Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Not a Word Inside

A Philosopher Writes in Praise of Anxiety

It is part of the ability to think about life in a human way

Yes, you read that right. Samir Chopra (pictured) thinks that anxiety is not a pathology but part of the ability to think about life in a human way. Chopra, author with Laurence White of A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents (2011), writes, Humans are philosophising animals precisely because we are the anxious animal: not a creature of the present, but regretful about the past and fearful of the future. We philosophise to understand our past, to make our future more comprehensible. The unknown produces a distinctive unease; enquiry and the material and psychic tools it yields provide relief. Where anxiety underwrites enquiry, we claim that the success of the enquiry removes anxiety and is pleasurably anticipated. Enquiry comes to…

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Twisted clock face. Time concept

Do Time and Space Mean the Same Thing to Humans as to Computers?

Futurist George Gilder tells us, humans don’t treat physical and chemical forces or clock pulses the way computers do

Recently, we have looked at four of the six assumptions that, according to futurist George Gilder in Gaming AI, are generally shared by those who believe that, sometime soon in a Singularity , we will merge with our machines: Four of them are: 1) The brain is a computer and Big Data is a Big Answer (here) and 2) maps are territories and reality follows our rules (here). Now here are the final two: • The Locality Assumption: Actions of human agents reflect only immediate physical forces impinging directly on them. • The Digital Time Assumption: Time is objective and measured by discrete increments. (p. 50) Gilder tells us that the Locality Assumption means that “minds respond to local inputs…

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Atom Particle

A Materialist Gives Up on Determinism

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne undercuts his own argument against free will by admitting that quantum phenomena are real

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has denied free will for years. But most recently, he has said something that puts the whole matter in doubt. A bit of background: Free will simply cannot be real if determinism is true, that is, if everything in nature falls like dominoes after the first one is pushed: If nature is truly like that, our acts, like those of the dominoes, are wholly determined by natural history and physical laws that we do not control. Nearly all arguments against free will depend critically on determinism. But there is a central problem with determinism: It is clear from physics that determinism in nature is not true. In 1964, theoretical physicist John Bell (1928–1990) proposed relatively simple…

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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…

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Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Have Researchers Discovered Why Humans Are Smarter Than Animals?

According to a new study, human memories are not stored in patterns, like animal memories, but jumbled all together

Researchers have believed for fifty years that the hippocampus, the seat of memory storage in our brains, stores patterns of memories separately. That’s true in animals but not, it turns out, in humans, according to neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, “In contrast to what everybody expects, when recording the activity of individual neurons we have found that there is an alternative model to pattern separation storing our memories… Shockingly, when we directly recorded the activity of individual neurons, we found something completely different to what has been described in other animals. This could well be a cornerstone of human’s intelligence.” University of Leicester, “Human intelligence just got less mysterious” at ScienceDaily He found that, human neurons, by contrast, store all the…

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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…

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Dog with ball in mouth runs from kid playing chase game at summer lawn

Is It Empathy, Not Intellect, That Makes Humans Unique?

Could empathy create intellect, and not the other way around?

A Canadian philosopher of mind and language offers a refreshingly thoughtful approach to the uniqueness of human ways of thinking: He reflects on the difference between what is happening when his dog Mackenzie and his eighteen-month-old nephew William bring him an object to play with: For Mackenzie, there is only one game in town. We have been playing it for years, and it never gets old. Sure, I mix things up a bit from time to time. A little sleight of hand can send Mackenzie left while I toss right. Or I fake a throw then hide the ball behind my back, after which I mirror Mackenzie’s stupefied, slightly annoyed look with my own incredulous one. (‘Where did it go?’)…

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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…

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Cell abstract concept. Microorganisms under microscope

Are Our Minds Just an Extension of the Minds of Our Cells?

A prominent philosopher and a well-known biologist make the case, offering an illustration

Naturalism, the idea that physical nature is all there is, can lead us down some strange paths. In the words of prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett and prominent biologist Michael Levin, both of Tufts University, the road to “biology’s next great horizon” is the attempt to “understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones).” They think that the principle of natural selection acting on random mutations can create everything, including minds: Thanks to Charles Darwin, biology doesn’t ever have to invoke an ‘intelligent designer’ who created all those mechanisms. Evolution by natural selection has done – and is still doing – all that refining and focusing and differentiating work. We’re all just physical mechanisms made of…

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Liquid Nitrogen bank containing suspension of stem cells. Cell culture for the biomedical diagnostic

Can We Make Brains in a Dish? Can We Make MINDS in a Dish?

Experiments with brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish

In a recent report, Nature addressed several studies on disembodied brains grown in the lab. One of those studies, published last year by Alysson Muotri of the University of California, San Diego, showed that brain organoids (organized clusters of brain cells) displayed electrical signals reminiscent of a twenty-five-week-old pre-term baby. the electrical activity continued for several months until the experiment was eventually stopped. Experiments with such brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish. Organoids, such as those made of kidney or liver cells, have been used to study drug development and disease. They are made either from embryonic stem cells—an ethically problematic source because they involve the destruction of an embryo—or induced pluripotent…

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Quantum computing concept with qubit icon 3d rendering

Will Quantum Mechanics Produce the True Thinking Computer?

