Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Man in a maze

Has Neuroscience Disproved Thinking?

A philosopher argues that Nobel Prize-winning research shows that the theory of mind is just another illusion, useful for survival and success
We've all seen this sort of argument before in many other guises. It is commonly called “reductionism.” The reductionist claims that, because an object can be construed as made up of parts, the object is just the parts. It is like saying that because an article like this one is constructed from letters of the alphabet, the article is only rows of letters. Read More ›
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Do Quasars Provide Evidence for Free Will?

Possibly. They certainly rule out experimenter interference.
The universe would seem much neater if everything were determined. One result is that objections to randomness and to free will have become more sophisticated. But have they succeeded? Read More ›
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Tom Stoppard’s New Play Tackles Consciousness Itself

Consciousness is a hard problem for science, principally because no one quite understands what makes us the subjects of our experiences.
According to one critic, the problem that has preoccupied Stoppard throughout his career is “Are the materialists right, or is there more to man than mere flesh?” Read More ›
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Yes, the Placebo Effect Is Real, Not a Trick

But the fact that the mind acts on the body troubles materialists. Such facts, they say, require revision
The fact that you may start to get better if you believe you are receiving treatment is one of the best-attested facts in medicine. Despite that, far from being accepted, this "placebo effect" is seen in many quarters as, at best, a “pesky thing” and at worst, a “trick,” if not a “fraud.” Perhaps that is due to a drive to reduce medical science to the purely physical. Read More ›
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Panpsychism: You Are Conscious but So Is Your Coffee Mug

Materialists have a solution to the problem of consciousness, and it may startle you
To understand why Scientific American would take panpsychism or the "multiple personality disorder" universe seriously, one needs to begin by grasping how very hard the problem of consciousness is for materialists (naturalists). Put simply, it is easier for many today to stomach the idea that an electron is conscious than the idea that consciousness is not a material entity. Read More ›
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Noted Astronomer Envisions Cyborgs on Mars

Sir Martin Rees thinks of this “post-human evolution” as going beyond Darwin to “secular intelligent design.”
AI apocalypse is certainly in the air. Elon Musk, Henry Kissinger, and the late Stephen Hawking have all predicted an AI doomsday. Industry professionals’ doubt and disparagement don’t seem to register with the media in the same way. Read More ›
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Brains are not billions of little computers

Despite the hype. Also, life forms are not machines and neurons are not neural networks
Life forms exist in a dance with their environment (homeostasis) that requires constant adjustment, an adjustment generated by the inner drive to continue in existence. How does the drive come to be there? The analogy between life forms and machines like computers is not particularly convincing, on close examination. Read More ›
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Did AI show that we are “a peaceful species” triggered by religion?

No, but this episode shows how science media sometimes help mislead the public
Unfortunately, most of the public knows about science only through science media professionals. And it is apparent that science media professionals often know little to nothing of what they are talking about. Read More ›
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Hamlet: Did his perplexing neurotransmitters cause the tragedy?

The neuroscientist working from a mechanical perspective would study the material and efficient causes of Hamlet’s act of revenge.
It is essential to note that the Aristotelian neuroscientist, while delving into the complexities of Shakespeare’s remarkable psychological portrayal of this tortured man, can also study Hamlet’s murder of Claudius in just the same way that the mechanistic neuroscientist can. But he doesn’t lose the plot. Read More ›
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Yes, your brain is a machine—if you choose to see it that way

As a Nobel Prize physicist pointed out, our method of study determines what we learn

Anil Seth, a Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, gave a TED talk recently (linked below) in which he asserted that “the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…” So, is your brain really a biological “machine”? Or is that just an analogy, like saying that a restaurant kitchen is a “hive” of activity? If so, how good is the analogy? Why do we select the analogy of a “machine” rather than a different one? It’s an important question, as we will see, because the questions we ask of nature constrain the answers we obtain. A machine is an artifact. It is a human-built assembly of Read More ›

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How a Computer Programmer looks at DNA

And finds it to be "amazing" code
From 2006 through 2017, Dutch entrepreneur and software developer Bert Hubert contributed from time to time to a web page where he listed many of the ways the workings of DNA can be likened to coding decisions by programmers. Read More ›
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Brain hacks

Do we understand the brain better if we see it as a computer?
Seeing the brain as a computer doesn’t tell us as much as we might think. When human beings build computers, we design them in a way that we can understand and use. So we think our brains must be like that too. Sure enough, in the vast complexity of our brains, we can surely find some elements that remind us of a computer. Others won’t.   Read More ›
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A Short Argument Against the Materialist Account of the Mind

You can simply picture yourself eating a chocolate ice cream sundae.
We have thoughts and ideas—what philosophers call “intentional” states—that are about things other than themselves. We don’t really know how this works. But whenever we speak to another person, we assume it must be true. And in our own case, we know it’s true. Even to deny it is to affirm it. Read More ›
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Does brain stimulation research challenge free will?

If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?
The materialist interpretation of Reilly’s work is a misunderstanding of what the research actually shows. The stimulations did not evoke complex abstract intentions and acts—the patients didn’t reflexively decide to do integral calculus or donate to Amnesty International. Read More ›
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Knowledge is power, sort of…

If that’s ALL knowledge is, the resulting science is bound to be limited, says Michael Egnor
If you are trying to predict the course of a cannonball, Newtonian mechanics are adequate. If you are trying to understand the mind of the guy who fired the cannon, you need to look much deeper. Read More ›
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Do either machines—or brains—really learn?

A further response to Jeffrey Shallit: Actually, brains don’t learn either. Only minds learn.
Learning is an ability of human beings, considered as a whole, to acquire new knowledge, not an ability of human organs considered individually. Read More ›
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Could AI understand the universe?

World-renowned chemist thinks it might understand what we can’t, including consciousness
Atkins is arguing that the fact that we do not understand what consciousness is, far from being a barrier to creating artificial consciousness, offers the hope that, once we do create them, artificially conscious entities will understand consciousness but we won’t. The proposition sounds a bit confused, no? Read More ›
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Could HAL 9000 ever be built?

I say yes. Some reflections on the 50th Year Anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey
At one point on the trip from Earth to Jupiter, HAL becomes suspicious that the crew might be sabotaging the mission. HAL then purposely tries to kill all the crew. The most logical explanation for this act is a coding error. HAL was programmed to operate on the basis that the mission took priority over human life. Read More ›
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Can a game prove that computers could really think?

Philosopher Daniel Dennett thinks so. Let's apply Occam's Razor and see
While I agree with Dennett that Occam’s Razor shouldn’t be used overzealously, we shouldn’t be too reluctant to use it either. The reason why Dennett rejects Occam’s Razor in the Game of Life is that if he didn’t, then nothing in the Game of Life would be capable of possessing cognitive states. Read More ›