Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy

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from hypothesis to results:research & experiments on repeat

Is God Just a “Hypothesis” Like the Big Bang?

Our friend and interlocutor Edward Feser takes exception to the title of Stephen Meyer ’s recent book, The Return of the God Hypothesis. Dr. Feser writes: With all due respect, the phrase “the God hypothesis” gets my hackles up. If X is something on which the world might merely “hypothetically” depend then X isn’t God. An argument gets to God only if it establishes the reality of an X on which the world couldn’t fail to depend. Hence arguments that present theism as a “hypothesis” are – qua arguments for theism – time-wasters at best and indeed cause positive harm insofar as they yield a distorted conception of God and his relation to the world. That is not to rule Read More ›

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3d illustration of black retro alarm clock with arrow and golden megaphone on yellow color background

What Happens When Science Mags Go Woke?

When fashion mags go woke, no one cares. Some girls want to wear rags on their heads, well… But science mags?

Let’s look at some of the things that are happening: Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne puts the matter concisely when he says, The old saying goes that “all science is political”, a saying that is true only if you stretch the meaning of either “science” or “political”. I’m baffled, for instance, to understand how my work on the genetics of hybrid sterility in Drosophila is political. But don’t worry: the ideologues will find a way to make it so. “You’re doing your work in the milieu of a culture,” they’ll babble, “and decisions about what to fund and publish are explicitly political.” Blah blah blah. Jerry Coyne, “Scientific American goes defensive; tries to pretend that every social justice screed is Read More ›

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Big ideas. Illuminated light bulb among the rest of the unlit bulbs.

Stanford Academic Freedom Event Angers Who You Might Expect

Whether any further such events will be encouraged is another question…

Remember that academic freedom conference at Stanford (November 4–5) where we were asked to consider that the purpose the conference was that “racism is given shelter and immunity”? So what really happened? The account at Inside Higher Education oozes hostility. But from one of its less hostile moments, we learn: During a panel on academic freedom in STEM, Mimi St Johns, a Stanford undergraduate student of computer science, said that students face pressure from peers not to study such fields as petroleum engineering or to pursue jobs in government, even though both of these paths could lead to work on some of the world’s most urgent problems. John Ioannidis, professor of medicine at Stanford, said that this elderly mother was Read More ›

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intellectual property. light bulb with chain

How’s the University of Austin Coming? It’s Actually Happening

The “intellectual freedom” university continues to take shape in a world of “death to free speech”

A very cautious article at Chronicle of Higher Education about the University of Austin fills in the rest of us. U Austin has come a long way since it was mocked at The New Republic as allegedly seeking to be “higher education’s premier institution of monetizing moral panics.” A couple of observations from senior Chronicle writer Tom Bartlett: The pioneer faculty have the money to get started: Chatter aside, the University of Austin is starting to take shape in the year since its raucous rollout. Curriculum is being developed. The accreditation process is underway. A deal for land in the greater Austin area is being hammered out. The university has lured several professors away from other universities and plans to Read More ›

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sphere is affecting space / time around it

Can Physics Account for Our Whole Reality?

Mathematician turned philosopher Nancy Cartwright says no; reality is ultimately too complex for that

If only we could reduce the world to an equation, many think — preferably one that is solvable (unlike what happened in what happened in Restaurant at the End of the Universe), we would understand life better. University of Durham philosopher Nancy Cartwright takes issue with that, arguing that the universe is “beautifully dappled, and requires a dappled science to explain it.” She is the author, most recently, of A Philosopher Looks at Science (Cambridge University Press, 2022). And she says, If physics is to have total dominion, she must not only help out with chemical bonding, signal transmission in neurons, the flow of petrol in a carburettor, and the like. She must be able in principle to entirely take Read More ›

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Kid girl study science

Why It’s Difficult for Science to Answer Some Basic Questions

Are we reaching the edge of the things science can tell us?

