Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

Texture of multi-colored sweet marshmallows. Marshmallows candy for background.

Can Waiting for a Marshmallow Predict a Child’s Future?

Believing so was all the rage in recent decades but later research didn’t back up the idea

You’ve maybe heard of Stanford University’s “marshmallow experiment,” right? A child’s future can be predicted, we were told by psychologist Walter Mischel (1930–2018), by whether the child can delay gratification: Walter Mischel’s pioneering research at Bing in the late 1960s and early 1970s famously explored what enabled preschool-aged children to forgo immediate gratification in exchange for a larger but delayed reward… This research identified some of the key cognitive skills, strategies, plans and mindsets that enable self-control. If the children focused on the “hot” qualities of the temptations (e.g., “The marshmallows are sweet, chewy, yummy”), they soon rang the bell to bring the researcher back. If they focused on their abstract “cool” features (“The marshmallows are puffy and round like…

brain wave on electroencephalogram, EEG for epilepsy, illustration

Will Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes When You Die?

Sophisticated neuroscience equipment accidentally captured the complex brain states of the final moments of a dying patient.

Recently, researchers were able to study the brain of an 87-year-old patient while administering treatment for epilepsy. Dr Raul Vicente of the University of Tartu, Estonia and colleagues were using continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to detect the seizures but during the recordings, the patient had a heart attack and passed away. Thus they were abled to record the activity of adying human brain: “We measured 900 seconds of brain activity around the time of death and set a specific focus to investigate what happened in the 30 seconds before and after the heart stopped beating,” said Dr Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, US, who organised the study. “Just before and after the heart stopped working, we saw…

Tunnel of light

Agnostic Psychiatrist Says Near-Death Experiences Are Real

They change lives but he is unsure what they mean

Psychiatrist Bruce Greyson, emeritus at the University of Virginia, tells us that he first started thinking about near-death experiences many decades ago when a young woman, rescued from suicide, asserted that she had seen a spaghetti stain on his tie during an out-of-body experience. She could not have known that he had gone to considerable pains to conceal the embarrassing mark from colleagues. Nothing in his background had prepared him, as a young psychiatrist, for taking seriously the possibility that the mind could be detached from the brain. He grew up with a chemist father who had a great love for science but no metaphysical convictions. But he just could not forget the spaghetti stain episode and that background prompted…

Friends group having addicted fun using mobile smart phone - Close up of people hands sharing content on social media network with smartphone - Technology concept with millenials online with cellphone

Do Our Minds Really Extend Into Our Smartphones?

An Australian philosopher proposes a startling view — that our minds start to inhabit our environment via our technology

British tech philosopher Tom Chatfield offers a profile of the work of Australian philosopher of mind David Chalmers, who is known for iconic concepts such as the Hard Problem of consciousness and the Philosopher’s Zombie, both pointing to the fact that there is no “easy explain” for human consciousness. Chalmers had started out in math but drifted to the study of consciousness at a propitious time; in the early 1990s, information theory was reinvigorating the field. At a time when some were looking for the consciousness switch in the brain or proclaiming consciousness to be an illusion, Chalmers suggested an alternative “non-reductive” approach to consciousness, a form of panpsychism: … every form of information processing entails an irreducible component constituting…

AI, Machine learning, Hands of robot and human touching on big data network connection background, Science and artificial intelligence technology, innovation and futuristic.

“Slightly” Conscious Computers Could Doom Atheism

That might sound surprising but let’s follow the logic of the “consciousness” claim through to its inevitable conclusion

Recently, Ilya Sutskever, co-founder of OpenAI, proposed that artificial intelligence (AI) may currently be “slightly” conscious. His claim was probably in reference to the GPT-3 AI that can generate text from a prompt. I’ve played with a couple of the linguistic neural networks a bit, and you can try them out here. Some of the output is quirky, which could be mistaken for personality and make the algorithm appear conscious. The algorithm also generates emotional statements, that can generate empathy in a human user of the system. Just as kids make believe their dolls are alive when they develop an emotional bond with their toy, the algorithm text generates empathy in the human user. It can make us feel a…

A chariot wheel at the sun temple at Konark.

