Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

CategoryNeuroscience

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Hands of a man tearing a piece of paper with inscription free will

Neuroscience Can Help Us Understand Why Free Will Is Real

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don’t seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will: If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don’t have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn’t give it to us either. Hossenfelder doesn’t pull any punches: “This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out.”… QED! Jerry Coyne, “Sabine Hossenfelder says we don’t…

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Brain doodle illustration with textures

Your Mind vs. Your Brain: Ten Things To Know

Although we are only beginning to understand the workings of the brain, it clearly isn't the same thing as the mind

Here are some reasons why they aren’t really the same: 1.Is the human brain unique in some way? Yes, but not so much in its structure as in the things we do with it. For example, the human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms, which is a bit of a puzzle, considering the different things we do with our brains. The human brain is bigger than most. But then lemurs performed as well as chimps on the primate cognitive test battery (a primate intelligence test) and lemurs only have brains that are 1/200th the size of chimps’ brains. So, what we humans are doing differently from lemurs and chimps doesn’t depend wholly on brain size either.…

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Woman Lost Something

Researchers: Now We Know How Objects Can Hide in Plain Sight!

At times, we can’t “see” what we are looking for because our brain waves are not co-operating

Have you ever looked desperately for something—your passport perhaps—and then found, half an hour later, that it was right in front of you all the time? Inconspicuous but not really invisible? “Hiding in plain sight,” as the saying goes. It happens to everyone. We wonder why we didn’t find it before. But some enterprising researchers asked a different question: Why do we find it later? And they have come up with an explanation from the way our brains work: They found that patterns of neural signals, called traveling brain waves, exist in the visual system of the awake brain and are organized to allow the brain to perceive objects that are faint or otherwise difficult to see. Salk News, “Traveling…

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Closeup of housefly

Human, Mouse, and Fly Brains All Use the Same Basic Mechanisms

The study of brains in recent decades has yielded a very different picture from the patterns we might have expected

With differing outcomes, of course: A new study led by researchers from King’s College London has shown that humans, mice and flies share the same fundamental genetic mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of brain areas involved in attention and movement control. News Centre, “Humans and flies employ very similar mechanisms for brain development and function” at King’s College London (August 3, 2020) We might have expected a gradual increase in size and complexity, corresponding with ability, leading up to the human brain. But we have learned from recent research that lemurs, with brains 1/200 the size of chimps’, pass same IQ test (the Primate Cognition Test Battery). Human intellectual abilities are orders of magnitude greater than that of…

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World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›
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Gray Mouse Lemur, microcebus murinus

Lemurs with Brains 1/200 the Size of Chimps’ Pass Same IQ Test

This new finding about mouse lemurs also makes human exceptionalism more exceptional
Researchers were surprise to discover recently that the mouse lemur, a tiny primate whose brain is 1/200th the size of a chimpanzee’s brain, did as well as great apes on a primate intelligence test. Read More ›
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Pair of ravens in courtship. Corvus corax

Why Does Science Embrace the “Talking Animals” Myth?

Many birds are quite smart but why do some researchers imply that they think like people?

In recent years, studies have confirmed a widespread cultural intuition that some birds, particularly corvids like crows and ravens, are “smart.” They show considerable problem-solving skills. Thus, they loom large in mythology as messengers and tricksters. For example, the Norse king of the gods (pictured) had two ravens as advisors. Oddly enough, science today retains the mythology and makes a curious use of it: New discoveries about the specifics of corvid brain organization and intelligence are framed as demonstrating that humans do not really have as exceptional thinking ability as we suppose: Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and…

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Cat looks strange look in the night

Some Mysteries About Cats … Solved!

