Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Human fetus on scientific background

Must We Be Able To Reason To Be Thought Of As Human Persons?

A common argument as to why abortion is generally ethical is that the unborn child cannot reason

Perhaps the most common justification that abortion proponents give for supporting abortion is that the human embryo or fetus isn’t capable of rational thought — and rational thought is the defining characteristic of humanity. They’re wrong in a fundamental way. How they’re wrong is best understood if we look at the metaphysics of human development. Metaphysics is “The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value.” (American Heritage Dictionary) The ancient philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC), who provided an important foundation for science, pointed out that humans are rational animals. That is, we have at least the possibility of rational thought, although at some stages of life…

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Flying spacecrafts

New Study on Why Aliens Never Phone, Never Write, Never Visit

Planetary scientists suggest that civilizations follow a trajectory in which there is only a short window of time to look for intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations

On the one hand, the National Academy of Sciences has said that we may communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences during our lifetimes. On the other hand, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) asked, “Where are they?” (the Fermi Paradox). A new study suggests that the natural development of civilizations may be to blame: In the hopes of answering this question, a new paper published on May 4 in the journal Royal Society Open Science claims that “civilizations either collapse from burnout or redirect themselves to prioritizing homeostasis, a state where cosmic expansion is no longer a goal, making them difficult to detect remotely.” “Either outcome — homeostatic awakening or civilization collapse — would be consistent with the observed absence of [galactic-wide] civilizations.”…

Independent Thinking

A British Philosopher Looks For a Way to Redefine Free Will

Julian Baggini’s proposed new approach assumes the existence of the very qualities that only a traditional view of the mind offers

British philosopher Julian Baggini, author of The Great Guide: What David Hume Can Teach Us about Being Human and Living Well (2021) argues against the idea of free will, as commonly understood (voluntarist free will). Citing the fact that the world is controlled by physics, he writes, No matter how free we feel, our understanding of nature tells us that no choice originates in us but traces its history throughout our histories and our environments. Even leaving aside physics, it seems obvious that, at the moment of any choice, the conditions for that choice have already been set, and to be able to escape them would be no more than the ability to generate random actions. And if all that…

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The universe within. Silhouette of a man inside the universe, physical and mathematical formulas.. The concept on scientific and philosophical topics.  Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

A Purpose Must Underlie the Universe If Intelligent Beings Exist

Theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser argues that intelligent life is extremely rare in the universe

Dartmouth College theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser offers to explain why intelligence is rare in the universe: We are the only humans in this universe. And if we consider what we have learned from the history of life on Earth, chances are that intelligent life is extremely rare. While intelligence is clearly an asset in the struggle for survival among species, it is not a purpose of evolution; evolution has no purpose. Until it becomes intelligent, life is happy just replicating. With intelligence, it will be unhappy just replicating. This, in a nutshell, is the essence of the human condition. Putting all this together, we propose that we are indeed chemically connected to the rest of the cosmos, and that we…

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Blue glowing 4 dimensional object in space abstract fractal background

Hard Problem of Consciousness Solved?: A 4th Spatial Dimension?

Philosopher Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes argues that higher spatial dimensions might hold the key

In an abridged chapter of his recent book Modes of Sentience (2021), University of Exeter philosopher of mind, Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, argues that higher spatial dimensions might hold the key to the hard problem of consciousness:” He is a fan of the More–Broad–Smithies theory of consciousness: The word tesseract was coined by the aforementioned mathematician and author Charles Howard Hinton, [58] whose work on the fourth dimension can be used to our ends. In his essay of 1880, ‘What is the fourth dimension?’ – published four years prior to the related book Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott – Hinton employs analogy to lower dimensional worlds to elucidate a speculated four-dimensional world. I shall briefly explain it, then connect this four dimensional world to the n-dimensional world of…

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Dolbadarn Castle

Yes! There Is Evidence For the Intelligent Design of the Brain

If our brains were not intelligently designed, we would have no reason to believe anything our senses tell us