Ancient Indian Philosophy Sounds Surprisingly Modern

A period of expansion of horizons from about 800 BC – 200 BC encouraged people in India to ask thoughtful questions about reality

Jessica Frazier, a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, offered some thoughts about a remarkable period in human history, the Axial Period (roughly 800 BC – 200 BC) when a number of today’s major thought traditions got started or were amplified. One of these traditions was philosophy of mind in India. Frazier, author of Hindu Worldviews (Bloomsbury, 2017), offers a look at one of the drivers of the trend: The answer lay in the public’s growing worry about existential problems. Mortal life seemed little more than a flame struck over the open ocean at night; our minds shine but a brief, faint spotlight on the immensity of the world before sputtering into darkness again. As their frustration grew,…

Artificial neuron in concept of artificial intelligence. Wall-shaped binary codes make transmission lines of pulses, information in an analogy to a microchip.

Can AI Really Be “Slightly Conscious”? Can Anyone?

It’s rare to see popular media actually call out nonsense re artificial intelligence. Here’s is what it looks like when it happens

On February 9, Ilya Sutskever,co-founder of fake text generator OpenAI, made a claim that was frothy even for Twitter: “it may be that today’s largest neural networks are slightly conscious.” it may be that today’s large neural networks are slightly conscious — Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) February 9, 2022 Well, “slightly conscious” is like being “slightly pregnant” or “slightly dead.” While Sutskever didn’t name any specific developments, he was likely referring to huge natural language processing systems like OpenAI’s enormous GPT-3 which can translate, answer questions, fill in missing words, and generate fake news. No thought process is involved. The system approximates vast masses of actual instances of language use. The more stereotyped the language use is, the easier it is…

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How Does Dualism Understand Personal Identity?

Both neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and theology professor Joshua Harris acknowledge weaknesses in their philosophies’ understanding of personal identity

In “The Body and the Soul” podcast, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews theology professor Joshua Farris on how a sense of personal identity is preserved (or not) in Aristotelian vs. Cartesian philosophy (both are dualist philosophies; they do not think that the mind is merely a product of the brain). Along the way, Michael Egnor talks about the remarkable way that neuroscience affirms a dualist view. https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/02/Mind-Matters-News-Joshua-Farris-Episode-2-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript and notes follow: Michael Egnor: Had it not been for neuroscience, which led me to a Thomist view, I would probably be a Cartesian because I do agree that there’s a great deal to say for it. Although my sense of Cartesianism is that the closer we get to Berkeley and…

Quantum Wave

Study: Science Fiction Not As Strange As Quantum Physics Fact

At least, that’s what we can assume from a failed effort to disprove physicist Eugene Wigner’s thought experiment

According to prominent science writer John Horgan, a “radical quantum hypothesis” is creating doubt about objective reality: The author of Mind-Body Problems explains that, while quantum mechanics has been confirmed by countless experiments as well as by computer chips, it “defies common sense.” Specifically, it creates doubt about what “the facts” are. In 1961, physicist Eugene Wigner proposed a thought experiment, similar to the more famous Schrödinger’s Cat dilemma: Instead of the fabled cat in a box, imagine that a friend of Wigner is inside a laboratory monitoring a radioactive specimen. When the specimen decays, a detector flashes. Now imagine that Wigner is outside the lab. If Wigner’s friend sees the detector flash, he knows that the specimen has decayed.…

Choosing the High Road or Low Road

My Challenge to Two Atheists Who Deny Free Will

There is too much of this nonsense in the science blogosphere. If Pigliucci or Coyne would like to debate free will, they can consider this a challenge from me

Of all of the materialist cults, free will denial may be the most bizarre. Nothing could be more obvious in everyday life that in a very real sense we generally have the option to choose our acts. We choose mundane things like what to have for breakfast and what clothing to wear and we make moral choices every day. The denial that we have the freedom to choose is essentially the assertion that we are robots, enslaved to our physics and chemistry and incapable of freedom. Obviously this view of humanity is deeply insulting – it’s just a slur – but is also rank nonsense. In fact, it’s self refuting and obviously so. At his blog, Why Evolution is True,…

