Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Compassion and Religion: Darwin’s Unscratchable Itches

If one’s research is in a hole as deep as evolutionary psychology is when accounting for compassion, why not stop digging?

Last Sunday, I pointed to a chapter I wrote in The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (2021) on evolutionary psychology, best understood as the psychology we have derived from our not-quite-human ancestors. “Not-quite-human ancestors”? Well, if you believe in conventional evolution theory at all, you must suppose that we have not-quite-human ancestors. Thus, to understand the origin of traits like giving to the Heart & Stroke Fund or subscribing to popular science magazines, we must get back to a point before any such institutions could have existed but there was some sort of dim potential. But we can’t really do that because, as noted last Sunday, there is no such…

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double moon above Crater Landscape on alien Planet.

Would ET Intelligences Understand the 1974 Arecibo Message?

Probably not, says astrobiologist Dirke Schulz-Makuch, who raises the question of whether we could ever really communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences

In early, easily-mocked sci fi, a little green man points his raygun at an unsuspecting passerby and barks “Take me to your leader.” Fast forward: If the little green man didn’t have the technology to figure out who the leader was before landing, he certainly wouldn’t have the technology to get here. In any real-world scenario, we must assume that extraterrestrial intelligences are doing common sense logical things that we would do: Check Earth’s inhabitants out first by monitoring our communications. Some analysts have pointed out that there are places they could even hide technology in our solar system (Lagrange points, for example) with much less chance of being noticed. But then the question is, what to say to them?…

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Businessman in blue shirt is holding a magnifying

Top Venture Capitalist on Tackling the Big, Corrupt Universities

Peter Thiel: Online education is great for learning, but unfortunately, learning has almost nothing to do with the so-called educational system

In this third episode — on Peter Thiel’s Third Contrarian Idea — philosopher of technology George Gilder revisits world class tech venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s live streamed talk at COSM 2019 in “ The failures and self-hatred of Big Tech.” In the first episode, Thiel noted that the way Big Tech operates today has more in common with a communist state than with a democracy. So his First Contrarian Idea, set out there, is that decentralization is coming. In the second episode, he talked about his Second Contrarian Idea: If you look at the big picture over the past few years, Big Tech’s progress is slowing. That’s not the hype we hear but then Thiel didn’t make nearly $4 billion…

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The Altamira Caves. Spanish rock art. It is the highest representation of cave painting in Spain

There Is No Such Thing as a Fossil Mind

A chapter on evolutionary psychology in Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith (2021) looks at the curious discipline of evolutionary psychology

This month, the The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (Harvest House 2021) appeared. The basic theme of the handbook, as described by editors design theorist William Dembski and Joseph Holden is “Science and Christianity are often presented as opposites, when in fact the order of the universe and the complexity of life powerfully testify to intelligent design.” I wrote one of the chapters, “What is evolutionary psychology?”. It concerns the effort to understand human psychology by appealing to a prehuman (“evolutionary”) past. As such, it explains a large variety of human behaviours as the unconscious enactment of a Darwinian survival scenario among not-quite humans that is wired into modules in…

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Human brain

GWT: A Leading Consciousness Theory Depends on Information Theory

Not mechanism. If Global Workspace Theory (GWT) is a good approach to consciousness, there is no “consciousness spot” in the brain.

Recently, we have looked at the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of human consciousness, as set out by well-known Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch. Another leading contender (and rival) is Global Workspace Theory (GWT) — it pictures the brain as an orchestra with many conductors. IIT is panpsychist in orientation (the universe participates in consciousness; human consciousness is the most highly developed instance) whereas GWT uses information theory to capture an image of consciousness via observations of the brain at work. A recent essay in Psyche by two GWT proponents, Morten L. Kringelbach and Gustav Deco, introduces us to GWT: … given the distributed nature of the brain hierarchy, there is unlikely to be just a single ‘conductor’. Instead, in 1988…

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Two piles of coins

Are Our Neurons Really Wired for Numbers?