This is a big topic, of course. The brain, like all of biology, is obviously intelligently designed. From the elegant coordination of neural activity between neurons and brain regions to the remarkable law-like behavior of individual molecules and atoms that comprise neurons and neurotransmitters, the brain carries the unmistakable fingerprint of a Designer. But there is another common-sense way to infer design of the brain that is simple and I think quite convincing — it is based on our belief that our perceptions and concepts accord with truth. To see how this points to intelligent design of the brain, consider a very compelling argument for God’s existence proposed by philosopher Richard Taylor (1919–2003) in his book Metaphysics. Thomist philosopher Edward…

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Charting Consciousness.

The Physics of Consciousness: There IS Such a Thing?

There are no really good theories of consciousness but some physicists, including Roger Penrose, make a good stab at it. Jordan Peterson listens

Yes. Jordan Peterson talks to Roger Penrose about that: Dr. Peterson recently traveled to the UK for a series of lectures at the highly esteemed Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This conversation was recorded during that period with Sir Roger Penrose, a British mathematical physicist who was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for “discovering that black hole formation is a robust predictor of Einstein’s general relativity.” Moderated by Dr. Stephen Blackwood. ___________ Chapters ___________ [0:00] Intro [1:00] Is Consciousness Computational? [3:20] Turing Machines [6:30] Determinism & the Arrow of Time [12:15] Consciousness & Reductionism [17:30] Emergent Randomness & Evolution [23:00] The Tiling Problem, Computation, & AI [29:30] Escher, Brains, Bach [39:00] Pattern Recognition & Intuition [45:30] Mathematical Representations…

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Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana

The Brain Unfolds Like a Drama, With Neurons in Different Roles

Researchers studying fruit flies hope that spotting the stages at which human neurons go missing or wrong can help develop treatments to insert or replace them

We are not accustomed to thinking of fruit flies as even having brains. But they have 120 types of neurons in their visual system alone (which could be why they are so pesky): In the research published in Nature, the researchers studied the brains of the fruit fly Drosophila to uncover the complete set of tTFs needed to generate the roughly 120 neuron types of the medulla, a specific brain structure in the visual system of flies. They used state-of-the-art single-cell mRNA sequencing to obtain the transcriptome — all of the genes expressed in a given cell — of more than 50,000 individual cells that were then grouped into most of the cell types present in the developing medulla… The…

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Brain surgery

What Would Head or Partial Brain Transplants Do To Consciousness?

Researchers had some success swapping rodent heads (though there’s a catch) but no luck with monkeys. And then animal lovers weighed in…

Science writer Max G. Levy, profiling Brandy Schillace’s book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher (2021), reminds us of the strange case of neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White (1926–2010) and his quest to develop human head transplants — or, as he liked to put it, body transplants. A new body for your old head… an offbeat form of immortality. White started with rhesus monkeys. At Case Western Reserve University, starting in 1970, he attempted many such transplants. Only one attempt succeeded (sort of). Without the usual spinal connections and thus without access to a body, the monkey head lived only nine days. Another such monkey head transplant was reported in 2016 — carried out by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China…

Girls eye with paint and earth
Girls eye with paint and earth

New Scientist Offers a Sympathetic Account of Panpsychism

A serious, long form article shows that physicalism (“the mind is just what the brain does”) is failing

Panpsychism, the view that all nature participates in consciousness, has been growing under the radar for some time in science. But it is now coming into plainer view. New Scientist is one of the last places one might have expected to find a serious, long-form account of panpsychism — one that, in the context, amounts to a defense. Yet that’s just what science writer and filmmaker Thomas Lewton has been permitted by the editors to do. He tells us about his own journey at his site: “Studying physics, I thought telescopes and particle colliders would offer firm answers, but instead they raised more questions.” And at New Scientist, he tells us why: It can seem as if there is an…

Depth electrode on brain MRI imaging.