Teen Boy Posing As Twin Brothers

The Philosopher’s Zombie Still Walks and Physics Can’t Explain It

Various thinkers try to show that the zombie does not exist because consciousness is either just brain wiring or an illusion, maybe both

Canadian science journalist Dan Falk tells us, the philosopher’s zombie thought experiment, “flawed as it is,” demonstrates that physics alone can’t explain consciousness. Not that many physicists haven’t tried. But first, what is the philosopher’s zombie (sometimes called the p-zombie)?: The experiment features an imagined creature exactly like you or me, but with a crucial ingredient – consciousness – missing. Though versions of the argument go back many decades, its current version was stated most explicitly by Chalmers. In his book The Conscious Mind (1996), he invites the reader to consider his zombie twin, a creature who is ‘molecule for molecule identical to me’ but who ‘lacks conscious experience entirely’.” He does everything he is supposed to do but experiences…

Cute little baby looking into the camera

The Mystery of How Newborns Know Things Gets Deeper

But learning more about it may help us understand autism spectrum disorders better

Neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara ponders the mystery of how exactly babies quickly recognize things when they are born — like human faces — that they simply cannot have learned. We might call it “imprinting” or “instinct” but that’s just a classification, not an explanation. The author of Born Knowing (MIT Press, 2021) decided to start with chicks. That’s a bit simpler. Psychology students know, of course, that newly hatched chicks seem to know that they should follow their mother and do what she does. But what specific cues enable them to identify their mother? It turns out, according to his and colleagues’ research, that they are looking for specific geometrical patterns: Chicks need to actively explore and learn about their environment…

Zen garden stones on sand with pattern, top view. Meditation and harmony

A Neurosurgeon and a Philosopher Debate Mind vs. Body

Philosopher Joshua Farris defends controversial Cartesian dualism. Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor critiques it but thinks it may account for near-death experiences

In “Why Cartesian Dualism,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews theology professor Joshua Farris on dualism, the idea that the human being is both mind and body. That is, the mind is not simply a product of the brain, as many philosophers and scientists believe. What are the arguments for and what is the evidence for the reality of the mind? In this podcast, they talk about a specific type of dualism, Cartesian dualism — developed by French mathematician René Descartes (1596– 1650). https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/02/Mind-Matters-Episode-172-Joshua-Farris-Episode-1-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript and notes follow: Michael Egnor: The topic today is why Cartesian dualism? In this episode, we’ll discuss the merits of a theory of the mind–body relationship, in contrast to alternative viewpoints, such as materialism, hylomorphism,…

Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Neuroscientists: The Hard Problem of Consciousness Isn’t So Hard!

Damasio and Seth tell Nautilus that materialist explanations will eventually crack consciousness, as they have cracked everything else

Recently, thinkmag Nautilus brought together neuroscientists Antonio Damasio and Anil Seth to argue that the “Hard Problem of Consciousness.” is not so hard after all. Antonio Damasio, author of Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious (Penguin Random House, 2021), has argued that intelligence is everywhere in life forms and that even viruses have “some fraction of” intelligence. Anil Seth is the author of Being You: A new science of consciousness (2021). He is convinced that the Hard Problem, so named by philosopher David Chalmers, is “magical thinking” and that “there is much to be done in a straightforward materialist understanding of how the brain relates to conscious experience.” For the purposes of their discussion with Kristin French, consciousness is defined…

Surreal 3d illustration of multiple faces in a wall. Concept of post-human and transhumanism ideas.

Is Transhumanism Really a Form of Liberation?

The central transhumanist doctrine is that the body can be dispensed with. What are the consequences?

