brain is able to host consciousness for a short period after clinical death. Some notes on recent findings: The short answer is, probably, yes: Recent studies have shown that animals experience a surge in brain activity in the minutes after death. And people in the first…

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human memory loss

Our Brains Break DNA in Order to Learn More Quickly

Memory loss in old age may be easier to understand if we know more about the mechanisms our brains are using to keep key memories intact

An interesting 2015 discovery sheds some light on memory issues: The urgency to remember a dangerous experience requires the brain to make a series of potentially dangerous moves: Neurons and other brain cells snap open their DNA in numerous locations — more than previously realized, according to a new study — to provide quick access to genetic instructions for the mechanisms of memory storage. David Orenstein, “Memory-making involves extensive DNA breaking” at MIT News (July 14, 2021) The paper is open access. Jordana Cepelowicz explains an “unsettling” discovery made by Li-Huei Tsai’s team at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory: … to express learning and memory genes more quickly, brain cells snap their DNA into pieces at many key…

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Picture of a young man having an asthma attack

How Much Can Will Power Do Against Nature? – Sci-fi Saturday

Despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang

“Outcast” (2020) at DUST by Royce Adkins (August 16, 2021, 12:29 min) A former super soldier with chronic asthma fights to prove his worth. Review: The film opens with a gritty scene in a hospital where a veteran medic (Rod Emelle) tells a veteran soldier (Aaron) that if he doesn’t start using his asthma meds right, they will kill him quicker than his respiratory problems. Not too many spoilers, one hopes, but despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang. His friend Imara (Gail Bean) is wants to dissuade him from the role of lone wolf lawman. As the story…

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Wildfire under transmission power lines

Eminent Historian Niall Ferguson To Speak at COSM 2021

Ferguson’s new book, “Doom: The politics of catastrophe” is considered timely reading in the COVID-19 era

Historian Niall Ferguson, will be speaking at COSM 2021 in Seattle on Doom: The politics of catastrophe (November 11, 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm.) His talk will be based on his new book, Doom (Penguin, 2021), which offers a disturbing but timely thesis: “Disasters are inherently hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises. and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted, or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all.” (from the Publisher) But we are not better prepared. Any thoughtful person who…

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

Epilepsy: If You Follow the Science, Materialism Is Dead

Continuing a discussion with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, Dr. Egnor talks about how neurosurgery shows that the mind is not the brain

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnordid a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In the previous segment, they discussed the way in which people’s minds sometimes become much clearer near death (terminal lucidity). Dr. Egnor suggested that that may demonstrate that the brain constrains the mind (rather than creating it). In this segment, they look at objections raised to the view that epilepsy provides evidence for the mind as not merely a function of the brain. Dr. Egnor begins by focusing on the work of Wilder Penfield, the founder of epilepsy surgeries, who worked in Montreal in the mid-twentieth century, “a wonderful scientist, one of the best scientists that neurosurgery has produced”: Here is a…

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woman with gray hair in green jumper talking to the digital virtual assistant at home, asking a question or requesting to switch music. Smart AI speaker concept and voice command control

Automated “Caring”: The Limits of Talking to a Machine

Are there situations where a person would simply prefer to talk to a machine? Some researchers think so

“Just get me to a human!” Those were my words just a few weeks ago, the last time I can recall speaking directly to a machine. It was the Xfinity phone system assistant. I get that there’s a need for large national corporations to effectively manage interactions with their customers, especially with the labor shortages and spikes in internet usage brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. But leaving me to fend for myself with a machine – especially a stubborn, unhelpful one! – isn’t my idea of superior customer service. Eventually, the Comcast assistant got the drift and passed me on to a human being, who quickly and kindly helped me out by doing exactly what the machine said could…

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China.

China Brief: Update on COVID-19 Origins

More evidence points to China's attempted suppression of human error as the origin of COVID-19

In January a team from the World Health Organization traveled to Wuhan, Hubei in China to investigate the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) outbreak. Team lead Dr. Peter Ben Embarek said in the press conference that a lab accident was “extremely unlikely” as the cause of the Covid-19 outbreak. He stuck to the Party line that the virus likely jumped from animals to humans or that it could have been imported from frozen food deliveries. Embarek has since changed his position. In a documentary aired on Danish television on August 12, Embarek said that the pandemic was likely due to a lab accident and he admitted that the team was pressured by Chinese authorities to not mention the lab leak…

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Models of two brain halves on black background

The Brain Can Be Split But the Mind Can’t

Neuroscientist Roger Sperry found that splitting the brain in half does not split consciousness in half. It just gives you a rather interesting, but very subtle set of perceptual disabilities

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In this segment, they discuss the significance of the fact that there are aspects of the human mind that cannot be split into parts — as demonstrated by the work of Nobelist Roger Sperry (1913–1994). Here is a partial transcript and notes for the 57 minute mark to the 1 hour five minute mark: Michael Egnor: If one is to try to understand the mind in a coherent, consistent framework, one wants to have a metaphysical perspective that does the job, that makes sense. I think there are three different metaphysical perspectives that one could consider, materialist, idealist, and dualist… By…

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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…

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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,…