Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryMedicine and Health

the-human-stomach-is-strong-the-internal-organs-are-shaped-by-green-trees-environment-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
The human stomach is strong. The internal organs are shaped by green trees. (environment)

Did You Know You Have a Second Brain?

Our guts operate on a quite separate nervous system. Learning more will help control gastrointestinal diseases

Our huge gastrointestinal tracts operate their own nervous system, using neurons that follow different principles from those of brain neurons, according to recent findings: Our approximately seven-meter long gastrointestinal (GI) tract has its own functionally distinct neurons. Since this enteric nervous system (ENS) operates autonomously, it is sometimes referred to as the “second” or “abdominal” brain. While the ENS controls muscle movement (peristalsis) in the gut and its fluid balance and blood flow, it also communicates with the immune system and microbiome. Karolinska Institutet, “New fundamental knowledge of the ‘abdominal brain’” at Medical Xpress (December 7, 2020) Paper. (subscription required) The Karolinska researchers made progress in studying the little-understood second brain by mapping the neuron types in the digestive systems…

therapist-helping-young-man-learning-to-walk-again-in-rehabilitation-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Therapist helping young man learning to walk again in rehabilitation

Why Robotics Offers Hope for Paraplegics

The breakthrough idea is that the human brain can process electronic signals from machines as well as signals from peripheral nerves

Neuroengineer Gordon Cheng compares technology that can help paraplegics to walk again to learning to drive a car: The idea behind this is that the coupling between the brain and the machine should work in a way where the brain thinks of the machine as an extension of the body. Let’s take driving as an example. While driving a car, you don’t think about your moves, do you? But we still don’t know how this really works. My theory is that the brain somehow adapts to the car as if it is a part of the body. With this general idea in mind, it would be great to have an exoskeleton that would be embraced by the brain in the…

human-prion-3d-model-prion-is-an-infectious-agent-that-can-fo-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Human prion (3d model). Prion is an infectious agent that can fo

AlphaFold Scores Huge Breakthrough in Analyzing Causes of Disease

In a world so deeply designed and complexly organized, we need a quick and practical way of knowing what was going on in cells and viruses. AI can help

Alphabet’s DeepMind team has just scored a breakthrough in finding treatments for diseases. Their latest AlphaFold system won a grand challenge in analyzing the “folds” of proteins. Proteins—large and often very complex chains of amino acids—do the work in our cells. But, like all bodies, they are three-dimensional. We can’t understand them until we can analyze the folds (the third dimension) that are unique to each type among hundreds of thousands. Knowing what a given protein actually does (or doesn’t) is critical to developing many new medical treatments. How hard is the problem? In his acceptance speech for the 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Christian Anfinsen famously postulated that, in theory, a protein’s amino acid sequence should fully determine its…

man-in-gray-long-sleeve-shirt-sitting-on-brown-wooden-chair-stockpack-pexels.jpg
Man in gray long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Neuroscientist: Your Brain Isn’t for Thinking, Just Surviving

Lisa Feldman Barrett hopes that her materialist perspective will help us deal with our current anxieties

Last Sunday, we featured the views of philosopher Samir Chopra, who argues that anxiety, while distressing, is a normal outcome of our human ability to see the past and the future as well as the present. A pig gets anxious when he sees that his trough is empty. But he cannot, by nature, know that he is destined for the menu at a local fast food place, let alone that all his kin have gone that way. Knowing the past and sensing the future opens up both great powers and vast avenues of anxiety for a human mind. But, in an op-ed in the New York Times, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), the author of Seven and a…

robot-close-up-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Robot Close Up

AI Is Not Nearly Smart Enough to Morph Into the Terminator

Computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks offers some illustrations in an ITIF think tank interview

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks spoke with Robert D.Atkinson and Jackie Whisman at the prominent AI think tank, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about his recent book, The Case for Killer Robots—a plea for American military brass to see that AI is an inevitable part of modern defense strategies, to be managed rather than avoided. It may be downloaded free here. In this second part ( here’s Part 1), the discussion (starts at 6:31) turned to what might happen if AI goes “rogue.” The three parties agreed that AI isn’t nearly smart enough to turn into the Terminator: Jackie Whisman: Well, opponents of so-called killer robots, of course argue that the technologies can’t be…

mindful-nature-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
mindful nature

Is Mindfulness Losing Its “Shine” These Days?

