Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Dog playing the shell game with her human. Concept of training pets, domestic dogs being smart and educated

In What Ways Are Dogs Intelligent?

There is no human counterpart to some types of dog intelligence

At Gizmodo recently, George Dvorsky adopted the useful, though somewhat unusual, strategy of determining dog intelligence by focusing on what dogs can’t do. He starts with the premise, as put by University of Exeter psychology professor (and dog expert) Stephen Lea, who says that domestication “has radically altered the intelligence of dogs.” Not so much raised or lowered it as changed its nature from the type of intelligence we would expect from a wolf: “Dogs are very good at what they’re bred to do — they’re excellent at doing those things, and in some cases even better than other species we think are intelligent, such as chimps and bonobos,” Zachary Silver, a PhD student from the Comparative Cognitive Lab at…

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Engineering students using a 3D printer

Why Engineering Can’t Be Reduced to the Laws of Physics

When we reduce the engineer’s mind to a computer, the source of innovation disappears

The fundamental problem of modern science is the problem of innovation. Where does novelty come from? This problem shows up in physics, biology, artificial intelligence, and economics. Within physics, the problem is how to account for the fundamental constants of reality. They are all precisely tuned to make sentient and intelligent life—life that can learn about itself and the universe—possible through science. Within biology, the problem is accounting for the source of highly complex genetic sequences that express finely tuned biological functions. In artificial intelligence, the challenge is identifying solutions that are relevant to a given scenario. In economics the problem is identifying the right products for the market. What do all these situations have in common? In each case,…

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Incognito warrior in iron helmet and red cloak.

What would Plato Say About Antifa? Or Darwin?

A careful reading of Plato and Arendt goes a long way toward explaining the current scene—but it is unsettling reading

In college, I hated Plato. We read his Republic, and, as a patriot and an idealistic young (small “d”) democrat, I was appalled at the hegemony of the Guardians and at Plato’s disdain for democracy. It seemed to me that his Guardians were the archetypal totalitarians, and that it was a fundamental human right — enshrined in the Constitution — to be ruled only by consent of the governed. In my dotage, I am more sympathetic to Plato — it’s remarkable how much smarter the old philosopher has gotten in the past 40 years! I am still uncomfortable with Guardians, at least of the secular sort. But I think John Adams got it right when he observed that “our Constitution…

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underground

Why Reasonable People Think Near-Death Experiences Are Real

Distinguished engineers Walter Bradley and Robert J.Marks sift through the evidence

In a recent podcast, “Walter Bradley on Near-Death Experiences,” Center director Robert J. Marks discusses these experiences with Walter Bradley, after whom the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence is named. Dr. Bradley is an emeritus distinguished professor at Baylor University, formerly professor and mechanical engineering head at Texas A&M University. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-093-Walter-Bradley.mp3 Here are some selections from the transcript: (You can download the entire transcript here.) Marks and Bradley started with first principles: Is it reasonable to believe that there is anything out beyond the material world? Many people assume that science exists to defend materialism. But Walter Bradley has defended the idea that there is also an immaterial world, of which we are a part, in a…

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Baby girl in surprise talking on a vintage phone

Why Linguist Noam Chomsky Is a Great Scientist of Our Era

He singlehandedly rid linguistics of a stultifying (and technically mistaken) behaviorism

Noam Chomsky (right, in 2017) is, in my view, the best scientist of the past half-century. His work fascinates me, which is not a necessary criterion for being a great scientist—but it helps! I hasten to add that I do not share his politics—I’m of a conservative bent. But his theory of linguistics is brilliant and represents an anthropological, biological, and even metaphysical insight unrivaled in science since relativity and quantum mechanics. A case can be made that Chomsky’s insights are more profound than even those of modern physics, because they plumb the human soul in ways that physics cannot. To understand Chomsky’s achievement, it’s helpful to understand what linguistics was until Chomsky transformed it in the 1950s. Philosophers and…

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Smiling multiracial friends talk using sign language

Did We Learn Sign Language Before We Learned to Speak?

The idea that humans first communicated by complicated gestures and only later learned to speak is popular among cognitive scientists. Kensy Cooperrider explains

The origin of language is considered one of the hardest problems in science. Like the origin of consciousness, it attracts a great many theories. Cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider is a stout defender of the idea that human language started as sign language—a gestural “protolanguage” —hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s not a new idea. It goes back to Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge (1746) and remained popular in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it was championed by University of Colorado anthropologist Gordon Hewes (1917–1997), who introduced the idea of studying ape communications in the early Seventies, to gain more insight. In general, apes communicate more by gesture than by voice. An…

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Lady in Glass

Interview With a Woman (or Women) Formerly Called Susan Blackmore

A professor of psychology argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves

Much of modern philosophy of mind is a compendium of New Age gibberish. An exemplar of this mess is Susan Blackmore, a Visiting Professor (Psychology) at the University of Plymouth. She is an atheist, a “skeptic,” and a prolific author. When she was interviewed in 2016 about her philosophy of mind, remarkably, in addition to the usual atheist denial of immortality of the soul and of free will, she denied personal continuity over time. How does Blackmore account for the doggedly persistent sense we have of personal continuity? “Parallel processing” is her explanation. Blackmore points out that there are many brain pathways that are active simultaneously when we perceive, think, and act. What does that have to do with personal…

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pregnant woman holding her tummy while standing near garden shed

Ethics Prof Slams Claims About Why Pregnant Women “Nest”

Evolutionary psychology is among the “scienciest” of the sciences; implicit belief does not require serious evidence

Evolutionary psychology continues to take a beating, as more people reflect on its central claim: Aspects of our psychology, which we think are the products of reason and emotion applied to personal and historical experience, really stem from the survival and reproduction mechanisms of human and other ancestors of whom we have no historical record. Arianne Shahvisi (above right), senior lecturer in ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, joins philosopher Subrena E. Smith in critiquing of such vast claims. Her focus in a recent article at Psyche is claims about why expectant mothers “nest,” that is, spend a lot of time housecleaning and stocking up. Now, if you are not an evolutionary psychologist, you might hazard a guess that…

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Black Chimpanzee Mammal Ape

But, in the End, Did the Chimpanzee Really Talk?

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection

Recently, Michael Egnor commented on radical primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s effort to level the playing field between humans and bonobos by including the latter as authors of a research paper on animal welfare: “Non-human animals don’t have abstract knowledge-making and practices that would allow them to be meaningfully consulted. It is reality, not anthropocentric bias, that has left animals out of this decision-making process.” There is a larger and very interesting story around that paper, recently relayed at Smithsonian Magazine by Lindsay Stern (right), a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Yale and author of a novel, The Study of Animal Languages. Her article tells us a good deal about the motivations of those who, essentially, see bonobos not as apes…

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hand of god

Built to Save Us from Evil AI, OpenAI Now Dupes Us

When combined with several metric tons of data, its new GPT-3 sometimes it looks like it is “thinking.” No, not really

OpenAI started life in 2015 as a non-profit organization whose mission was to safeguard humanity from malevolent artificial intelligence (AI). The founders’ goal was to ensure that when superhuman AI arrived, its inborn purpose was to serve humanity rather than subjugate it. In 2019, OpenAI transitioned to a for-profit company based in San Francisco and secured a one billion dollar investment from Microsoft. Things seem to have moved on from there. There’s a good question whether superhuman AI is even possible, as we have pointed out repeatedly here at Mind Matters News. While some of the AI tasks seem impressive, oftentimes when you look under the hood, what you find is a very expensive party trick or a staged demo.…

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Flush royal in poker player hand. Lucky winner.

Does AI Really “Get” Poker? Why That Matters.

Science journalist Maria Konnikova, also a professional poker player, explores the human side of poker and efforts to automate it

Maria Konnikova (left), a science journalist who quit a good gig to become a poker player, learned a a good deal about the human side of the game and about AI programmers’ efforts at automating it. Along the way, she won money and wrote a book, The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win (June 2020). In an excerpt at Wired, she reflects on the fact that computer pioneer John von Neumann (1903–1957) was a poker player and “Not just a poker player, but someone for whom poker inspired brilliant insights into human decisionmaking, someone who considered it the ultimate game for approximating the strategic challenges of life.” Poker is a game of skill but…

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Würfel mit Hashtag-Symbol

Multiverse Physicist Max Tegmark Seeks AI That Checks News Bias

Naive people who truthfully claim to be acting only “for good” in trying to address bias in the news via AI are kidding themselves

Max Tegmark (right) is probably better known as a multiverse cosmologist than as an AI specialist. The MIT physics professor told New Scientist in 1998 that “All possible universes exist, even triangular ones.” He also informed Scientific American in 2003 that “Not just a staple of science fiction, other universes are a direct implication of cosmological observations”: Is there a copy of you reading this article? A person who is not you but who lives on a planet called Earth, with misty mountains, fertile fields and sprawling cities, in a solar system with eight other planets? The life of this person has been identical to yours in every respect. But perhaps he or she now decides to put down this…

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3D rendering abstract round light background

Oxford Mathematician: Atheism Detracts from Science

The problem, as John Lennox sees it, is that atheism does not provide grounds for believing in rationality

Today, Evolution News and Science Today published an excerpt from Oxford mathematician John Lennox’s 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (Zondervan 2020): in which Lennox discusses some of the ways in which atheism detracts from science: Science proceeds on the basis of the assumption that the universe is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to the human mind. No science can be done without the scientist believing this, so it is important to ask for grounds for this belief. Atheism gives us none, since it posits a mindless, unguided origin of the universe’s life and consciousness. John Lennox, “Why Science and Atheism Don’t Mix” at Evolution News and Science Today: He offers physicist John Polkinghorne’s explanation of…

