Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryInformation Theory

-stockpack-adobe-stock
ビジネスプラン

How Informational Realism Subverts Materialism

Within informational realism, what defines things is their capacity for communicating or exchanging information with other things

Here are some brief excerpts from design theorist William Dembski’s chapter in a forthcoming book on informational realism: To see how informational realism dissolves the mind-body problem, we need first to be clear on what informational realism is and why it is credible. Informational realism is not simply the view that information is real. We live in an information age, so who doesn’t think that information is real? Rather, informational realism asserts that the ability to exchange information is the defining feature of reality, of what it means, at the most fundamental level, for any entity to be real. William A. Dembski, “Informational Realism Dissolves the Mind–Body Problem,” a chapter of the forthcoming Mind and Matter: Modern Dualism, Idealism and…

choosing-the-high-road-or-low-road-stockpack-adobe-stock
Choosing the High Road or Low Road

Freebits: An Interesting Argument From the Big Bang for Free Will

There are two types of uncertainty, we learn, only one of which could create free will

Caleb Scharf (pictured), author of The Ascent of Information (2021), offers an excerpt at Nautilus that introduces two new terms, the “dataome” and “freebits.” The dataome is all the ways human beings create information, from cave paintings to cloud servers. He asks, “Was all of this really inevitable? Did we ever have a choice in creating a dataome or doing any of the things we do, and does any self-aware entity in the universe have a choice either?” Relying on theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson’s 2013 essay, “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine,” he asks us to consider that there are two types of uncertainty, only one of which could create choice. Typical “randomness” actually follows statistical laws, a…

ancient-forest-hoh-rain-forest-in-olympic-national-park-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Ancient Forest, Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park

Plants Help Each Other. Are They Self-Aware? Can They Suffer?

Recent discoveries that plants can do many things that we used to think only animals could do raise some interesting questions

In recent decades, we have learned that plants are much more like animals in their use of information than earlier thought. They have nervous systems that use glutamate to speed transmission, as mammals do. And seeking to thrive and grow, they communicate extensively. Recently, environmental journalist Richard Schiffman interviewed forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, author of the just-released Finding the Mother Tree on the intelligence of trees: You also found that birches give sugars to fir trees in the summer through the mycorrhizal networks and that firs return the favor by sending food to birches in the spring and fall, when the birches lack leaves. Isn’t that cool? Some scientists were having trouble with this: Why would a tree send photosynthetic…

kreuzspinne-im-netz-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Kreuzspinne im Netz

Spiders May Not Know It But They Are Making Music

An MIT researcher has developed an algorithm that translates the delicate vibrations of spider webs into music

One of the presentations at the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2021 meeting featured an algorithm that makes music from the analysis of spiders’ webs: “The spider lives in an environment of vibrating strings,” says Markus Buehler, Ph.D., the project’s principal investigator, who is presenting the work. “They don’t see very well, so they sense their world through vibrations, which have different frequencies.” Such vibrations occur, for example, when the spider stretches a silk strand during construction, or when the wind or a trapped fly moves the web. Buehler, who has long been interested in music, wondered if he could extract rhythms and melodies of non-human origin from natural materials, such as spider webs. “Webs could be a new source for…

Slime molds

Slime Mold: An Earthbound “Alien” That Thinks Without a Brain

Researchers are beginning to learn just how giant molds can remember things without a nervous system. What, exactly, is doing the computations?

Turns out, it’s all in the tubes. The slime mold Physarum polycephalum is a single cell, often very large. The way Physarum gets to be so large is that when it divides, the many single cells merge into one giant cell — with no nervous system: “Its body is a giant single cell made up of interconnected tubes that form intricate networks. This single amoeba-like cell may stretch several centimeters or even meters, featuring as the largest cell on earth in the Guinness Book of World Records. Technical University of Munich (TUM), “A memory without a brain” at ScienceDaily (February 23, 2021) The paper is closed access. But how does the giant Physarum cell, with no brain, mouth, limbs, or…

gmo-farming-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
GMO Farming

Is GMO Detection an Application of Dembski’s Explanatory Filter?

If so, it would be an instance of the use of the filter in biology

Have you ever heard people say that intelligent design (ID) theory has never been applied to biology? They are wrong! In fact, it is applied frequently in the very important field of detecting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “A genetically modified organism contains DNA that has been altered using genetic engineering.” (National Geographic) Detection can trace the use of GMOs, now frequent in our food supply, so that products can be recalled if there is a problem or if people just don’t want to use GMO products. GMOs are intelligently designed biological organisms, and scientists use design theorist William Dembski’s explanatory filter to detect GMOs. My claim is a bit daring, perhaps alarming for some people. Maybe I’m stretching the definition…

military-troops-in-action-urban-environment-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
military troops in action urban environment

What If, Condemned, You Had 12 Friends on the Firing Squad?