Pet dogs outnumber cats but they’ll never excel at creating the aura of mystery at which the cat effortlessly succeeds

Following up on the ways cats are intelligent, it might be fun to look at how humans got involved with them. It turns out that there are reasons why we have always found cats mysterious, compared to dogs. Why are people so fond of cats? There are lots of reasons but here’s an interesting find: Domestic cats’ meows for attention are said to be unique to their relationship with humans. Oxford neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach has found a way to map human responses via magnetoencephalograph (MEG) studies that measure electrical activity in our brains in real time. He found that the cry of a baby triggered a response in the orbitofrontal cortex before study subjects had identified the sound consciously. Adult…

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Tablet displaying scan of brain activity

Brain Scans Can Read Your Mind—in a Dozen Conflicting Ways

A recent study involving 70 research groups identified sharp limitations in the value of brain imaging (fMRI) in understanding the mind

In the 1990s, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — imaging the brain in action via blood flow—seemed like a dream come true. Medical and social science researchers who flocked to use it are not going to be happy with a recent study of its limitations: There was little meaningful agreement among seventy research teams from around the world about what their results meant. In an article aptly titled “Seventy Teams of Scientists Analysed the Same Brain Data, and It Went Badly,” a neuroscientist fills us in: The group behind the Nature paper set a simple challenge: they asked teams of volunteers to each take the same set of fMRI scans from 108 people doing a decision-making task, and use them…

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senior woman with family photo on tablet pc screen

What Neuroscientists Now Know About How Memories Are Born and Die

Where, exactly are our memories? Are modern media destroying them? Could we erase them if we wanted to?

At one time, neuroscientists believed that there must be a “seat” of memory in the brain, something like a room with a door marked Memory. They settled on two structures called hippocampi, on either side of the brain’s base. The illustration shows the the hippocampus of the right hemisphere (public domain). But memories turned out to have no fixed address. Neuroscientist Matthew Cobb, author of The Idea of the Brain (2020, excerpt here), tells us, But the hippocampuses are not the site of memory storage. Rather, these brain regions are the encoders and the routes through which memory formation seems to pass. The memories that are processed by the hippocampuses seem to be distributed across distant regions of the brain.…

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Creative background, the human brain on a blue background, the hemisphere is responsible for logic, and responsible for creativity. different hemispheres of the brain, 3D illustration, 3D render

Why the Mind Can’t Just Be the Brain

Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn't even make sense

Philosopher Roger Scruton (1944–2020) defined neuroscience thus (I paraphrase): Neuroscience is a huge collection of answers with no memory of the questions. Over the past century, neuroscientists have amassed vast libraries of data. But their interpretation of their data on the mind-brain question shows no meaningful understanding of the genuine questions their research is tasked to answer. These questions are ancient: What is the relationship between the soul (or mind) and the body (or brain)? How is it that matter can think? How is it that third-person stuff gives rise to first-person experience? Answers to such questions from the neuroscience community show little evidence of the profound and subtle nature of the questions. Thus, neuroscientists provide answers to questions they…

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Shaved male nape and a lot of usb cables connected to it. Concept of dependence in thinking and information

AI Expert: Artificial Intelligences Are NOT Electronic People

AI makes mistakes no human makes, so some experts are trying to adapt human cognitive psychology to machines

David Watson of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Turing Institute has published an interesting and quite readable paper in Minds and Machines on the way in which artificial intelligence experts often endow their creations — mistakenly — with human characteristics. In his open access paper, “The Rhetoric and Reality of Anthropomorphism in Artificial Intelligence,” he fills us in on some of the limitations of AI and proposes fixes based on human thinking. First, thinking that AI is like a human or about to become like a human is not new: The biomimetic approach to AI has always inspired the popular imagination. Writing about Rosenblatt’s perceptron, the New York Times declared in 1958 that “The Navy has revealed the…

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Doctor demonstrating human brain anatomy and MRI brain on background

Can We Develop Tests of the Brain for Consciousness?

The paper proposing the tests reads like an ambitious but hopeless project that offers some genuinely interesting moments.

In a recent, well-organized paper, neuroscientist Christopher Tyler of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco offers not only ten features that comprise consciousness but also empirical tests for such features. He hopes to finally crack the Hard Problem of Consciousness by dividing consciousness up into component parts and studying associated brain functions. He calls his approach Emergent Aspect Dualism. He hopes to reconcile monism (physical nature is all there is) with dualism (consciousness is not physical). With that in mind, he hopes to identify the physical machinery that rolls out consciousness, the “neural substrate for conscious processing (NSCP).” But he also hopes to borrow as much from dualism as he can, perhaps in part in order to avoid…

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Psychology concept. Sunrise and woman silhouette.

