Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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The Reality of the Mind: The Argument From Epilepsy

Why do epileptic seizures evoke many odd behaviors but not abstract thought?

In the recent debate between neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and philosopher David Papineau, “Atheist Philosopher and Christian Neurosurgeon Debate Materialism” at Theology Unleashed, there was sort of digression at 49:30 on the nature of thought. Dr. Egnor talks about what he learned from his experiences with treating epilepsy and Dr. Papineau responds. Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Michael Egnor: There are three metaphysical questions that I think can be answered in an inferential way,…

Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Will We Soon Be Able to Test Theories of Consciousness?

Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field

Science journalist and author Anil Ananthaswamy has written a thoughtful piece at New Scientist on the leading models of consciousness and their relationship to quantum mechanics (quantum physics). Are we reaching the point where we can test at least one of them? Ananthaswamy is well qualified to assess the arguments. He is the author of both Through Two Doors at Once (2018) on quantum physics and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) on the nature of the self. Models of consciousness that assume that “consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains” (materialist or naturalist theories) fall into three general classes, as he explains. Analysts like Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett and Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano argue that consciousness…

Group of neanderthal hunting a bison

New Find Pushes Symbolic Thinking Further Back in Human History

A Neanderthal find from 51,000 years ago is another piece in the puzzle of the origin of abstract human thinking

At one time, scientists believed that only some groups of humans possessed the ability to think symbolically. Neanderthals were held to be an example of humans who could not do so. But more recently, as George Dvorsky tells us at Gizmodo, a 2019 finding at the Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains in central Germany challenges that belief: Patterns deliberately etched onto a bone belonging to a giant deer are signs that Neanderthals possessed the capacity for symbolic thought. Neanderthals decorated themselves with feathers, drew cave paintings, and created jewelry from eagle talons, so it comes as little surprise to learn that Neanderthals also engraved patterns onto bone. The discovery of this 51,000-year-old bone carving, as described in Nature Ecology…

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Can Traditional Philosophy Help Us Understand Mind vs. Brain?

Michael Egnor asks us to look back to the traditional idea that the soul is the “form” of the body

Yesterday, we published the fourth portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Is the mind simply what the brain does?” Today, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 36 min where Papineau and Egnor start to talk about traditional philosophical ways of thinking about the soul and the body (partial transcript): Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Michael Egnor: In the…

Psychology concept. Sunrise and woman silhouette.

Egnor vs. Papineau, Round 4: Egnor Defends the Mind vs. the Brain

Philosopher David Papineau does not feel that neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is being “entirely helpful” at this point…

Yesterday, we published the third portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Could there have been a material cause for the Big Bang that is held to have started our universe?” For Egnor’s opening statement, go here. Here’s Papineau’s reply. Today, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 26:30 where they start to talk about the human mind. Is the mind simply “what the brain does”? Papineau begins: Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of…

Microfono tenuto in mano conferenza

Round 2: Philosopher Papineau Replies to Neurosurgeon Egnor

Dr. Papineau is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.”

Yesterday, we published a portion of the transcript of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau amd neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, in which Egnor explains how, despite early atheism, the practice of medicine led him to believe that there is a God and that the mind is not simply what the brain does. He offered three reasons. Today, here’s a transcript of David Papineau’s reply. Starts, roughly, at 9:00 min: Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist,” a form of materialism according to which “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all…

Mind Atoms

Neurosurgeon Egnor Takes on Philosopher Papineau Round 1

In the debate, Egnor begins by offering three fundamental reasons why the mind is not the brain

Recently, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor debated philosopher David Papineau at Theology Unleashed. Papineau is considered “one of the best defenders of naturalism” (actually, as he admits, physicalism). Egnor talks about how science and the practice of medicine persuaded him that there is a God and that the mind is real. The host is Arjuna and the show is billed as “Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” What follows is a partial transcript of the first portion, with notes: Michael Egnor: Just as a little background about where I’m coming from, I was raised as a functional atheist, and I was educated as a scientific atheist, so I was an atheist for most of my life. I was a biochemistry major in college,…

Frightened guilty dog pug looking sad at camera.

Is Fear the Same Thing for a Human Being as for an Animal?

Psychiatrist Joseph Ledoux has thought about that; it’s a complex problem

Recently, we looked at consciousness from the perspective of Joseph LeDoux’s recent book, A Deep History of Ourselves (1919). Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett situates his work at Nature, offering an interesting qualification: LeDoux, an academic at New York University in New York City, is best known for his research on fear, and for carefully mapping the brain circuit centred on the amygdala — a knot of neurons in the medial temporal lobe. The amygdala, he showed, has a crucial role in non-conscious, defensive behaviour responses such as freezing or fleeing. His conclusion, based on the assumption that all mammalian amygdala circuits are structurally similar, was that all mammals (including humans) share these responses. He described this work in The Emotional…

concept of Different emotions drawn on colorfull cubes, wooden background.