We try to understand why the universe seems fine-tuned for life

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, a frequent contributor to Mind Matters News, interviewed our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks on the nature of information. In this second part of the interview (here’s the first part), the question comes up: How do we know if something is an accident or not? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-118-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 11:02. Show notes and links follow. Michael Egnor: Aristotle said that in order to understand any process in nature, you really need to know four causes of that process. Note: The causes, according to Simply Philosophy are material, formal, efficient, and final. The material cause of a thing is what it is made of. A cat, for example, is made of…

brown-bag-school-lunch-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Brown Bag School Lunch

Does Information Just Happen? Or Does the Universe Have Meaning?

The computer revolution did not show that information could be produced from nothing

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, a frequent contributor to Mind Matters News, interviewed our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, a computer engineer, on the nature of information. Information makes a huge difference to what happens among human beings. But it is not like matter or energy. It doesn’t weigh anything or generate heat. How can we understand it scientifically? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-118-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 01:10. Show notes and links follow. Robert J. Marks: Well, my background is not in biology, but it is in computer science and computer engineering. And one of the things we do is do artificial intelligence. And I think maybe your question translated to artificial intelligence is, can anything happen in artificial…

more-candles-more-light-in-the-dark-night-stockpack-unsplash.jpg
More candles, more light in the dark night.

Is Technology Always Progress? Let’s Talk About That

Tradition itself is a type of technology

We often make a sharp distinction between “traditional” and “modern.” We view tradition with distrust, assuming that we are simply latching ourselves onto arbitrary decisions from yesteryear. Technology, on the other hand, is viewed as progressive. Rather than entrenching us in the past, technology is supposed to propel us into the future. Technology is the way that we structure our environment in order to maximize our productivity and happiness. We use technology to automate away the bad and boring parts of work, and emphasize the fun parts more predominate. We use technology to boost our productivity to make sure that everyone has everything that they need. What most people miss is that tradition itself is a type of technology. Tradition…

man inside man

But Do “Hidden Webs of Information” Really Solve Life’s Mystery?

Cosmologist Paul Davies won an award last year for an attempt that left “more questions than clean-cut answers (Physics World)

Last year, State University of Arizona’s cosmologist Paul Davies won a Best Book award from Physics World for Demon in the Machine: The book’s subtitle is “How hidden webs of information are solving the mystery of life.” But are they? The book deals with established physics concepts (such as the second law of thermodynamics), but also delves into Davies’ thoughts on topics such as the emergence of human consciousness (while making sure the reader is aware of what is speculation). Readers, though, are likely to be left with more questions than clean-cut answers about the laws of nature. “Just in the last 10 years or so, I suppose, I’ve begun to see a confluence of different subjects. Partly, this is…

man-looking-at-business-plan-at-whiteboard-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Man looking at business plan at whiteboard

Complexity Is Not Always a Bad Thing

It allows us to have an intellectual life

In a recent podcast, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and engineering prof Robert J. Marks discussed the difference between a bag of jigsaw puzzle pieces and a text message like “The city will get your car towed if you do not move it within the next 8 minutes”: Got your attention? That’s precisely what information does. It gets your attention. But what is information? How did those characters in a text message become important to you? Weren’t they just a string of letters and numbers? What, exactly, changed? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-112-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. The Show Notes and a full transcript are available below. Robert J. Marks: In terms of meaningful information, I think it’s obvious. Michael, they used to say that it…

question-signs-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Question Signs

Information Is the Currency of Life. But What IS It?

How do we understand information in a universe that resists resolution into one single, simple system?

At first, “What is information?” seems like a question with a simple answer. Stuff we need to know. Then, if we think about it, it dissolves into paradoxes. A storage medium—a backup drive, maybe—that contains vital information weighs exactly the same as one that contains nothing, gibberish, or dangerously outdated information. There is no way we can know without engaging intelligently with the content. That content is measured in bits and bytes, not kilograms and joules—which means that it is hard to relate to other quantities in our universe. In this week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on information and AI, Part 1.” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Walter Bradley Center director and computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks on how we…

cat-looking-to-little-gerbil-mouse-on-the-table-concept-of-prey-food-pest-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Cat looking to little gerbil mouse on the table. Concept of prey, food, pest.

