Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Are Plants Cognitive, Intelligent Organisms? A Controversy Brews

Some plant biologists want to see them that way; others continue to insist on a Darwinian view

As panpsychism (the idea that all life forms are conscious to some extent) takes hold in science, it ruffles some fields more than others. Think of what it is doing to botany… Well, we don’t have to imagine. The University of Heidelberg put out a media release this week warning that the belief that plants do things we commonly associate with animals is straying beyond the science: Plants are often attributed with abilities similar to those known in the animal or human world. Trees are said to have feelings and can purportedly care for their offspring, like mothers. In an article in the review journal Trends in Plant Science, 32 international plant and forest researchers followed up on such assertions. Read More ›


In Neuroscience Flap, Science Media Tackle “Pseudoscience” Claim

As the leading theory of consciousness is tarred by neuroscientists as “pseudoscience,” science media struggle to outline just WHAT science is

As a child, I remember hearing a proverb, “When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own.” It means roughly: If you are overhearing loud, angry accusations, you may suddenly realize for the first time what really happened during many puzzling events — and hear honest statements of some Top People’s agendas. For example, it took a huge uproar around the top neuroscience theory, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), for some of us to realize how the “Keep abortion legal!” agenda dominates many neuroscientists’ concerns. That turn of events is hardly something that would have jumped out at most of us.* As noted here earlier, IIT is now under attack as “pseudoscience,” with top journal Nature covering the fight. And Read More ›

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Attack on Top Consciousness Theory Springs From Abortion Politics

If that sounds surprising and unscientific, read on. Pro and con, they make it clear

Perhaps publications like Nature were taken by surprise when well over 100 leading neuroscientists signed a letter denouncing Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch’s leading Integrated Information Theory (IIT) as “pseudoscience.” The most interesting part of the story is that, while the signatories’ main complaint was the panpsychist origins and implications of the theory — consciousness is widespread through the universe — Nature’s writeup did not mention that… Among those who weighed in shortly afterwards was well-known science writer John Horgan. He begins by defining IIT theory in a comprehensible way: Integrated information theory, or IIT, which I’ve tracked for years, holds that consciousness arises in any system whose components exchange information in a certain mathematically defined way. Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi Read More ›

Bone Cell Structure: Unveiling the Building Blocks of Bones - Generative AI

Can Cells Learn? Can Molecules Communicate? What We Are Learning…

We are learning that the world of life is full of intelligence that we just did not know about

As noted last Wednesday, the science journal Nature reported on an uproar in neuroscience while sidestepping the uproar’s underlying basis: the leading theory of human consciousness today, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), is panpsychist, not eliminationist. That is, instead of trying to show that even human consciousness is merely an evolved illusion, IIT is compatible with the idea that some form of consciousness might pervade all life forms. The real difficulty with assessing any claim about human consciousness is that we can’t even define clearly what it is. However, suppose we have a more modest goal. We just want to understand why eliminative materialism seems to be failing and panpsychism, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, is Read More ›

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Leading Consciousness Theory Slammed as “Pseudoscience.” Huh?

Integrated Information Theory’s panpsychist leanings are the 124 neuroscientist critics’ real target

Since last week, 124 neuroscientists, including some really big names, have signed an online letter,” to be published in a journal, denouncing a leading theory of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), as “pseudoscience.” If you don’t follow these controversies, IIT may not immediately ring a bell. But the theory featured in popular science news earlier this summer when dualist philosopher David Chalmers won a 25-year bet with IIT neuroscientist Christof Koch. He had bet that a “consciousness spot” would not be found in the brain and it was not. But they were both good sports about it and, as agreed, Koch bought Chalmers a case of fine wine. But the signatories to the letter are in no mood for parties. Read More ›

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If Panpsychism Is Now Mainstream, Is Fine-Tuning Next?