Maybe, but that’s because it has often been misused. Rightly understood, it’s a blessing

In a recent news release from the University of Buffalo, we learn that mindfulness (meditation and similar practices) were not found to be helpful in managing stress at the time it is happening: Where earlier work in this area suggests how mindfulness may help people manage active stressors, the current paper finds evidence for an opposite response. In the midst of stress, mindful participants demonstrated cardiovascular responses consistent with greater care and engagement. Put another way, they actually were “sweating the small stuff.” Bert Gambini, “Be mindful: Study shows mindfulness might not work as you expect” at University of Buffalo However, the study, which measured the cardiovascular stress response of 1001 volunteers also found, Even more curiously, although the study’s…

asian-doctor-wearing-face-shield-and-ppe-suit-to-check-elder-woman-patient-protect-safety-infection-covid-19-coronavirus-outbreak-at-quarantine-nursing-hospital-ward-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Asian doctor wearing face shield and PPE suit to check elder woman patient protect safety infection Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak at quarantine nursing hospital ward.

Why Did New York Have COVID Policy That Killed Elderly Patients?

For all practical purposes, the government directive was essentially an order to spread COVID to people in nursing homes

This is a difficult post to write, and a difficult post to read. I’ve thought about it for months, and what I’m going to say must be said. I see no way around the conclusions I’ll draw. So here goes. On March 25, 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York State, the New York State Department of Health, under the signatures of Governor Andrew Cuomo, DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, and Executive Deputy Commissioner Sally Dreslin, issued a directive to New York State nursing homes requiring nursing homes to accept patients for re-admission or admission regardless of their COVID-19 status. The salient paragraph is: No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH solely based…

global-virus-and-disease-spread-coronavirus-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Global virus and disease spread, coronavirus

Did Social Media Panic Drive Up the Damage from COVID-19?

Richards: It was, honestly, terrifying to watch important stories and studies get buried in real time on Google searches.

Last month, business studies prof Jay Richards, along with co-authors Douglas Axe and William M. Briggs, published a book with some controversial premises: One of them is that many popular COVID-19 fears are the overblown outcome of paying too much attention to social media as opposed to the facts that got lost in the uproar. And that we are paying the price now in human, as well as financial, costs. The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe (October 2020) assembles a massive statistical case. But in this interview with Mind Matters News, Richards focuses on how it affected us: What we all thought was happening and why we thought so—a different story…

vote-button-or-pin-on-an-american-flag-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg

Can a Pill Change Your Mind About Basic Issues in Life?

The legalization of mind-altering drugs raises the question in the research community

An Oxford researcher into psychedelics thinks so. Eddie Jacobs offers a disturbing premise, “What if a pill can change your politics or religious beliefs?” The background is that some jurisdictions are contemplating licencing the otherwise illegal psychedelic psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) in the near future as a treatment for depression. He writes, How would you feel about a new therapy for your chronic pain, which—although far more effective than any available alternative—might also change your religious beliefs? Or a treatment for lymphoma that brings one in three patients into remission, but also made them more likely to vote for your least preferred political party? Eddie Jacobs, “What if a Pill Can Change Your Politics or Religious Beliefs?” at Scientific American (October…

upset-sick-mature-woman-in-kerchief-looking-at-smiling-reflection-in-mirror-cancer-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
upset sick mature woman in kerchief looking at smiling reflection in mirror, cancer concept

Cancer Maps—An Expensive Source of Phantom Patterns?

