Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Close Up Of Granddaughter Hugging Grandmother In Park

Some Scientists Struggle With Why There Are Grandmothers

Why do humans live to be old when most animals don’t? Pop psychology weighs in

Pop science specialist Alison Gopnik, author of several books, including The Philosophical Baby (2010) and Scientist in the Crib (1999) explains grandmothers: On an evolutionary timescale, Homo sapiens emerged only quite recently. Yet in that short time, we have evolved a particularly weird life history, with a much longer childhood and old age than other animals. In particular, we’re very different from our closest primate relatives. By at least age seven, chimpanzees provide as much food as they consume, and they rarely live past 50 – there’s no chimp equivalent of human menopause. Even in forager cultures, where growing up is accelerated, children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re at least 15. What’s more, even in communities without access to modern medicine,…

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baby chimpanzee ape at the zoo.

If DNA Doesn’t Make Humans Different From Chimps, What Does?

How do we get to Beethoven’s Fifth and quantum theory?

Some neuroscientists think they have an idea worth pursuing: With only 1% difference, the human and chimpanzee protein-coding genomes are remarkably similar. Understanding the biological features that make us human is part of a fascinating and intensely debated line of research. Researchers at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the University of Lausanne have developed a new approach to pinpoint, for the first time, adaptive human-specific changes in the way genes are regulated in the brain… To explain what sets human apart from their ape relatives, researchers have long hypothesized that it is not so much the DNA sequence, but rather the regulation of the genes (i.e. when, where and how strongly the gene is expressed), that plays the…

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The human stomach is strong. The internal organs are shaped by green trees. (environment)

Did You Know You Have a Second Brain?

Our guts operate on a quite separate nervous system. Learning more will help control gastrointestinal diseases

Our huge gastrointestinal tracts operate their own nervous system, using neurons that follow different principles from those of brain neurons, according to recent findings: Our approximately seven-meter long gastrointestinal (GI) tract has its own functionally distinct neurons. Since this enteric nervous system (ENS) operates autonomously, it is sometimes referred to as the “second” or “abdominal” brain. While the ENS controls muscle movement (peristalsis) in the gut and its fluid balance and blood flow, it also communicates with the immune system and microbiome. Karolinska Institutet, “New fundamental knowledge of the ‘abdominal brain’” at Medical Xpress (December 7, 2020) Paper. (subscription required) The Karolinska researchers made progress in studying the little-understood second brain by mapping the neuron types in the digestive systems…

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Inner Life of Super Human

A Silicon Valley Psychologist Doesn’t Believe in Consciousness

Duncan Riach thinks that, with increasing complexity, computers will appear to be conscious too but it’s a misunderstanding for both humans and computers

Duncan Riach, who believes that computers can become selves, doesn’t believe in consciousness. As he explains, I’ve lost friends over this because a denial of consciousness undermines a final refuge of the arrogance of selfhood: universal consciousness. But even most normal people are strongly insistent that consciousness is a real thing, a special thing, and that they possess it. The problem I have is that there’s not only no evidence for it, but what people seem to be referring to as consciousness is explainable as an effect no more unusual, no less materialistically explainable, than water flowing downhill… Rather than jumping to the conclusion that this body has a soul and/or that somehow this “I am,” this feeling of something…

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Psychologist: Consciousness Is Not a Thing But a Point of View

Mark Solms attempts to explain consciousness in his new book, Hidden Spring

Anyone who thinks about consciousness soon realizes that it is a Hard Problem. It means being a subject of experience, rather than an object to which experiences happen. A dog has consciousness. He yelps when in pain. But a rock does not care about becoming sand. In an interesting article in Psychology Today, neuropsychologist Mark Solms outlines some thoughts from a book he has written on the subject, The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness (Norton, 2021): Physiological processes do not produce consciousness in the sense that the liver produces bile. Consciousness is not a thing but rather a point of view. What we perceive objectively as physiological processes in the brain we perceive subjectively as conscious…

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3D Illustration Emotionen als Freisteller

Can We Teach a Computer to Feel Things? A Dialogue…

Okay, There’s the computer’s side… and then there’s the dog’s side. Listen to both

The dialogue got started because of a gifted computer nerd, Rosalind Picard, also a playwright (pictured), who decided to become an evangelical Christian in midlife (approx 2019). As she tells it, “a flat, black-and-white existence suddenly turned full-color and three-dimensional.” The director of MIT’s Media Lab, she had also written a book in 2000 called Affective Computing which seems to suggest that one could somehow give emotions to machines. I asked Eric Holloway to help me figure that one out: O’Leary: Emotions are based on actual well-being or suffering. How can something that is not alive have actual emotions? Don’t think of people here!; think of dogs. Dogs have emotions. When my computer is giving trouble, I certainly hope it’s…

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Sun over green grass field

Walter Bradley: An Engineer Who Has Made a Difference

He has impacted many, many lives, and the world is a much better place because of him

Mind Matters News is sponsored by the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence at Discovery Institute. A new biography is just out about Distinguished Fellow, Walter Bradley, after whom our center is named. Walter Bradley has been many things: scientist, professor, NASA researcher, proponent of reconciliation of faith and science, and a leader in empowering people in Africa with appropriate technologies. Walter Bradley is not a household name, but in a fairer world he would be. He’s sort of like George Bailey in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life: He has impacted many, many lives, and the world is a much better place because of him. Titled For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter…