Science answers many questions but some questions test us because they are difficult by nature. They take us to the margins. Let’s look at some — why they test us: At Big Think, theoretical astrophysicist Ethan Siegel discusses five puzzles of fundamental physics, solving any one of which “could unlock our understanding of the universe.” They are, how did the universe begin, what explains neutrino mass, why is our universe matter-dominated, what is dark matter, and what is dark energy?: About our universe as matter-dominated: More matter than antimatter permeates the Universe. However, known physics cannot explain the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry. The Big Bang produces matter, antimatter, and radiation, with slightly more matter being created at some point, leading to Read More ›

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The Big Bang

A Recent Big Bang Debate: Sheer Politeness Underscores Shakeup

Takehome point: “Everyone would be keen to abandon the theory if there’s a better alternative, nobody’s married to the Big Bang theory”

Scientific American told readers recently that the James Webb Space Telescope is “breaking the Big Bang paradigm” so we can be fairly sure that astrophysicists have a lot of questions. The October 1 debate at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in London represented a variety of views: There are those, like Sabine Hossenfelder, who think that physics will probably never be able to tell us how the universe came about and argue that we should think of the Big Bang theory as little more than another creation myth. And then there is Eric Lerner. The author of a recent article “The Big Bang Didn’t Happen” that went viral, Lerner articulated a challenge to the current scientific consensus in cosmology that caused quite Read More ›

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Big bang explosion in space

Webb Telescope Builders “Are Questioning Previous Science”

In an interview at Futurism, Webb astronomer Garth Illingworth shares how the new findings are shaking up what we think we know about the universe

Futurism’s Maggie Harrison recently interviewed UC Santa Cruz astronomer Garth Illingworth, one of the developers of the James Webb Space Telescope. His observations put the astronomers’ astonishment at the unexpected new findings of very old, developed galaxies in perspective: And I would just say, you know, when I was sitting there watching the first images, I was just blown away by their beauty and the character there, the information. But one of the things I was thinking afterwards was: in that hour, I saw, like, six sets of data. I have to say, that’s more data than I’ve ever seen from anything in any sort of reasonable time period in my whole life. Scientists are going to be working on Read More ›

Quantum particle, quantum mechanics

Why Philosopher Quentin Smith Saw Belief in God as Unscientific

Reader Laszlo Bencze looks at his list of reasons for thinking so and offers some thoughtful comments

In the first part of the discussion between Robert Lawrence Kuhn and Western Michigan University philosopher Quentin Persifor Smith (1952–2020) at Closer to Truth, “What Does a Fine-Tuned Universe Mean?” (Aug 31, 2022), Dr. Smith asserted that — while physicists may write about the fine-tuning of our universe in books aimed at the public — they do not discuss it in peer reviewed journals. Jonathan Bartlett supplied a number of references to such discussions in journals. In this second part of the discussion, Kuhn gave the floor to Dr. Smith to explain why he thought that belief in God is unscientific. A partial transcript follows, with some notes and comments interspersed: Quentin Persifor Smith: (7:20) But I think the real Read More ›

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Human hand fine tuning levels on professional audio equipment

Philosopher: “Universe Fine-Tuned for Life” is Just Folk Belief!

Do physicists claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life only when writing for a popular audience — and not in their professional work?

Closer to Truth recently published a revealing podcast in which host Robert Lawrence Kuhn asked late Western Michigan University philosopher Quentin Persifor Smith (1952–2020), “What Does a Fine-Tuned Universe Mean?” (Aug 31, 2022). Smith iss esteemed for his work on philosophy of time, philosophy of religion, naturalism and atheism, philosophy of Big Bang cosmology and quantum cosmology. So can we really draw conclusions from the fact that our universe appears fine-tuned for life? Kuhn’s questions and Smith’s responses help us understand why the question remains controversial. A partial transcript and notes follow. Quentin Persifor Smith: (1:43) If the universe is causally deterministic, you can take whatever happens at any point and infer backwards that this is what must have happened, Read More ›

