Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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Why Breeding Smarter Humans Won’t Work: Basic Genetics 101

Biochemist Michael Denton explains that, in human genetics, everything is connected to everything else; geneticists call it pleiotropy

Recently, we looked at the question of whether human IQ could be artificially increased via genetic engineering. One proposal was to mass produce human embryos, implanting only the smart ones and discarding the rest. All other issues aside, it’s unclear how to determine which kids will turn out to be the smart ones. Now biochemist Michael Denton, author of a number of books including the recent Miracle of Man (2022), writes to tell us that the idea won’t work due to fundamental genetics. Noting that theoretical physicist Stephen Hsu, who advanced the idea of discarding embryos above, is not a medical geneticist, he told Mind Matters News, Its true there are many genes involved in brain development but most genes…

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Yes, Spiders Dream — But That Doesn’t Make Them Leggy People

We don’t know where on the tree of life “mind,” in the most basic sense, begins. It might include bacteria but not viruses

A recent research article from Germany, which has made quite a splash in the popular press, raises some very interesting questions about animal minds. Animal behaviorist Daniela C. Rößler and co-authors studied 34 young spiders while they slept and found that their eye movements seemed analogous to the eye movements of human beings and other higher animals that occur during REM sleep and are associated with dreaming. They pointed out that this seems to suggest that arachnids may have mental states and dreams that are more akin to those of human beings then previously thought. The article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is open access. The research is fascinating in its own right but I…

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…

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How AI Neural Networks Show That the Mind Is Not the Brain

A series of simple diagrams shows that, while AI learns faster than the human brain, the human mind tackles problems that stump AI

Recently, I’ve been arguing (here and here, for example) that we can use artificial neural networks (ANNs) to prove that the mind is not the brain. To recap, here is the logic of my argument: Premise A: neural networks can learn better than the brainPremise B: the human mind can learn better than a neural networkConclusion: the human mind can learn better than the brain, therefore it is not the brain This means if we can conclusively show the human mind can learn better than a neural network, then the mind is not the brain. For Premise A, I’ve argued that the differentiable neural network is a superior learning model compared to the brain neuron’s “all or nothing principle”. The…

Crystal Prism

Schrödinger Believed That There Was Only One Mind in the Universe

The quantum physicist and author of the famous Cat Paradox believed that our individual minds are not unique but rather like the reflected light from prisms

Consciousness researcher Robert Prentner and cognitive psychologist will tell a prestigious music and philosophy festival in London next month that great physicist Donald Hoffman, quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) believed that “The total number of minds in the universe is one.” That is, a universal Mind accounts for everything. In a world where many scientists strive mightily to explain how the human mind can arise from non-living matter, Prentner and Hoffman will tell the HowtheLightGetsIn festival in London (September 17–18, 2022) that the author of the famous Cat paradox was hardly a materialist: In 1925, just a few months before Schrödinger discovered the most basic equation of quantum mechanics, he wrote down the first sketches of the ideas that he…

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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…

Statue of Gaia

Pioneer Environmentalist: Cyborgs Will Rule the Planet

In one of his last pieces, James Lovelock, famous for the Gaia Hypotheses argues that half-human/half-machines will be vastly superior to humans

It might seem odd that a pioneer figure in the environment awareness movement would embrace part-human/part-machine cyborgs. But in 2019, James Lovelock (1919–2022) — one of the originators of the Gaia Hypothesis (that the whole planet can be thought of as a single organism) — wrote that cyborgs would inherit the Earth in the “coming age of hyperintelligence.” Nautilus draws attention to his thoughts on the topic, in recognition of his death on July 26 at 103. In an essay adapted from Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (2019), Lovelock writes, Our reign as sole understanders of the cosmos is rapidly coming to an end. We should not be afraid of this. The revolution that has just begun may be…

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Fossil Scientists Ask, Could a Neanderthal Meditate?

A paleoneurology research team suggests they couldn’t. But how can the researchers be sure?