In his new book, panpsychist Philip Goff argues for fine-tuning of the universe and cosmic purpose

In a recent interview, Durham University philosophy professor Philip Goff told contributing editor Ricky Williamson at IAI News that panpsychism, for which he is famous, “has gone mainstream.” That is, the idea that consciousness is real and that perhaps all life forms (or the whole universe) share in it is increasingly considered a reasonable idea. Thus Goff is now tackling the concept of purpose behind the universe in a forthcoming book, Why? The Purpose of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 2023). He’s right about the mainstreaming of panpsychism in the last few years. When New Scientist can write a sympathetic account of panpsychism and University of Chicago biochemist James Shapiro, can tell us in a prestigious science journal that all Read More ›

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The Mind: A Neuroscientist and a Psychiatrist Walk Into a…

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, conversing with Christian neuroscientist Sharon Dirckx about materialism’s deficits, shows considerable sympathy for panpsychism

No, this isn’t the beginning of a stand-up gag but rather of an interesting discussion at Unbelievable’s The Big Conversation (Episode 3, Season 4, Jul 1, 2022), hosted by Justin Brierley. The participants seem well-matched: Sharon Dirckx is a neuroscientist and Christian apologist who speaks and writes on human consciousness, and the problem of evil. The author of Am I Just My Brain? (Oxford Apologetics, 2019), she is especially interested in “intersection of science and theology, questions of human consciousness and identity, and the problem of evil.” and Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist who has specialized in the overlap between psychiatry and neurology, has written both for colleagues and the public about the mind–body relationship. He “is committed to the idea Read More ›

Reflection of mountain range in lake, Grand Teton National Park

Should We Give Nature “Rights”?

The nature rights movement is more ideological than rational

The major science journals are growing increasingly hard left politically. The prestigious journal Science, in particular, has swallowed progressive ideology–including supporting the “nature rights” movement. The rights of nature–which include geological features–are generally defined as the right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” Nature is, of course, not sentient. So, this campaign is really about granting environmental extremists legal standing to enforce their policy desires through litigation as legal guardians serving nature’s best interests. But the movement has a problem. It is clearly ideological rather than rational. So now, three law professors and a biologist writing in Science urge scientists to promote the agenda by giving courts a scientific pretext to enforce nature rights laws, or even, impose the Read More ›

View of the Great Salt Lake at sunset, at Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Should Great Salt Lake Have Rights?

The nature rights movement keeps making inroads into establishment thinking — and people keep ignoring the threat

The nature rights movement keeps making inroads into establishment thinking — and people keep ignoring the threat. The concept has now been advocated in a major opinion piece in the New York Times. Utah’s Great Salt Lake is shrinking — a legitimate problem worthy of focused concern and remediation. Utah native and Harvard Divinity School’s writer-in-residence Terry Tempest Williams — who focuses on “the spiritual implications of climate change” — makes a strong case that the lake is in trouble. A Conservationist Approach Her proposed remedies reflect a proper conservationist approach worthy of being debated: Scientists tell us the lake needs an additional one million acre-feet per year to reverse its decline, increasing average stream flow to about 2.5 million acre-feet per year. A Read More ›

Venus flytrap is one of the carnivore plants

A Science Writer Makes the Case for Plants as Conscious Beings

Annaka Harris, neuroscience and physics writer, starts by casting doubt on human consciousness

Annaka Harris, a science writer focusing on neuroscience and physics and the author of Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind (2019), challenges us to reflect on two points: 1) In a system that we know has conscious experiences — the human brain — what evidence of consciousness can we detect from the outside? 2) Is consciousness essential to our behavior? The editor notes, introducing an excerpt from the book, “But how sure can we be that plants aren’t conscious? And what if what we take to be behavior indicating consciousness can be replicated with no conscious agent involved? Annaka Harris invites us to consider the real possibility that our intuitions about consciousness might be mere Read More ›

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human head powerful inspiration tree abstract thinking inside your mind watercolor painting illustration hand drawn

Sabine Hossenfelder, Taking on Consciousness, Tackles Panpsychism

She wants to apologize to all carrots who are watching her video — but carrots are not watching and that’s the point

Recently, I’ve been looking ( here and here) at theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s argument that quantum mechanics does not show that consciousness is essential for understanding the universe. The topic has become very interesting because of the growth of panpsychism in science — which Hossenfelder references in the video. Panpsychism is the belief that all of nature participates in some way in consciousness but that it is most highly developed in humans. Many prefer it to materialism because the panpsychist does not need to show that human consciousness is some kind of illusion that we evolved to believe in (?). It is part of the normal functioning of the universe even if we don’t understand how it works. To see Read More ›


Can Panpsychism Save Naturalism From Itself?