Imaging Studies Fail Badly at Linking Brain and Behavior

Aha! news stories about what brain imaging reveals about human behavior are probably based on studies whose findings would not be confirmed by further research.

Brain imaging has shed much light on medical conditions in recent decades. So it was hardly good news for neuroscientist Scott Marek at the University of Washington when the results of a study linking brain function with intelligence in 2000 children produced very counterintuitive results. He and his colleagues had divided the sample into two groups of 1000 and run the same analysis on each — and they did not match. At first, he told Nature, “I stared out of my apartment window in depression, taking in what it meant for the field.” Then the team decided to study the problem on a larger scale, using the three key studies in this type of research, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development…

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Hinduism religious ceremony puja flowers and candle on river Ganges water, India

Understanding the Hindu View of Free Will and Evil

Arjuna Gallagher points out that concepts of reincarnation and karma make both problems look very different in the Hindu tradition

In last week’s Mind Matters News podcast, “Hinduism, Metaphysics, and Free Will,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor again interviews Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu in New Zealand. (The earlier podcast was Hinduism, Reincarnation, and the Mind–Body Problem.) Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — philosopher David Bentley Hart, neuroscientist Mark Solms, atheist Matt Dillahunty… a variety of voices on the spiritual life. Gallagher has also produced a documentary, The Persecuted Saints You’ve Never Heard Of about the persecution of Orthodox Christian monks. https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/03/Mind-Matters-News-Episode-178-Arjuna-Gallagher-Episode-2-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript, notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow: Michael Egnor: In our last session, we talked a little bit about the evolutionary argument against…

Brain under water 3D render, subconscious mental life and brainstorm idea.

Consciousness Experiments Confirm Each Research Group’s Theories

Human consciousness is by far the biggest mystery in the universe. We can be pretty sure that a researcher bold enough to claim to have found simple answer is mistaken. A recent study out of Tel Aviv University dramatically illustrates the problems we face. The researchers, focusing on the methods of study (methodological choices) that consciousness researchers from various schools of thought chose, found that a computer program could predict their results with 80% accuracy. That wasn’t supposed to happen: “The big question is how consciousness is born out of activity in the brain, or what distinguishes between conscious processing and unconscious processing,” Prof Mudrik explains. “For example, if I see a red rose, my visual system processes the information…

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MRI or magnetic resonance image of head and brain scan. Close up view

Yes, the human brain is the most complex thing in the universe

But that’s not even the most remarkable thing about our brains

The question was asked — and answered — by Central University of Venezuela psychology student Jaimar Tuarez: Astronomist Carl Sagan said: “The total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on planet earth.” We are talking about ten sextillion stars, a 1 followed by 22 zeros (1×10²²). In size, the universe studied ranges, according to estimates, between 13 and 48 million light year In comparison, the human brain has approximately 1×10¹¹ neurons that interconnect with each other 1×10¹⁵ times (in a changing manner). All this with a weight of around 1.5 kg and a volume of 1,300 cubic centimeters. That is enough to tell us who we are: beliefs,…

boy in blue balls
Child playing in ball pit. Colorful toys for kids. Kindergarten or preschool play room. Toddler kid at day care indoor playground. Balls pool for children. Birthday party for active preschooler

At Scientific American: Does Quantum Mechanics Kill Free Will?

Physicists take sides. Sabine Hossenfelder thinks superdeterminism enables quantum mechanics to kill free will; George Ellis disagrees

One of the most interesting science writers of our era is John Horgan, who has managed to infuriate so many of the right people (to infuriate, that is) while giving the rest of us something to ponder. In a recent column in Scientific American he takes on the question of whether quantum mechanics (quantum physics) rules out free will. At first glance, that might seem unlikely. Isn’t quantum mechanics (QM) the ultimate in things you can’t determine in advance? Ah, but some physicists think they have found a way around that: superdeterminism. Sabine Hossenfelder explains that, if we knew enough, we would see that everything is determined anyhow: “The reason we can’t predict the outcome of a quantum measurement,” she…

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Mayapur temple , ISKON headquarter.