Some neuroscientists say they have shown hardwiring in studies of crows and macaques but others say no, these life forms differ too much

University College London cognitive neuroscientist Brian Butterworth, author of a forthcoming book, Can fish count? (Basic Books, 2022), reckons that, one way or another, in a modern urban society, we process about 16,000 numbers in an average day. Numbers create conceptual relationships between vastly different things. From the publisher’s introduction to his book, we learn, “The philosopher Bertrand Russell once observed that realizing that a pair of apples and the passage of two days could somehow both be represented by the concept we call “two” was one of the most astonishing discoveries anyone had ever made.” At The Scientist, Catherine Offord, discussing his work, offers a critical distinction between estimations of quantity and actual counting: “Our perception of quantity, separate…

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Tomb of bare-knuckle fighter Tom Sayer on Highgate Cemetery

A Philosopher Simply Invents Animals’ Concept of Death

She demands that we accept her invention so we can “rethink” human exceptionalism, and the “disrespect for the natural world that comes with it”

Last week I talked about the question of whether primate mothers who carry dead infants around understand the concept of death. The scientists conducting the research sounded commendably cautious in the conclusions they drew. Not everyone follows their lead in this. Susana Monsóis, professor of philosophy at UNED (Madrid) and author of La zarigüeya de Schrödinger (Schrödinger’s Possum), “ a book on how animals experience and understand death,” dispenses with all that. Her subtitle is “Having a concept of death, far from being a uniquely human feat, is a fairly common trait in the animal kingdom.” Yet she falls far short of demonstrating that. Her essay is a classic on what happens when we seek simply to amass support for…

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Île aux singes

Does a Chimp Mom Who Carries a Dead Baby Around Understand Death?

In a recent study of primate mothers, researchers imply that their behavior shows a growing awareness of the nature of death

That is a trickier question than it first seems. Researchers looked into the habit some primate moms have of carrying a baby who has died, sometimes for months: Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers compiled data from anecdotes reported in 126 publications on primate behaviour. In the largest study of its kind, researchers undertook the most extensive and rigorous quantitative analysis to date of a behaviour known as “infant corpse carrying” in primate mothers, looking at 409 cases across 50 species. While there is debate among scientists around whether primates are aware of death, this new study suggests that primate mothers may possess an awareness — or be able to learn about death over time.…

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Insight

Great Ideas Can Come From the “Quirks” of Human Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, lacking those quirks, doesn’t generate the great ideas

Herbert L. Roitblat, Principal Data Scientist at Mimecast and author of Algorithms Are Not Enough: Creating General Artificial Intelligence (MIT Press, 2020) talks about something that humans do and machine intelligence doesn’t do — flashes of insight: Insight problems generally cannot be solved by a step-by-step procedure, like an algorithm, or if they can, the process is extremely tedious. Instead, insight problems are characterized by a kind of restructuring of the solver’s approach to the problem. Herbert L. Roitblat, “AI Is No Match for the Quirks of Human Intelligence” at The Reader/MIT Press (October 4, 2021) Eureka! moments of discovery — famous in popular culture — are often the resolution of an insight problem. Roitblat offers, as an example, a…

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Human brain digital illustration. Electrical activity, flashes and lightning on a blue background.

An Alternative to the Tractable Cognition Thesis

The Tractable Cognition Thesis presents us with a gap in the logic when it comes to NP-Complete problems. How can we solve for it?