Paleoneurology — the study of the evolution of the brain — is the study of fossil brains of extinct life forms. The brain, as it happens, is “wetware” which doesn’t fossilize so paleoneurologists actually study endocasts (natural or virtual casts) of the interiors of skulls. They try to infer behavior, including language and technical competence from the casts. More ambitiously, neuroscientist Emiliano Bruner and psychologist Roberto Colom hope to probe the mind of Neanderthal man, who ranged across Eurasia from about 400,000 years ago through 40,000 years ago but now survives only in small percentages of the genome of the much larger modern human population. From detailed studies, Bruner and Colom conclude: This work proposes evolutionary changes in attention associated…

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Claim: We’ve Shown That Dogs Can Form “Abstract Concepts”

It’s a good idea to be skeptical when any such claim is followed up with the assertion that humans “aren’t that cognitively unique after all.”

University of Buffalo researchers reported recently on a study of three pet dogs known to them that they had taught to “ponder their past”: Dogs are capable of learning the instruction “do that again,” and can flexibly access memories of their own recent actions—cognitive abilities they were not known to possess, according to the results of a recent University at Buffalo study. “We found that dogs could be trained to repeat specific actions on cue, and then take what they’d learned and apply it to actions they had never been asked to repeat,” says Allison Scagel, Ph.D., the study’s corresponding author, who was a UB graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the time of the research. “Our findings…

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Artificial neural networks can show that the mind isn’t the brain

Because artificial neural networks are a better version of the brain, whatever neural networks cannot do, the brain cannot do.

What is the human mind? AI pioneer Marvin Minsky (1927–2016) said in 1987 that essentially “Minds are what brains do.” That is, the mind is the result of electrical waves cycling through the brain, as neurons spike and synapses transmit signals. But is that true? Can we test this idea? We can indeed, using artificial neural networks. One of the most popular approaches to artificial intelligence is artificial neural networks. These networks, inspired by an early model of how neurons fire (the McCulloch–Pitts model), consist of nodes, where each node is similar to a neuron. A node receives signals and then sends them to its linked nodes based on an activation function. There are, of course, differences between neural networks…

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Lab-Grown Brains Are Closer Now. Should They Have Rights?

A new neuroscience research area raises as much concern as excitement: growing mini “human brains” in a lab. The excitement is the prospect of better understanding and treatment of dementia, autism, and motor neuron disease (ALS). The concern is that they will become sentient, capable of feeling. Then what? Starting in 2008, researchers learned that they could coax human stem cells to self-organize into “brainlike structures with electrically active neurons.” Although the cell clusters behave, to some extent, like human embryos, they are not human embryos but skin cells from an adult. That limits the ethical conflict in that the research does not depend on the abortion industry. But ethical issues crop up anyway as groups of cells become more…


Neuroscientists: We hear when we are asleep — but we don’t listen

The new finding may help determine whether an apparently unconscious or demented person can actually understand what is said to him

Earlier this week, we talked about the fact that the human nose is much more sensitive than we sometimes think. Our sense of smell gets ignored in favor of visual, auditory, or symbolic information — but it’s still there. The same goes with our hearing when we are asleep, researchers say: The researchers were surprised to discover that the brain’s response to sound remains powerful during sleep in all parameters but one: the level of alpha-beta waves associated with attention to the auditory input and related expectations. This means that during sleep, the brain analyzes the auditory input but is unable to focus on the sound or identify it, and therefore no conscious awareness ensues. Tel-Aviv University, “During sleep the…

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Thrones Star Can Speak While Lacking “Quite a Bit” of Brain. How?

Yes, Emilia Clarke is lucky her aneurysms weren’t worse but, given our brains’ complexity, how do our mental abilities survive?

Game of Thrones (2011–2019) star Emilia Clarke, who suffered two aneurysms in her twenties, told BBC News that “‘quite a bit’ of her brain no longer functions” after the extensive bleeding and surgeries: “There’s quite a bit missing, which always makes me laugh,” Clarke said, speaking about her brain. “Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone. So, the blood finds a different route to get around, but then whatever bit is missing is therefore gone.” … Clarke said at the time that the surgery left her with “a deep paranoia” over whether it would prevent her from continuing a career as an actor. But she went on to star…

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Why Is Neanderthal Art Considered Controversial?