Libby Emmons, editor-in-chief at The Post Millennial, Canada’s non-Woke “young” media outlet, offered some unexpected thoughts on transhumanism, the idea that we must take charge of the evolution of our species — sometimes expressed in the idea that we can upload ourselves as digital entities and live forever. Emmons is not sure that transhumanism is really a form of liberation. She acknowledges the value of, for example, prostheses controlled by thoughts alone. But she asks us to consider what full-blown transhumanism entails: With the widespread acceptance of human augmentation, bio-tech, AI, and transgenderism, we are removing agency from the human body, and granting it entirely to the mind. But our humanity lies not in our consciousness, but in the biological…

hands brain model
Hands shaping brain model

Chalmers and Penrose Clash Over “Conscious Computers”

Philosopher Chalmers thinks computers could be conscious but physicist Penrose says no

Two authors I’ve been reading recently are Roger Penrose and David Chalmers. Penrose is a physics Nobel laureate who has stoked controversy by claiming in The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics (1989) that the mind can do things beyond the ability of computers. Chalmers is a philosopher of science who claims in The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (1997) that consciousness cannot be reduced to physical processes. Both thinkers are well respected in their fields, even though they articulate positions that imply that the mind’s operation is beyond current science. At the same time, they believe that there is a way to see the mind as part of nature (that is,…

human head chakra powerful inspiration tree abstract thinking inside your mind watercolor painting illustration hand drawn
human head powerful inspiration tree abstract thinking inside your mind watercolor painting illustration hand drawn

Prof: Fine-Tuning in Nature Is Due to the Mind of the Universe

Panpsychism’s take on intelligent design, as expressed in the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, is an interesting new approach

Here’s a fascinating essay from 2018 by philosophy prof Philip Goff, author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness (2019). He discusses the fine-tuning of the universe as an argument for cosmopsychism (a form of panpsychism). Ideas like his are becoming respectable in mainstream science venues: In the past 40 or so years, a strange fact about our Universe gradually made itself known to scientists: the laws of physics, and the initial conditions of our Universe, are fine-tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that, for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity, or the mass of the electron – must have values falling in a…

Charting Consciousness.

Consciousness Is Destroying Physicalism

Materialism (physical stuff is all there is) is taking a well-deserved beating of late

Paul Austin Murphy asks a good question: We can easily and happily accept that without the brain, there would be no emergence of consciousness in the first place — at least not in human beings as they are today. Yet that still leaves such emergence to be explained. More specifically and to accommodate both panpsychism and artificial intelligence (i.e., brains may not be required for consciousness), we can accept that without the brain of human subject S, that human subject would simply have no consciousness. (This is a statement of the obvious to me.) Yet we still need to explain the emergence of consciousness from — see, what does “from” mean? — the human brain of subject S. Paul Austin…

neon city
Neon night in a futuristic city. Photorealistic 3D illustration. Wallpaper in a cyberpunk style. Empty street with neon lights reflecting in a water. Beautiful night cityscape. Grunge urban landscape.

With Transhumanism, What Happens to Human Rights?

The transhumanist accepts suffering for the individual if suffering can advance the evolution of the species toward immortality and singularity

The 2018 Netflix series, Altered Carbon, depicts a future society where people hope to live forever by digitizing their consciousness and storing it in a “cortical stack.” This technological marvel is then inserted into any number of interchangeable bodies when the old “sleve” dies. But what you and I may watch for entertainment is for many scientists, philosophers, and theologians a life’s mission. This dream of life without end through technology is called transhumanism. Transhumanism (Humanity+ or hereafter H+) is a 20th– century endeavor grounded in rational humanism that trusts technological advances to answer two key questions of human existence: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What is the future of humanity?” For the transhumanist, these two questions…

choosing which guy
Beautiful woman undecided which man to choose

New: AI Learns to Simulate Common Sense

It is a simulation because the AI can perform the task but does not “understand” what the concepts mean

Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, was concerned AI had no common sense. In early 2018, Allen said “AI still lacks what most 10-year-olds possess: ordinary common sense.” He continued, “If we want AI to approach human abilities and have the broadest possible impact in research, medicine and business, we need to fundamentally advance AI’s common sense abilities.” Billionaire Allen coughed up $125 million and founded the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle. I believed that AI would never simulate common sense but always left the door open. Unlike understanding, creativity and sentience, common sense could possibly be computable. There was no indication that common sense was non-algorithmic. And now AI has simulated common sense. The classic test for…