Emotion Recognition Software Use Spreads While Science Is Doubted

Emotional recognition software has been coming under fire for misuse and racial bias for some time

An editor at AI Trends notes The global emotion detection and recognition market is projected to grow to $37.1 billion by 2026, up from an estimated $19.5 billion in 2020, according to a recent report from MarketsandMarkets. North America is home to the largest market. John P. Desmond, “Market for Emotion Recognition Projected to Grow as Some Question Science” at AI Trends (June 24, 2021) But the software has been coming under fire for misuse and racial bias for some time: “How people communicate anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise varies substantially across cultures, situations, and even across people within a single situation,” stated the report, from a team of researchers led by Lisa Feldman Barrett, of Northeastern University,…

Charting Consciousness.

Consciousness Is Mainly a Problem for Materialists

If you are not a materialist, there is no problem with understanding consciousness

Psychiatrist Joseph LeDoux, author of The Deep History of Ourselves (2019), offers an extract at Aeon, musing on the mystery of consciousness. In a way, his approach typifies the problem with the wholly materialist approach to the mind and the brain: Like all living things, humans are organisms, biological entities that function as physiological aggregates whose constituent parts operate with a high degree of cooperation and a low degree of conflict. But unlike other organisms, humans possess a rogue component – a brain network that can, at will, choose to defect and undermine the survival mission and purpose of the rest of the body. This is the network that underlies human consciousness, and especially our capacity for autonoetic, or reflective,…

The universe inside us, the profile of a young woman and space, the effect of double exposure. scientific concept. The brain and creativity. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Do Larger Brains Make Us Human? Is That All?

Brain organoid studies suggest a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow larger than ape brains

In a study of “mini-brains” (brain organoids), the size of a pea, grown in a dish and incapable of further development, researchers have discovered a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow three times larger than primate brains: This new research, published in the journal Cell, used brain organoids to show that this transition occurs more slowly in humans compared to gorillas and chimpanzees – over seven days, compared to five. The progenitor cells in human brain organoids not only retained their cylindrical shape for longer, but also split more frequently so more cells were produced. This was linked to a gene called ZEB2, which switches on sooner in gorilla brain organoids than in human. By delaying the effects…

Human brain with an implanted chip.

Can Implanted Computer Chips Cure Depression?

Brain–computer interface (BCI) is promising for paralysis and prosthetics but raises concerns in the treatment of depression

Brain computer interface (BCI) shows promise in treating paralysis or enabling prosthetics to work almost naturally. But BCI for treating depression sounds like hype: Say goodbye to pills, therapy, and all that. With such gloomy prospects, it was only a matter of time scientists realized there must be better ways to treat depression rather than pills. After all, drugs only work because they act on certain brain regions to modulate the concentration of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine. Therefore, in the end, the regulation of mood depends on stimulating brain signals in certain parts of the brain — that is, neurons firing — and this can be done more accurately by just zapping the neurons directly with electricity. Diego…

Text paper trees

Science Journalist: No Hype. Consciousness Is a HARD Problem!

Michael Hanlon reflected on the many futile efforts to “solve” consciousness

British science journalist Michael Hanlon (1964–2016), co-author with Tracey Brown of In the Interests of Safety (2014), had some sobering things to say about the trivial pursuit of an easy theory of consciousness. Considering materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett and less materialist philosopher David Chalmers (who coined the term the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”), he reflects, Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Daniel Dennett wrote that: ‘Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery.’ A few years later, Chalmers added: ‘[It] may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.’ They were right then and, despite the tremendous scientific advances since, they are still right today. I do not think that the…

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How To Flummox an AI Neural Network

Kids can figure out the same-different distinction. So can ducklings and bees. But top AI can't.

Science writer John Pavlus identifies a key limitation of artificial intelligence: The first episode of Sesame Street in 1969 included a segment called “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.” Viewers were asked to consider a poster that displayed three 2s and one W, and to decide — while singing along to the game’s eponymous jingle — which symbol didn’t belong. Dozens of episodes of Sesame Street repeated the game, comparing everything from abstract patterns to plates of vegetables. Kids never had to relearn the rules. Understanding the distinction between “same” and “different” was enough. Machines have a much harder time. One of the most powerful classes of artificial intelligence systems, known as convolutional neural networks or CNNs,…

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Vintage tin robot toys

Researchers: Humans “Exploit” Machines Without a Sense of Guilt!