Panpsychism can be seen as an effort to save naturalism by acknowledging the reality of the mind while insisting that the mind is wholly natural

This article is an excerpt of one that originally appeared in Salvo 61 (Summer 2022), under the title “Everything is Conscious? Panpsychism goes mainstream.” Panpsychism — the view that all of the universe participates in consciousness, which is most fully developed in humans — has been gaining popularity in science in recent years. Does that sound unbelievable? Is not science committed wholly to materialism and nothing but materialism? Will consciousness not soon be “explained” by an accidental glitch in brain wiring that natural selection retained? Science doesn’t seem nearly as committed to that view just now. A 2018 article at Quartz by Olivia Goldhill was titled “The idea that everything from spoons to stones is conscious is gaining academic credibility.” Read More ›

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Can Religion Without Belief “Make Perfect Sense”?

Philosopher Philip Goff, a prominent voice in panpsychism, also defends the idea of finding meaning in a religion we don’t really believe

Durham University philosopher Philip Goff, co-editor of Is Consciousness Everywhere? Essays on Panpsychism (November 1, 2022), has an interesting take on religion. While it’s common to assume that religious people are “believers,” he thinks that people can meaningfully be part of a religion without actually believing in it: But there is more to a religion than a cold set of doctrines. Religions involve spiritual practices, traditions that bind a community together across space and time, and rituals that mark the seasons and the big moments of life: birth, coming of age, marriage, death. This is not to deny that there are specific metaphysical views associated with each religion, nor that there is a place for assessing how plausible those views Read More ›

Oak tree

Yes, Plants May Be Conscious Too, Says Researcher

Paco Calvo has authored many papers in respected journals; his view is another instance of panpsychism overtaking materialism in science

At one time, claims for animal consciousness and/or intelligence focused on, say, chimpanzees and dolphins, where the animals were enough like humans that what is meant by intelligence or consciousness was clear. Maybe not clear enough for a philosopher but clear enough for practical purposes. The octopus’s intelligence came as a bit of a surprise because it is an invertebrate. But these comparisons with mammals and birds showed that we were still talking about the same thing. We are now told in science publications that bees feel and think and that spiders dream. As science edges slowly toward panpsychism (all life forms participate in consciousness), we even learn — in science journals — that viruses are intelligent and cells are Read More ›

Peek-a-boo bee close up

What Does It Mean To Say Bees “Feel and Think”?

The New Scientist reviewer is unsure that we are ready for such a radical message. Unsure? At one time, it would have been branded “NOT science!”

Behavioral ecologist Lars Chittka’s book, The Mind of a Bee (Princeton University Press, 2022), is a fascinating detailed description of bee behavior that will cure us of believing that the insect world is devoid of intelligence or sensation. Indeed, in a 2018 essay with Catherine Wilson, Chittka offers many research findings in a shorter format. It’s only in Chapter 11, toward the book’s end, that he makes a controversial claim: From the very start, early in evolution, nervous systems were inseparable from movable bodies with sensors, and developed in order to integrate perception and action. The challenges of survival and self-replication (reproduction) that a moving organism faces are most efficiently met when brain and body are intimately connected, enabling the Read More ›

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Panpsychism: If Computers Can Have Minds, Why Can’t the Sun?

Sheldrake’s argument that the Sun is conscious cannot be dismissed out of hand by those who insist that computers can become conscious

Recently, biologist Rupert Sheldrake asked at the Journal of Consciousness Studies, “Is the Sun conscious?” It’s the sort of question that people might have asked before the dawn of modern science (and the usual answer was yes). Sheldrake is pretty controversial but he is likely right to note a “recent panpsychist turn in philosophy.” Prominent philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term the “Hard Problem of consciousness,” has also said “We’re not going to reduce consciousness to something physical … it’s a primitive component of the universe.” But Sheldrake might have added that there is a panpsychist turn in science as well. After all, a mainstream neuroscientist recently argued in a science publication last year that even viruses are intelligent Read More ›