Can We Find Purpose in a Universe With No Underlying Purpose?

That’s the ambitious goal of a prominent science writer

British science writer Philip Ball offers us a guide to a very interesting project: an attempt to “naturalize” the idea of agency, that is, make the desire to do things—the mouse’s desire to escape the cat— explainable from a fully materialist perspective. That’s much harder than it seems. Rocks don’t desire anything. So we can’t just start from the bottom. It’s also not enough to say that the mouse wants to avoid getting killed. That’s true but it doesn’t really explain anything. For example, a person looks both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting run over. But, by itself, that doesn’t explain why she tries to avoid getting run over. One must factor in her memory, background knowledge,…

artificial-intelligence-brain-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
artificial intelligence brain

A Neuroscientist on Why We Can Build Human-like Brains

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist as well as a neuroscientist, thinks pattern recognition is the answer

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist who became a theoretical neuroscientist, made the argument last year that human intelligence is less complex than we make it out to be. Thus, building an artificial intelligence might be easier than we suppose. He offers some intriguing arguments and here are some responses: ➤ Is the information we need for building human-like AI in our genes? He doesn’t think so because a tomato has 7000 more genes than a human being. Further, our human genome offers only 25 million bytes of information for our brain’s design but there are 1015 connections in the adult neocortex. His conclusion? “there needs to be a much simpler, more efficient way of defining the blueprint for our brain…

concept-of-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concept of

Do We Really Have Free Will? Four Things to Know

Free will makes more sense of our world than determinism and science certainly allows for it

Free will is a contentious topic in science these days. Theoretical physicists weigh in sharply on one side or the other. Just this month, based on quantum mechanics, mathematician Tim Andersen says maybe and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder says no. Based on cosmology, the study of our universe, physicist George Ellis said yes last June. With free will, as with consciousness, we don’t fully understand what’s involved. All insights from science are partial so we can’t look to science for a definitive answer. But maybe science can offer some hints. Here are four that might be helpful: 1.Has psychology shown that free will does not really exist? Psychological research on free will has supported the concept of free will but…

frog-with-turtle-and-snail-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Frog with Turtle and Snail

To What Extent Does Life Simply Invent Itself As It Goes Along?

The evidence may surprise us

According to a popular anti-creationist website Talk Origins, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution and common descent is the phylogenetic signal. In their view, when we look at specific properties across multiple species — number of legs, presence or absence of wings, the presence of a gene, a configuration of nucleotides in the genome, etc. — such properties will form a strongly nested hierarchy. We should expect to see such a strongly nested hierarchy if organisms evolved from one another and therefore a “family tree” links all the organisms together. However, if a property that appears only on a branch, it will be shared only by that branch’s leaves. Leaves on a different branch will not have…

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 ›
cells-under-a-microscope-cell-division-cellular-therapy-3d-illustration-on-a-dark-background-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

New Book: Our Bodies’ Cells Are a “Third Infinity” of Information

If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell.

Recently, computer engineer and philosopher Jonathan Bartlett pointed out that Elon Musk has inadvertently highlighted the biggest problem with origin of life studies: How life originated is not as difficult a question as how it originated with the ability to reproduce. If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell. The only cell, in fact. Musk, as it happens, was talking about the production of cars when he tweeted, “The machine that makes the machine is vastly harder than the machine itself.” He estimated “1000% to 10,000% harder.” Indeed, and that’s also true of the cells that comprise just about every living being. Our cells not only live…

toothpick-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
toothpick

They Say This Is An Information Economy. So What Is Information?

How, exactly, is an article in the news different from a random string of letters and punctuation marks?

We know information when we see it. An article contains information. A photograph contains information. The thoughts in our mind contain information. So does a computer program and so do our genomes. Yet other things we see around us clearly do not contain information. A handful of toothpicks dropped on the ground does not. Nor do the swirling tea leaves in a cup. Neither does a pair of tossed dice nor a sequence of 100 coin flips. But mere disorder is not the clue. An intricate snowflake does not contain information either. Can we state the difference between the article and the scattered toothpicks precisely? That’s tricky. Both Claude Shannon and Andrey Kolmogorov came up with information metrics. But the…

robotic-arms-in-a-car-plant-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
robotic arms in a car plant

Elon Musk Tweet Shows Why Many Doubt Origin of Life Studies

Musk was talking about the origin of machines, not life, but the principle is, perhaps surprisingly, the same
Creating a machine that manufactures or a cell that reproduces is much harder than creating a prototype of either. It’s a search for a search. Read More ›