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Hot air balloons flying over spectacular Cappadocia.Turkey

Help Mind Matters News Continue in 2021

In an otherwise bad year, you have a chance to make your mind matter

Please help Mind Matters News thrive in 2021 by donating to our sponsor. We live in a culture where human uniqueness is increasingly questioned, and where claims about “intelligent” machines replacing human beings are embraced without serious skepticism. So where can you go to separate fact and fiction when it comes to debates over humans and machines? If you are reading this article, you know where: Mind Matters News! We supply news, analysis, and weekly podcasts that explore issues relating to mind, brain, neuroscience, personal responsibility, free speech, automation, and the use and abuse of new technologies. We do this all from the perspective that humans are unique and can’t be replaced by machines. Under the editorship of Denyse O’Leary,…

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ai, analysis, artificial intelligence, automation, big data, brain, business, cg, cloud computing, communication, computer graphics, concept, creative, cyber, deep learning, digital transformation

Why did the Human Brain Project Crash and Burn?

To simulate the human brain on a computer was a top flight EU project a decade ago. Today, a filmmaker explores the rubble dreams leave behind

The Human Brain Project from 2013 sounded like science fiction in an EU setting: We will build a brain in a decade: “And, if we do succeed, we will send, in ten years, a hologram to talk to you.” Well, we all got one thing right. It was fiction. Filmmaker Noah Hutton, a sympathetic observer, chronicled the decline, producing a documentary, In Silico, that focuses on booster Henry Markram who, according to his TED talk bio from 2009, was “director of Blue Brain, a supercomputing project that can model components of the mammalian brain to precise cellular detail — and simulate their activity in 3D. Soon he’ll simulate a whole rat brain in real time.” When the project started to…

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A girl in a hat on top of a hill in silence and loneliness admires the calm natural landscape and balloons.

Why Consciousness Shows That Materialism Is False

The mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way

My friend and colleague Bill Dembski, a leading advocate of intelligent design of the universe and life forms, has done a superb short interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn on Closer to Truth. Bill takes a position that will surprise many fellow Christians—he doesn’t believe that consciousness represents an insurmountable challenge to materialism: Bill makes the point that much of the popular argument hinges on shifting meanings of “materialism” and “consciousness.” By contrast, he argues, the design inference in biology is a much more effective challenge to materialism. I agree that design in nature is an effective challenge to materialism. But I also believe that the mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way—and in much the same way that evidence…

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Everyone Has A Story, typed words on a vintage typewriter. old paper. close-up. my history

Do We Really Remain the Same Person Throughout Our Lives?

Or is the continuity of our selves just an illusion?

That’s an interesting question because most cells in our bodies will die and be replaced a number of times. Many brain cells die but they are not replaced. They are just gone. So what, if anything, remains the same? One well-known professor of psychology, Susan Blackmore (pictured), argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves: Susan says there is an “illusion of continuity”, but what we think is “us” is just a “multiple parallel system” with “multiple parallel things going on”. So, she says, “the so-called me now is just another reconstruction. There was another one half an hour ago, and there’ll be another one, but they’re not really the same person, they’re just…

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Laboratory mice in the experiment test. Blue filter.

Has Neuroscience “Proved” That the Mind Is Just the Brain?

This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions.

Last month, materialist neurologist Steven Novella made a rather astonishing claim in a post at his Neurologica blog: A recent open-access study of learning and decision-making in mice shows that the human mind is merely what the human brain does. That’s a lot for mice to prove. In the study, the mice were trained to choose holes from which food is provided. Their brain activity was measured as they learned and decided which holes were best. The research looks specifically at quick and intuitive decision-making vs. decision-making that is slower and involves analysis of the situation. The investigators found that analysis-based decisions in the mice involve brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region of the brain…

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Man in gray long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Neuroscientist: Your Brain Isn’t for Thinking, Just Surviving

Lisa Feldman Barrett hopes that her materialist perspective will help us deal with our current anxieties

Last Sunday, we featured the views of philosopher Samir Chopra, who argues that anxiety, while distressing, is a normal outcome of our human ability to see the past and the future as well as the present. A pig gets anxious when he sees that his trough is empty. But he cannot, by nature, know that he is destined for the menu at a local fast food place, let alone that all his kin have gone that way. Knowing the past and sensing the future opens up both great powers and vast avenues of anxiety for a human mind. But, in an op-ed in the New York Times, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), the author of Seven and a…

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Fembot Robot Playing Chess with Woman

Are Computers That Win at Chess Smarter Than Geniuses?

No, and we need to look at why they can win at chess without showing even basic common sense

Big computers conquered chess quite easily. But then there was the Chinese game of go (pictured), estimated to be 4000 years old, which offers more “degrees of freedom” (possible moves, strategy, and rules) than chess (2×10170). As futurist George Gilder tells us, in Gaming AI, it was a rite of passage for aspiring intellects in Asia: “Go began as a rigorous rite of passage for Chinese gentlemen and diplomats, testing their intellectual skills and strategic prowess. Later, crossing the Sea of Japan, Go enthralled the Shogunate, which brought it into the Japanese Imperial Court and made it a national cult.” (p. 9) Then AlphaGo, from Google’s DeepMind, appeared on the scene in 2016: As the Chinese American titan Kai-Fu Lee…

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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…