Is the money the U.S. government spends on tracking cancer patterns a good investment? There’s a way we can tell

The U.S. government puts interactive maps on the internet that show the geographic incidence (all the way down to census blocks) of various types of cancer. Millions of dollars are spent each year maintaining these maps, but for what purpose? The problem with cancer maps is that they tempt the curious and fearful to scrutinize the brightly colored chunks, thinking that any patterns they discover must be meaningful. However, statistical patterns are sometimes meaningless. For example, I flipped a coin ten times and got these results: There is a cluster of 3 heads in a row and a cluster of 4 tails in a row: These clusters are not at all surprising. If a fair coin is flipped ten times,…

with-the-global-spread-of-the-new-coronavirus-pneumonia-an-automated-line-of-disposable-medical-masks-makes-the-masks-ready-for-an-epidemic-24-hours-a-day-covid-19-outbreak-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
With the global spread of the new coronavirus pneumonia, an automated line of disposable medical masks makes the masks ready for an epidemic 24 hours a day, COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 Response Exposes Racism in China, amid Harmony Claims

The lid blew off when African leaders broke the accustomed silence imposed by their dependence on Chinese high-tech loans

The coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic has exposed two longstanding ugly problems: underlying racist views of Africans living in China and the burden debt to China lays on several African countries. The key flashpoints creating tension between China and Africa are 1) Mistreatment of citizens of African countries living in China, particularly in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province (pictured) and 2) Beijing’s position on granting debt relief to countries in Africa so they can direct resources to dealing with the coronavirus. In one incident, Nigeria’s speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, posted a video of himself summoning Chinese Ambassador Zhou Pingjian to his office where he expressed his displeasure about a Nigerian man being evicted from his home. While nobody…

a-child-with-epilepsy-during-a-seizure-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
A child with epilepsy during a seizure

Why, as a Neurosurgeon, I Believe in Free Will

The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: “Why are there no intellectual seizures?” Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways—convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention. But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these “intellectual” areas of the brain. Yet…

chain-of-amino-acid-or-biomolecules-called-protein-3d-illustration-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Chain of amino acid or biomolecules called protein - 3d illustration

If AlphaFold Is a Product of Design, Maybe Our Bodies Are Too

The deeper we go into science, the more important our unique human contributions become

Recently, we’ve been looking at tech philosopher George Gilder’s new Gaming AI about what AI can—and can’t—do for us. It can’t do our thinking for us but it can do many jobs we don’t even try because no human being has enough time or patience to motor through all the calculations. Which brings us to the massive complexity of the proteins that carry out our genetic instructions—better knowledge of which would help us battle many diseases. Gilder notes that when DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat humans at the board game Go in 2016, it wasn’t just for the fun of winning a game. DeepMind cofounder Demis Hassabis (pictured in 2018) is more interested in real-life uses such as medical research (p. 11).…

Analysis of a sample of water.jpg
Analysis of a sample of water from a river or sea, ocean. The scientist in the glove took water in a test tube.

Information Today Is Like Water in the Ocean. How Do We Test It?

Often, we must sort through many layers of bias in information to get at the facts that matter
Examining specific types of bias in our thinking will help us evaluate the information on key issues that inundates us today. Read More ›
female-doctor-analyzing-liquid-in-test-tube-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Female doctor analyzing liquid in test tube

The Decline Effect: Why Most Medical Treatments Are Disappointing

Artificial intelligence is not an answer to this problem, as Walmart may soon discover
Random variation, post-hoc fallacies, and data mining mean that “proven” treatments often decline in apparent effectiveness when released to the general public. Read More ›
the-man-wiht-a-cpu-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
The  man wiht a CPU.

Will a Brain-Computer Interface Be a Boon or a Nightmare?