Humans, we are told, are so unethical that we take advantage of "benevolent" self-driving cars

In case no one knew this, humans are cruel, greedy, and deceptive. We even take advantage of self-driving cars. Our crimes are revealed in a recent study that scolds humans as “unwilling to cooperate and compromise with machines. They even exploit them.” When you’ve stopped laughing, you might be interested to learn of some intriguing findings from studies of human behavior around self-driving cars (autonomous vehicles) and Prisoner’s Dilemma games. One team of researchers, in a test involving 9 experiments and 2000 participants, tried to determine whether humans would behave as co-operatively with AI systems as we do with fellow humans: The study which is published in the journal iScience found that, upon first encounter, people have the same level…

Choosing the High Road or Low Road

Freebits: An Interesting Argument From the Big Bang for Free Will

There are two types of uncertainty, we learn, only one of which could create free will

Caleb Scharf (pictured), author of The Ascent of Information (2021), offers an excerpt at Nautilus that introduces two new terms, the “dataome” and “freebits.” The dataome is all the ways human beings create information, from cave paintings to cloud servers. He asks, “Was all of this really inevitable? Did we ever have a choice in creating a dataome or doing any of the things we do, and does any self-aware entity in the universe have a choice either?” Relying on theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson’s 2013 essay, “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine,” he asks us to consider that there are two types of uncertainty, only one of which could create choice. Typical “randomness” actually follows statistical laws, a…

Archaeological excavation.

Death: Child Grave From 80,000 Years Ago Shows Abstract Thinking

The lovingly prepared site on the Kenyan coast held the remains of a 2–3 year-old child

A child’s grave, found recently in Kenya, pushes clear evidence of abstract thinking back to 80,000 years ago, the Middle Stone Age. The child, nicknamed “Mtoto” (child in Swahili) by the archaeologists, was 2½ – 3 years old; whether a boy or a girl is as yet unclear: In a tour de force of discovery, recovery, and analysis, an interdisciplinary research team has uncovered the earliest known human burial in Africa. The grave, found less than 10 miles inland from southeast Kenya’s lush ocean beaches, contained the remains of a two- to three-year-old child buried with extraordinary care by a community of early Homo sapiens some 78,000 years ago. While some human burials in the Middle East and Europe are…

dachsund dog portrait studio looking up.

Do Any Dogs Go To Heaven? If So, Why?

Neuroscientist Christof Koch was troubled as a child by the Catholic tradition that dogs like his beloved Purzel did not go to heaven

In recent articles, we’ve discussed well-known neuroscientist Christof Koch’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness which, as he acknowledges, takes a panpsychist (everything is conscious to some degree) approach to the mind. He has explained his reasoning at MIT Press Reader: Materialists must see human consciousness as an illusion — but then whose illusion is it? Panpsychism allows humans to have actual consciousness but, he says, “experience may not even be restricted to biological entities but might extend to non-evolved physical systems previously assumed to be mindless — a pleasing and parsimonious conclusion about the makeup of the universe.” His perspective is gaining popularity in science. One, perhaps unexpected, factor that he mentions as shaping his overall approach was youthful…

duck decoy with stuffed and calls

A Physicist’s Defense of Reality, Despite Quantum Physics

He explains why Eddington’s solid table really IS solid, even if, at the highest resolution, it is mostly empty space

In the wake of quantum physics, King’s College philosopher of physics Alexander Franklin is concerned to stress that “everyday reality is not illusory but emergent”: Popular science often tells us that we are radically deceived by the commonplace appearance of everyday objects and that colour and solidity are illusions. For instance, the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington [pictured] distinguished in 1928 between two tables: the familiar table and the scientific table, while the former is solid and coloured, the scientific table “is nearly all empty space”. Eddington then makes the striking claim that “modern physics has by delicate test and remorseless logic assured me that my second scientific table is the only one which is really there”. Alexander Franklin, “Solid objects…

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Birth of Virtual Consciousness

Neuroscientist: Conscious AI Is Not an Insurmountable Problem

Neuroscientist: Conscious AI is not an insurmountable problem

Neuroscientist Ryota Kanai, founder and CEO of Tokyo-based startup Araya, aims to “understand the computational basis of consciousness and to create conscious AI.” He isn’t sure, he says, if we want AI to be conscious. But, technically, he doesn’t see it as an insurmountable problem: If we can’t figure out why AIs do what they do, why don’t we ask them? We can endow them with metacognition—an introspective ability to report their internal mental states. Such an ability is one of the main functions of consciousness. It is what neuroscientists look for when they test whether humans or animals have conscious awareness. For instance, a basic form of metacognition, confidence, scales with the clarity of conscious experience. When our brain…