Neurosurgeon Explains Why You Are Not a Zombie

Podcaster Lucas Skrobot recently interviewed neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the difference between the mind and the brain. Egnor told him, “My wife jokes with me that meeting me is always the worst part of a person’s life.” At 22:08, Dr. Egnor provides a thought experiment to explain that minds must transcend materials—the zombie problem. The zombie problem? Ah yes, the philosophers’ zombie: For that, you might also see one of Egnor’s articles: “Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the p-zombie.” To understand consciousness, we need to establish what it is not before we create any more new theories: A p-zombie (a philosophical zombie, as distinguished from the kind that sells movies) is identical to a human being but has no first-person…

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Dream sequence in abstract tunnel to heaven or hell. possible out of body

Newfound Respect in Science Literature for Near-Death Experiences

For example, when people claim that they could see colors not normally available to humans, there is at least a possible science basis for that.

One really interesting change in science literature on near death experiences in recent years has been growing respect, possibly due to more information about them. For example, when people claim that they could see colors not normally available to humans, there is at least a possible science basis for that. In a recent edition of Scientific American neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, founded by a Microsoft billionaire, doesn’t discount them. He would like to find a fully naturalist explanation but that is quite different from past efforts to explain them as mere hallucinations, which failed to take into account their life-changing effects. He has said about them, I accept the reality of these…

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EEG Test on an Elderly Man at Hospital Laboratory

Can We Really Cheat Death by Downloading Our Brains?

Through the ages, we have thought of unique ways to avoid death. Could the internet and artificial intelligence help?

Last October, Jay Richards, author of The Human Advantage, caught up with Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, a Baylor University computer engineering prof, at COSM 2019 to ask, what are our cheat-death chances? They were responding to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s heady claims made at the conference that we will merge with computers by 2045 and live on as AI. Richards and Marks reflected on Kurzweil’s claims and the thoughts of the panel responding to them. Here’s a partial transcript: Jay Richards: He’s (Kurzweil, below right) very much a sort of, I’d say, a techno-optimist. And in fact, he sort of thinks we’re going to get brain scans and upload ourselves, whereas the panel… Though I know there was a…

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side view of senior man in coma on bed in hospital

Is There Hope for People in a Persistent Vegetative State?

Yes! Modern neuroscience is shining a light on their minds

Today, many neuroscientists don’t even call it a persistent vegetative state. The new term is disorders of consciousness. One neuroscientist recounts, In the past 20 years, advances in neuroimaging techniques have allowed us to explore brain functions in these altered states of consciousness. One breakthrough study conducted at our lab, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, involved 54 DoC patients. The researchers asked the patients to perform two mental-imagery tasks while they lay in a brain scanner. In the first, they were asked to imagine playing tennis; in the second, to imagine walking from room to room in their home – mental tasks that are associated with contrasting patterns of neural activity. Remarkably, five patients…

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A hand pointing at brain MRI on the light box

Why Brain Activity Doesn’t Reveal Our Minds

There is poor correlation between different scans of even the same person’s brain, experienced researchers say

At one time, we were told that, one day, machines will read our minds. But, now researchers say, the more we know about the brain (set aside the mind for a moment), the more reasons we have for doubt: But a new analysis by some of the researchers who have done the most work in this area finds that those measurements are highly suspect when it comes to drawing conclusions about any individual person’s brain. Karl Leif Bates, “Studies of brain activity aren’t as useful as scientists thought” at Duke Today Brain scanning—functional MRI (fMRI)—tells us about general brain structures, says Duke University neuroscientist Ahmad Hariri, who led a team that reanalyzed the data. It doesn’t say much about the…

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Sad wife holding wedding ring on coronavirus confinement

Does COVID-19 Lead Women to Cheat?

The “subpersonal” approach to human psychology is popular but is it valid?

It's an open question whether the mind evolved at all and therefore whether evolutionary psychology is any help in understanding it.

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walnut split on a white background

My Right Hemisphere Is An Atheist! No, Wait …

In reality, split-brain surgery does not split consciousness in any meaningful sense

The atheist neuroscientist who has made bizarre claims about the outcomes of split brain surgery appears not to know much about neurosurgery.

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