It makes sense that whenever humans started to wonder about life, we started to create art that helps us think about it.

Science writer Michael Marshall, author of The Genesis Quest (2020), tells us that many paleontologists resist the idea that early humans called Neanderthals created any artworks. They prefer to attributed all such works to groups that arrived on the scene later. The trouble is, the dates are often hard to determine and the reasoning is sometimes circular. As Marshall puts it, “People had assumed that they could tell the age of cave paintings by the style in which it was depicted,” says [Alistair] Pike. Ever since the first prehistoric art was found in the late 1800s, there has been a sense that art should evolve linearly: the oldest pieces should be extremely simple and abstract, with later ones becoming more…

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Michael Egnor: If Evil Exists, So Must Good — and Real Choices!

In the podcast, he explains, denial of free will doesn’t mean that there is no guilt but rather that there is no innocence

In a podcast aired July 8, 2022, geoscientist Casey Luskin and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor explore “Evolution and the disturbing consequences of denying free will.” One consequence they look at is pre-crime, that is, treating people who are thought likely to commit an offence as if they had already done so. A partial transcript and notes follows. The podcast is here. Casey Luskin: In the previous podcast, Dr. Egnor, you mentioned how, once somebody denies free will, they really lose the ability to condemn any action that a human takes as morally evil. Everything we did in their view is determined by the forces of nature, and really nobody ought to be at fault for having done anything. These arguments have,…

Young woman having knee pain

Study: Brain Scans Show That Mindfulness Reduces Acute Pain

The volunteers who meditated during a controlled pain experiment reported a 32% reduction in severity

Recently, neuroscientists at the University of California – San Diego studied whether mindfulness meditation can reduce the perception of pain. That, of course, meant actually causing the volunteers to experience pain. What’s at stake is a central claim of mindfulness meditation: “One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences,” said senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain.” University of California – San Diego, “Mindfulness meditation reduces pain…

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Marks: Computers Only Compute and Thinking Needs More Than That

Robert J. Marks talks about his new book, Non-Computable You, with Oregon-based talk show host Bill Meyer

Recently, Bill Meyer interviewed Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks on his Oregon-based talk show about “Why computers will never understand what they are doing,” in connection with his new book, Non-Computable You: What You Do That Artificial Intelligence Never Will (Discovery Institute Press, 2022). We are rebroadcasting it with permission here as (Episode 194). Meyer began by saying, “I started reading a book over the weekend that I am going to continue to eagerly devour because it cut against some of my preconceived notions”: https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/07/Mind-Matters-194-Bob-Marks-Bill-Meyer.mp3 A partial transcript, notes,  and Additional Resources follow. Meyer and Marks began by discussion the recent flap at Google where software engineer Blake Lemoine claimed that the AI he was working with was…

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Why Free Will Is Philosophically and Scientifically Sound

As Michael Egnor points out in a recent podcast, it has been nearly a century since determinism was toppled in physics

In “Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: Humans Have Free Will” a recent podcast at ID the Future, geoscientist Casey Luskin discussed science-based arguments against free will with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor (13:05 min). Are these arguments a serious challenge or are they just wishful thinking on the part of materialists? Here’s a partial transcript: Casey Luskin: Now I want to continue our conversation, Dr. Egnor, from the previous podcast, where we were talking about your debates on evolution news and views, responding to Dr. Jerry Coyne, the well known evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago. Coyne is what you might call an honest atheist in that he’s willing to admit the implications that atheism and Darwinian materialism have for concepts like free…

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The Human Brain Has Neural Networks Not Found in Lab Mice

They are complex special networks whose purpose is silencing other neurons

Assuming that human brains and lab mouse brains work roughly the same is fine for many purposes. Even though the human brain has a thousand times more neurons, it must does many of the same basic things for the body as a mouse brain. But studying mouse brains won’t tell us what human brains do besides that. Moritz Helmstaedter of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, asks a telling question: “So, is it primarily the fact that our brains are 1,000-fold larger, house 1000-fold more nerve cells that allows us to play chess and write children’s books, which mice arguably cannot do?” In a just-published study that he led, the researchers examined human tissue removed by neurosurgeons…