The Tractable Cognition Thesis is the proposal that all processes in the brain can be modeled by a polynomial time algorithm. This includes situations where the brain solves problems that are within NP-Complete domains. In the latter situation, it is assumed the brain is only solving a subset of the NP-Complete domain where the problems can be solved with a polynomial time algorithm. With these assumptions in place, the overall implication is that there is a specific polynomial time algorithm that can emulate every process in the brain. However, there is a gap in the logic when it comes to NP-Complete problems. It is well known that humans solve many problems that are in the general case NP-Complete. Route planning,…

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Space cosmic background of supernova nebula and stars field

Leading Astronomer Gets It All Wrong About Free Will and Destiny

Logic and reason aren’t laws of physics and therefore they transcend physical properties

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, has recently written an essay in which he considers whether human beings have free will and how long the human race will survive. Loeb is a prolific and often quite thoughtful scientist who has a refreshing propensity to think outside the mainstream. However, his recent essay in Scientific American, titled “How Much Time Does Humanity Have Left?”, is well off the mark. I think he profoundly misunderstands human nature and human destiny. Loeb opines on the question of human free will: The Standard Model of physics presumes that we are all made of elementary particles with no additional constituents. As such composite systems, we do not possess freedom at a fundamental level, because all particles and…

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mini robot work

Love Among the Ruins, for Robots — Sci-fi Saturday

A beautifully rendered animated short of robots looking for some place to just exist in a deserted, ruined industrial landscape

“Left Behind” at DUST by Minna Ericksson and Kateriina Kontturi at Xero Shorts (May 1, 2021, 7:14 min, animated) A lone robot walks the desolate landscape in search of a new life. It finds one in a unexpected place. Review: In a ruined, dystopian industrial landscape, a large robot (presumably laid off from a shut down enterprise) searches for a new place to be. The robot finds a cute baby robot that, duckling fashion, immediately bonds and begins to follow it around. The giant robot is none too pleased and tries, at first, to shed its unwanted companion. Then the baby robot begins to dance and… no more spoilers. This animation is not a laff riot; the climax reaches for…

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Fog in the forest

Longtime Skeptic Now Accepts Parapsychology as Science

But read the fine print. It’s a matter of determining what can be considered a science statement, whether it is proven or disproven

University of London psychology prof Chris French has a complex relationship with parapsychology (research into, for example, extrasensory perception or ESP). At one time, he believed in it, then was, for four decades, a skeptic — but he has now come round to a new approach to the question: How do we decide what is and isn’t “science”: Before we can assess the scientific status of any discipline, we must first consider what philosophers of science refer to as the demarcation problem. What criteria must be applied in order to decide whether a discipline is a true science or not? This is a fascinating topic that has been a subject of discussion amongst philosophers of science for a very long…

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open eye in space

Researchers: The Universe Simulated Itself Into Existence

A recent physics journal paper proposes self-simulation as the origin of the universe, using a quantum gravity model

Yesterday, we looked at “Untitled Earth Sim 64,” a science fiction comedy based on the idea that Earth is a messed up simulation — created by entities that are in themselves simulations. And maybe their simulators were in turn simulated… And so forth. The problem is, where’s the original? Surprisingly, perhaps, there is a physics theory that offers an answer: The universe simulated itself: A new hypothesis says the universe self-simulates itself in a “strange loop”. A paper from the Quantum Gravity Research institute proposes there is an underlying panconsciousness. The work looks to unify insight from quantum mechanics with a non-materialistic perspective. How real are you? What if everything you are, everything you know, all the people in your…

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Concept Of Open Mind

New Theory of Mind Offers More Information, Less Materialism

First, let’s begin by noting a remarkable fact: Panpsychism seems to have triumphed in the area of theories of consciousness.

At Nautilus, evolutionary biologist Tam Hunt asks us to consider the “General Resonance Theory of Consciousness,” which he has been developing with psychologist Jonathan Schooler — “a framework with a panpsychist foundation. It may, he thinks, “at least in theory, provide more complete answers to the full array of questions the hard problem of consciousness poses.” Hunt’s quite clear about the panpsychism (the view that everything in the universe participates in consciousness): Since I came up in philosophy, rather than neuroscience or psychology, for me the easy part was deciding the philosophical orientation. Schooler and I duked it out over whether we should adopt a materialist, idealist, panpsychist, or some other position on our way to a complete answer. I…