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Paradigm of Quantum Wave

At Nautilus: Electrons DO have a “rudimentary mind”

Panpsychists in science believe that nature is all there is but, they say, it includes consciousness as a fundamental fact of nature

A leading theory of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory (IIT) proposed by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Giulio Tononi and championed by by another leading neuroscientist, Christof Koch, has clear panpsychist affiliations. It is favored by proponents of the idea that electrons are conscious. Whoa!, you say. How can electrons be conscious? Wouldn’t they at least need a brain to be conscious? Let’s hear an explanation from proponent Tam Hunt (right) at Nautilus: You might see the rise of panpsychism as part of a Copernican trend—the idea that we’re not special. The Earth is not the center of the universe. Humans are not a treasured creation, or even the pinnacle of evolution. So why should we think that creatures with brains, like…

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Shaved male nape and a lot of usb cables connected to it. Concept of dependence in thinking and information

AI Expert: Artificial Intelligences Are NOT Electronic People

AI makes mistakes no human makes, so some experts are trying to adapt human cognitive psychology to machines

David Watson of the Oxford Internet Institute and the Alan Turing Institute has published an interesting and quite readable paper in Minds and Machines on the way in which artificial intelligence experts often endow their creations — mistakenly — with human characteristics. In his open access paper, “The Rhetoric and Reality of Anthropomorphism in Artificial Intelligence,” he fills us in on some of the limitations of AI and proposes fixes based on human thinking. First, thinking that AI is like a human or about to become like a human is not new: The biomimetic approach to AI has always inspired the popular imagination. Writing about Rosenblatt’s perceptron, the New York Times declared in 1958 that “The Navy has revealed the…

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Groupe de Bonobos autour d'un hôtel à insectes

Can Animal Minds Rival Humans Under the Right Circumstances?

Are we just not being fair to animals, as some researchers think?

In 2007, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a psychologist and primatologist , published a paper in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science with a remarkable citation: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Kanzi Wamba, Panbanisha Wamba, and Nyota Wamba, “Welfare of Apes in Captive Environments: Comments on, and by, a Specific Group of Apes,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10:1 (2007): 7–19. What is remarkable about the paper is not the text but the authorship statement. Kanzi, Panbanisha, and Nyota Wamba are not co-author colleagues—they’re apes, bonobos to be specific. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh (right) is a controversial scientist who believes that animals have intellectual powers that can, under the right circumstances, rival the human intellect. She included her ape subjects as co-authors on the paper because…

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Doctor demonstrating human brain anatomy and MRI brain on background

Can We Develop Tests of the Brain for Consciousness?

The paper proposing the tests reads like an ambitious but hopeless project that offers some genuinely interesting moments.

In a recent, well-organized paper, neuroscientist Christopher Tyler of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco offers not only ten features that comprise consciousness but also empirical tests for such features. He hopes to finally crack the Hard Problem of Consciousness by dividing consciousness up into component parts and studying associated brain functions. He calls his approach Emergent Aspect Dualism. He hopes to reconcile monism (physical nature is all there is) with dualism (consciousness is not physical). With that in mind, he hopes to identify the physical machinery that rolls out consciousness, the “neural substrate for conscious processing (NSCP).” But he also hopes to borrow as much from dualism as he can, perhaps in part in order to avoid…

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person sitting in front of boy

Which Is Smarter? Babies or AI? Not a Trick Question

Not a Trick Question
Humans learn to generalize from the known to the unknown without prior programming and do not get stuck very often in endless feedback loops. Read More ›
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brown monkey macro photography

Do Animals Truly Grieve When Other Animals Die?

Yes, but “death” is, in some ways, an abstraction so there are only some things they understand about it

Anthropologist Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve (2014), has written a thought-provoking essay on the difficulties that COVID-19 has created for people coping with the death of a loved one because they are not allowed conventional grieving methods. Although it is titled “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone,” King’s essay turns out to be appropriately skeptical of ambitious claims about animal grief. She writes, There is a popular perception that some animals, particularly elephants and crows, participate in their own kinds of funerals. But there’s little solid evidence—at least, so far—for this kind of community ritual. Elephants may occasionally cover a dead companion’s body with leaves or branches, but the meaning and intent of this…

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Breaking Through Concept

Michael Egnor: Denying Free Will Is Totalitarian

Specifically, “The denial of free will is the cornerstone of totalitarian systems.” That’s what he told podcaster Lucas Skrobot in the second of two podcast discussions: Dr. Michael Egnor | Free Will and Totalitarian Ideologies (Part 2 of 2) [E152] Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has written a fair bit on free will for Mind Matters News. Here are some selections to consider: No free will means no justice: “Free will is the cornerstone of all human rights and the cornerstone of our Constitutional rights. The denial of free will is, literally, the denial of human freedom. Without free will, we are livestock, without the presumption of innocence, without actual innocence, and without rights. A justice system that has no respect for…