BCI is probably coming anyway, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how we choose to use it

Talk about a scary headline from an impressive research group!: “The Brain-Computer Interface is coming — and we are just so not ready for it” from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Okay, what’s going on? Both more and less than we think, depending on what we focus on. The Bulletin, published since 1947, is best known for a Doomsday Clock which expresses how close the editors think we are to nuclear war and climate apocalypse. An article in the current edition of the Bulletin covers the remarkable advances in prosthetics in recent years, in hooking up neurons (which use electrical signals) to electronic limbs, enabling much better control of prostheses. But the startling thing to realize is where researchers…

Astronaut and robot or artificial intelligence.jpg
Astronaut and robot or artificial intelligence handshake on alien planet.

Should Robots, Instead of Humans, Go Into Space?

They might be better at life in space than humans. But could they be counselors too?

Are we here to re-create ourselves as robotic humanoids? In a recent podcast, Robert J. Marks discusses what robots can do for us with retired internist and author Geoffrey Simmons. In his most recent book, Are We Here to Re-Create Ourselves?: The Convergence of Designs (2019), Simmons argues that in creating artificially intelligent robots, we are trying to recreate the human being. But can we really recreate everything about ourselves? For example, they discussed, can robots be counselors? Should robots go into space instead of humans? As a writer, Simmons has found audiences for both fiction and non-fiction. For example, he wrote Z-papers (1976), a medically based crime thriller in which “In a Chicago hospital, the U.S. Vice Presidential candidate…

A surprise box surrounded by balloons.jpg
A surprise box surrounded by balloons and ribbon on a pink background.-3d rendering.

The Human Brain Has Given Researchers a Big Surprise

Gray matter isn't the big story. Connection—the connectome—is the astonishing feature of the brain.

We hear a good deal about the gray matter (the neurons) in the brain. They are often considered synonymous with thinking. For a long time, it was believed that the white matter did not do very much and its signals were generally excluded from brain mapping studies as noise. But that has all changed in recent years: You might think that the brain is mostly gray matter, as it certainly looks that way, but in actuality there is more white matter in the brain. White matter is the infrastructure of the brain and includes the long nerve axons and their protective layer of fat, called myelin. Gray matter, on the other hand, is composed of the neurons themselves. Scientists have…

worried-doctors-and-medical-researchers-on-conference-meeting-discussing-possible-solutions-for-resolving-a-world-health-crisis-health-and-medical-care-concept-selective-focus-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Worried doctors and medical researchers on conference meeting, discussing possible solutions for resolving a world health crisis. Health and medical care concept. Selective focus.

Computers Excel at Finding Temporary Patterns

Which contributes to the replication crisis in science

The scientific method calls for the rigorous testing of plausible theories, ideally through randomized controlled trials. For example, a study of a COVID-19 vaccine might give the vaccine to 10,000 randomly selected people and a placebo to another 10,000, and compare the infection rates for the two groups. If the difference in the infection rates is too improbable to be explained by chance, then the difference is deemed statistically significant. How improbable? In the 1920s, the great British statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher , said that he favored a 5 percent threshold. So 5 percent became the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the establishment of a 5 percent hurdle for statistical significance has had the perverse effect of encouraging researchers to do whatever…

coronavirus-pandemia-concept-planet-hologram-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Coronavirus pandemia concept, planet hologram

Supercomputer Provides a New Clue re COVID-19 Fatalities

A surprising pattern I found last April: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones

Back in April, I ran an analysis on COVID-19 death rates in relation to Earth’s hemispheres. I took the COVID-19 death rate for each country that reported more than 500 cases and plotted its death rate against its latitude. A surprising pattern emerged: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones: That is not a statistical fluke because the graph comprises 198 different countries and the best fit quadratic curve parameters have statistical significance scores of 0.12, 0.07 and 0.0000016 for the x^2, x and c components respectively. What could explain this pattern? As I noted at the time, one big difference is that, when it is cold and cloudy in the northern hemisphere, it is warm…