Quantum computers come with real world problems of their own

Some hope that quantum mechanics can explain human consciousness. Maybe we are all quantum computers but don’t know it? Maybe quantum computers could think like people? There is an odd relationship between the human mind and quantum mechanics, the science of entities like electrons that are too small to be governed by ordinary physics. Some aspects of consciousness appear to be mediated by such elementary particles. Science writer Philip Ball explains, Nobody understands what consciousness is or how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics either. Could that be more than coincidence? Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have for describing the world at the nuts-and-bolts level of atoms and subatomic particles. Perhaps the most renowned of its mysteries is…

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open door to another world

Everyone Seems To Be Looking For the “Seat of Consciousness”

Does consciousness have a seat at the table? Wait a minute. Isn’t consciousness the TABLE?

Prominent neuroscientist Christof Koch, whose theory of consciousness is linked to panpsychism, has a new paper at Nature: Human Behaviour. Ideally, many science notables would like to “naturalize” human consciousness—to make it the same sort of phenomenon as the wind in the trees in a universe where nothing has any intrinsic meaning that sets it apart from anything else or points to a higher order of things. That would, of course, make calculation easier. But is it true? Here’s the abstract: Electrical stimulation of the human cortex, undertaken for brain surgery, triggers percepts and feelings. A new study documents an ordering principle to these effects: the farther removed from sensory input or motor output structures, the less likely it is…

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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…

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Father and child reading story book

Researchers: Human Brains Are Prewired To Recognize Words

Zeynep Saygin at Ohio State and her colleagues challenged a long-standing belief that human brains are not pre-adapted to learn language: Humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letters, setting the stage at birth for people to learn how to read, a new study suggests. Analyzing brain scans of newborns, researchers found that this part of the brain – called the “visual word form area” (VWFA) – is connected to the language network of the brain. “That makes it fertile ground to develop a sensitivity to visual words – even before any exposure to language,” said Zeynep Saygin, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychology…

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Doctor with MRI scan

Neuroscience Refutes Free Will? Addressing an Objection

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is not as good as Libet’s methods for assessing real-time effects

In reply to a post in which I pointed out that neuroscience strongly supports the reality of free will, commenter AaronS1978 makes a point at Uncommon Descent: First Michael Egnor is wrong about there being no brain wave activity with free won’t Patrick Haggard in 2014 discovered accidotal brain waves to free won’t I feel he kind of makes declarations, I understand his position philosophically and I do agree with a lot of it, but saying there is no activity before free won’t and saying it’s immaterial is incorrect Furthermore why wouldn’t there be brain activity when exercising your will? Wouldn’t that just mean that your soul was using your brain? Isn’t consciousness and conscious experience (hard problem of the…

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Books, old, stacked.

Why Wisdom Is Not and Cannot Be a “Science”

Some have tried to make the pursuit of wisdom a “scientific” endeavour. That is not going well.

A curiosity of our age is the effort to “naturalize” traditional values, to treat them as an outcome of evolution. Evolution we are told, took us in a slightly different direction from that of the apes but it did not put us in contact with a wisdom beyond this world. There is no such thing. That conflicts with traditional accounts of wisdom. Wisdom has been seen as different from “knowledge,” “intelligence” or “street smarts.” They are all very useful, of course. But wisdom is a view of the world from a great distance, which enables clarity about the big issues. For example, from Boethius, about 1500 years ago: Indeed, the condition of human nature is just this; man towers above…

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Getting to know the neighbors at the country houses in village

Why Is AI a Key Battleground in Philosophy and Religion?

Tech philosopher George Gilder explains. Spoiler: He thinks humans will win

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews futurist George Gilder on “How AI is gaming intelligence.” Their discussion stems from Gilder’s new book, Gaming AI: Why AI Can’t Think But Can Transform Jobs (free for download here). https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-105-George-Gilder.mp3 From the transcript: (Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Robert J. Marks (pictured): In general, do you see AI as a new demotion of the human race? This is pretty serious prose. George Gilder: Well, it declares that the human mind is just a machine that can be simulated by computer algorithms … thus demoting the human endeavor from being the center of everything, to becoming a mere planet of a larger…

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Intelligent robot cyborg using digital globe interface 3D rendering

Why AI Geniuses Think They Can Create True Thinking Machines

Early on, it seemed like a string of unbroken successes …

In George Gilder’s telling, the story goes back to Bletchley Park, where British codebreakers broke the “unbreakable” Nazi ciphers. In Gaming AI, the tech philosopher and futurist traces the modern concept of a machine that really thinks for itself back to its earliest known beginnings. Free for download, his concise book also explains why the programmers were bound to fail in their quest for the supermachine. But let’s start with why they thought—and many today still think— it could work. Success emboldened the pioneers to dream of a final AI triumph They had every reason to be emboldened by success. Special computers called “bombes,” created by Alan Turing’s team, broke every version of the famous Enigma code used by the…

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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…

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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…