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The Big Bang

At Scientific American: Webb Is Breaking the Big Bang Paradigm

That cosmic blast has been as much of a cultural and philosophical concept as a scientific one — hence the angst over challenging findings

Last weekend, we said — whatever one thinks about the Big Bang, — it was evident that the James Webb Space Telescope had shaken up astronomy. At Scientific American, science writer Jonathan O’Callaghan seems to agree: In the weeks and months following JWST’s findings of surprisingly mature “early” galaxies, blindsided theorists and observers alike have been scrambling to explain them. Could the bevy of anomalously big and bright early galaxies be illusory, perhaps because of flaws in analysis of the telescope’s initial observations? If genuine, could they somehow be explained by standard cosmological models? Or, just maybe, were they the first hints that the universe is more strange and complex than even our boldest theories had supposed? At stake is Read More ›

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Person Reaching Through Broken Window Towards Helping Hand

Atheists Who Scold Us on Morality Acknowledge God’s Existence

For example, every time internet-famous atheist P. Z. Myers scolds humanity on morality and immorality, he demonstrates the point

P.Z. Myers detests challenges to his atheism based on the reality of Objective Moral Law: There is a common line of attack Christians use in debates with atheists, and I genuinely detest it. It’s to ask the question, “where do your morals come from?” I detest it because it is not a sincere question at all — they don’t care about your answer, they’re just trying to get you to say that you do not accept the authority of a deity, so that they can then declare that you are an evil person because you do not derive your morals from the same source they do, and therefore you are amoral. It is, of course, false to declare that someone Read More ›

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Face in multiverse

Sabine Hossenfelder Asks, Is the Multiverse Science or Religion?

Or pseudoscience? The no-nonsense theoretical physicist reveals a gift for comedy as she tries to explain theories that place no constraints on what can happen

Some science controversies arise in disputes over findings. The current flap over the James Webb Space Telescope data, for one. Others sound like clashes over philosophy — claims about the multiverse (countless universes out there) are a good example. Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder takes on the multiverse in in her new book, Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions (2022). She also addresses the topic concisely — and wittily — in a short video and a blog post at Back(Re)Action. She looks at three popular multiverse models: Many Worlds, Eternal Inflation, and String Theory Landscape. Here’s her take on Eternal Inflation: We don’t know how our universe began and maybe we will never know. We just talked about Read More ›

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Deep Space Cosmic Chaos, Galaxies, Stars, Nebula Abstract Art Created Using Authentic Imaging Data From HI NASA

Re the Webb Findings Uproar: Who Owns the Big Bang Anyhow?

Researcher and science writer Eric Lerner would never have attracted the attention he has in recent weeks if the Webb findings were not disturbing to many cosmologists

The Big Bang is a philosophical — as well as a scientific — presence in many people’s minds. It seems clear, from the the ongoing kerfuffle and vigorous denials that the James Webb Space Telescope findings shook many of them up. Both science writers and scientists sense this. For example, For a long time, for instance, scientists believed the universe’s earliest, oldest galaxies to be small, slightly chaotic, and misshapen systems. But according to the Washington Post, JWST-captured imagery has revealed those galaxies to be shockingly massive, not to mention balanced and well-formed — a finding that challenges, and will likely rewrite, long-held understandings about the origins of our universe. “The models just don’t predict this,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer Read More ›

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Man atheist throws all religions in the trash

Analysis: Can “Communitarian Atheism” Really Work?

Ex-Muslim journalist Zeeshan Aleem, fearing that we are caught between theocracy and social breakdown, sees it as a possible answer

Zeeshan Aleem, an American journalist raised as a Muslim — but now an atheist — views his country as caught between “the twin crises of creeping theocracy and the death of conventional religion.” He seeks a new kind of atheism — communitarian atheism — as part of a solution: A rapidly increasing share of Americans are detaching from religious communities that provide purpose and forums for moral contemplation, and not necessarily finding anything in their stead. They’re dropping out of church and survey data suggests they’re disproportionately like to be checked out from civic life. Their trajectory tracks with a broader decades-long trend of secular life defined by plunging social trust, faith in institutions, and participation in civil society. My Read More ›

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Abstract fractal patterns and shapes. Beautiful abstract background. Сolored waves,spirals, lines and circles. Infinite universe.