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Tree brain with human head cape, idea concept of think  hope freedom and mind , surreal artwork, dream art , fantasy landscape, imagination of nature

The Final Materialist Quest?: A War on the Reality of the Mind

Going to war with the very concept is an approach even George Orwell did not think up

One of the stranger articles we’ve seen in a long time at Aeon proposes a war on the very concept of “the mind.” “The terms ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ are messy, harmful and distracting. We should get rid of them,” Joe Gough, a philosophy student, says. Here is his reasoning: The terms mind and mental are used in so many ways and have such a chequered history that they carry more baggage than meaning. Ideas of the mind and the mental are simultaneously ambiguous and misleading, especially in various important areas of science and medicine. When people talk of ‘the mind’ and ‘the mental’, the no-mind thesis doesn’t deny that they’re talking about something – on the contrary, they’re often talking about too many things at once.…

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Blume des Lebens mit Sternenkosmos und Lichtstreifen

The Science “Advances” Disproving the Mind Are Ever More Elusive

A friendly interview with an important neuroscientist makes that starkly clear

University of Sussex neuroscientist Anil Seth, author of Being You: A new science of consciousness (October 2021), is quite determined to stamp put consciousness as an immaterial idea. It’s “stubbornly mysterious,” according to Tim Adams for The Guardian. But, we are assured, “Advances in understanding how the brain functions undermine those ideas of dualism, however.” But those advances prove increasingly elusive. From the interview: Anil Seth: It’s the boring answer of continuing to do rigorous science, rather than proposing some eureka solution to “the hard problem” [the question of why and how our brains create subjective, conscious experience]. My approach is that we risk not understanding the central mystery of life by lurching to one or other form of magical…

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Inside the brain. Concept of neurons and nervous system.

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the Timing of Sensory Processing

One neuroscientist, encountering the timing, made up a theory that didn’t really work, but he was a great neuroscientist anyway

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with host Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In the previous segment, Dr. Egnor talked about the troubles of being a non-materialist medical scientist, including demands that he be fired and death threats and so forth. In this segment, he talks about the meaning of “soul” in philosophy. Not a “spook” of some kind but common sense reasoning about life and death: Arjuna Das: So there’s a delay in how long it takes for the brain to process visual sensations compared to auditory sensations. So it’s a half second delay and this creates a problem. … We have no free will then. (01:57:50) Michael Egnor: If I can…

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Electrocardiogram in hospital surgery operating emergency room showing patient heart rate with blur team of surgeons background

Why Some Scientists Think Consciousness Persists After Death

We should not assume that pepole who are near death do not know what we are saying

A very significant change that happened in the last century or so has been the ability of science professionals to see what happens when people are thinking, especially under traumatic conditions. It was not a good moment for materialist theories. Here is one finding (there are many others): Death is a process, usually, not simply an event. Consciousness can persists after clinical death. A more accurate way of putting things might be that the brain is able to host consciousness for a short period after clinical death. Some notes on recent findings: The short answer is, probably, yes: Recent studies have shown that animals experience a surge in brain activity in the minutes after death. And people in the first…

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small mushrooms toadstools

Mushrooms Have Minds? Well, If You Doubt Humans Are Exceptional…

… it is a short step to thinking that mushrooms have minds. A Miami University biologist has taken that step

It’s pretty daring to claim that mushrooms have minds. But, in the light of what we have learned about plant communications, we should perhaps pause a moment to at least listen. Miami University biologist Nicholas P. Money, argues: Given the magical reputation of the fungi, claiming that they might be conscious is dangerous territory for a credentialled scientist. But in recent years, a body of remarkable experiments have shown that fungi operate as individuals, engage in decision-making, are capable of learning, and possess short-term memory. These findings highlight the spectacular sensitivity of such ‘simple’ organisms, and situate the human version of the mind within a spectrum of consciousness that might well span the entire natural world. Nicholas P. Money, “The…