What Do the World’s 1.2 Billion Hindus Think About the Mind?

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Hindu Arjuna Gallagher on the similarities and differences between that tradition and Western theism

In our most recent Mind Matters News podcast, “Hinduism, Reincarnation, and the Mind–Body Problem,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu in New Zealand. Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which features an array of guests who have something to say about the spiritual dimension of our lives — philosopher David Bentley Hart, neuroscientist Mark Solms, atheist Matt Dillahunty… a variety of voices that can help us understand the intellectual climate in which we live. Gallagher has also produced a documentary, The Persecuted Saints You’ve Never Heard Of.about the persecution of Orthodox Christian monks. https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/03/Mind-Matters-News-Episode-177-Arjuna-Gallagher-Episode-1-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript and notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: I don’t know a lot about Hinduism, and I…

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Large cog wheels in the motor.

Can Computers –- and People — Learn To Think From the Bottom Up?

That’s the big promise made in a recent article at Aeon

Tufts University biologist Michael Levin and Columbia University neuroscientist Rafael Yuste have an ambitious project in hand: To explain how evolution “‘hacked’ its way to intelligence from the bottom up,” that is, from nothing. They base their thesis on computer science: This is intelligence in action: the ability to reach a particular goal or solve a problem by undertaking new steps in the face of changing circumstances. It’s evident not just in intelligent people and mammals and birds and cephalopods, but also cells and tissues, individual neurons and networks of neurons, viruses, ribosomes and RNA fragments, down to motor proteins and molecular networks. Across all these scales, living things solve problems and achieve goals by flexibly navigating different spaces –…

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Frog hiding in the mud

Science Writer: Explain-Away-the-Mind Book Doesn’t Succeed

In a departure from an all-too familiar approach to science writing, Philip Ball offers constructive criticism of the “nothing but”approach to the mind

At eminent science journal Nature, science writer Philip Ball reviews a book offering to explain how the mind arose from the mud. And he departs from the script. The book is Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos by neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam. One would expect a conventional science writer to announce that this new book is an important contribution to the quest to naturalize the human mind — to show that the mind is a mere adaptation that enabled the tailless ape to survive the savannah. Such a belief needn’t be true (and isn’t); it’s intended as a placeholder for a better-founded purely naturalist belief. Yet Ball looks at the claims made in Journey of…

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New ideas

Do Mathematicians Think Differently From Other People?

A math teacher illustrates some ways in which creative ones do but it’s really about imagination, not just getting the figures right

Math teacher Ali Kayaspor has thought a lot about how mathematicians have come up with fundamental ideas about the nature of reality and he shares anecdotes that give us a glimpse. But first, the cold shower: Unfortunately, there is no clear way to answer the question of how a mathematician thinks. But we can approach this question as follows; if you watched any chess tournament, the game’s analysis is shared in detail at the end of the match. When you examine the analysis, you will see a breaking point in each game. Similarly, mathematicians also experience a breaking point while working on a problem before finding a solution. Ali Kayaspor, “How Does a Mathematician’s Brain Differ from Other Brains?” at…

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Surreal brain tree in a desolate land and a determined person watering it using a sprinkling can. Man splashes the green shrub using a water pot, taking care of mental health. Human mind concept

It’s Not Even Clear How the Mind Relates to the Brain

Journalist and editor Ken Francis asks a series of skeptical questions of those who claim that the mind is really just the brain

Kenneth Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd (2018), offers some thoughts at New English Review on why the mind cannot be the same as the brain. The context is whether artificial intelligence will ever have minds or be able to read our minds (as opposed to scanning our brains): Without even a basic understanding of what consciousness is, the idea of putting it into a machine, while not difficult to imagine in the fantasy of science fiction, becomes almost impossible to grapple with when it comes down to real and practical implementation… As to where the mind resides, that is the biggest mystery in philosophy. Although it interacts with…