Is Ours One of a Few Working Universes Among Countless Flops?

Is that probable? How would we know? Philosopher Stephen C. Meyer offers some suggestions

In this fourth and final portion of a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Stephen C. Meyer takes on the claim that the fine-tuning of our universe for life can be explained by the multiverse, that is, “there are many other universes with different laws and concepts of physics and different initial conditions, different arrangements that matter in energy at the beginning of those universes. And there are enough such universes to make the improbable features of our universe probable on a mega cosmic scale.” Dr. Meyer is the author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021). (A sample of the book is here.) The first portion is here, the second here, Read More ›

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The Big Bang

Astrophysicist: Webb Finds May Bring “Revolutionary Changes”

It doesn’t disprove the Big Bang, says Brian Koberlein… but read the fine print. And Fermilab’s Don Lincoln gets the religious implications all wrong

Recently, the James Webb Space Telescope started sending back observations about our universe that started quite the tizzy. Did the Big Bang even happen? More focused: If it happened, did it happen when and how the conventional story runs? At Universe Today, astrophysicist Brian Koberlein tries to put the matter in perspective: Most significantly, it has found more galaxies and more distant galaxies than there should be, and that could lead to some revolutionary changes in our standard model. Our current understanding is that after the big bang the universe went through a period known as the dark ages. During this period the first light of the cosmos had faded, and the first stars and galaxies hadn’t yet formed. Webb Read More ›

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Deep space travel. Part of the first image from NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope has been used in this composition. CREDITS: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScIhttps://www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages

Theoretical Physicist: Can’t Avoid a Beginning for Our Universe

Recent shakeups from the James Webb Space Telescope images invite fundamental questions like, Does the universe have a beginning?

The recent flutter over whether the James Webb Space Telescope’s data stream is a plus or a minus for the Big Bang and the Standard Model of the universe touched on some interesting cosmological issues. The Big Bang and the Standard Model support the assumption that our universe is finite and had a beginning. Could it have been eternal — with an infinite past instead of a beginning? The trouble is, as we saw last Saturday, when we try to apply concepts like infinity — typically used in mathematics — to the physical world, the basis of reality can collapse into absurdity. The world science observes seems to be finite; time starts at a certain point, flows in one direction, Read More ›

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Glowing huge nebula with young stars. Space background

Has a Superintellect Monkeyed With Our Universe’s Physics?

Groundbreaking astronomer Fred Hoyle was a staunch atheist but then he tried showing that carbon, essential to life, could form easily. Steve Meyer explains.

In this second portion of a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Steve Meyer discusses the ways in which groundbreaking astronomer Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) dealt with the fact that the universe seems fine-tuned for life. Hoyle’s widely cited comment on the subject was “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” That was an unsettling idea for Hoyle, who was a well-known atheist, and he certainly sought ways around it. How did he fare? Dr. Meyer, author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021), reflects on Hoyle’s struggle. Read More ›

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Crystal Prism

Schrödinger Believed That There Was Only One Mind in the Universe

The quantum physicist and author of the famous Cat Paradox believed that our individual minds are not unique but rather like the reflected light from prisms

Consciousness researcher Robert Prentner and cognitive psychologist will tell a prestigious music and philosophy festival in London next month that great physicist Donald Hoffman, quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) believed that “The total number of minds in the universe is one.” That is, a universal Mind accounts for everything. In a world where many scientists strive mightily to explain how the human mind can arise from non-living matter, Prentner and Hoffman will tell the HowtheLightGetsIn festival in London (September 17–18, 2022) that the author of the famous Cat paradox was hardly a materialist: In 1925, just a few months before Schrödinger discovered the most basic equation of quantum mechanics, he wrote down the first sketches of the ideas that he Read More ›