Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


abstract illustration of Indian celebrating mathematics day Jayanti or Ramanujan Srinivasa holiday

A Brilliant Mathematician’s Last Letter Continues To Matter

Sadly, Ramanujan’s life was cut short by various health issues

One of the most remarkable mathematicians in history was Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920) whose life was cut short by tuberculosis. In an interesting essay, psychiatrist Ashwin Sharma asks us to look at ways that his last letter helps us understand our universe better: A cryptic letter addressed to G.H. Hardy on January 12th, 1920, will be remembered as one of the most important letters in Scientific history. Written by Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical genius who, laying on his deathbed, left hints of a new and incredible mathematical discovery. Unfortunately, the letter was to be his last, dying three months later at 32. Ramanujan’s discovery took over 80 years to solve, and with it came answers to some of the most…

Woman fist with woke written. Woke concept refers to awareness of social and racial justice, concern, vigilance, activism.

A Catholic and a Hindu Tackle Woke culture

In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher look at Woke culture, abortion, euthanasia, and microaggressions

In a recent series of Mind Matters News, podcasts, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu who lives in New Zealand. The first podcast looked at what the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus generally think about the mind and the second explored the Hindu view of free will and evil. The third podcast addressed the question, “What do Hindus think about the Big Bang?” Now, the fourth and final podcast asks, what do Hindus think of current science and culture issues, especially the flowering of Woke Cancel Culture, abortion, and euthanasia? Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — for example, philosopher David Bentley Hart and neuroscientist…

Empty laboratory test tubes isolated on white

“Nothing But… ” Is Now Creating a Crisis in Science

When science writers (and scientists) start using words like “miraculously,” it’s a clue that they are really stumped

In a recent article in Quanta, science writer Natalie Wolchover discusses a little-advertised fact, that the much ballyhooed Large Hadron Collider supports the idea that our universe is fine-tuned — by an intelligence beyond nature? — and that there are many efforts afoot to reinterpret the findings so as to make the problem go away: The crisis became undeniable in 2016, when, despite a major upgrade, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva still hadn’t conjured up any of the new elementary particles that theorists had been expecting for decades. The swarm of additional particles would have solved a major puzzle about an already known one, the famed Higgs boson. The hierarchy problem, as the puzzle is called, asks why the…

Old Burned Church

Religion Journalism After God Is Declared Dead

Writer and editor Ed Simon examines and makes a case for the New Religion Journalism, offering us help with praying to a dead god

Ed Simon is one of the editors of a recent anthology, The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters (2021). According to the publisher, Broadleaf Books (an imprint of 1517 Media, formerly Augsburg Fortress), the book highlights “personal, subjective, voice-driven New Religion Journalism” by young writers “characterized by their brash, innovative, daring, and stylistically sophisticated writing and an unprecedented willingness to detail their own interaction with faith (or their lack thereof).” Simon offers his own thoughts on religion, sympathetic to that perspective, in a recent article at Aeon: He starts with reflections on the view that mid-nineteenth-century British poet Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) expressed in his poem “Dover Beach,” that religious faith was receding in his world:…

Exploring the Multiverse Some elements provided courtesy of NASA

Astrophysicists Lock Horns Over Whether Multiverse Must Exist

Ethan Siegel says it follows naturally from inflation; Adam Frank says inflation is not that robust a theory

Recently, online magazine Big Think challenged two astrophysicists, Ethan Siegel (Yes) and Adam Frank (No) to debate the question. From Ethan Siegel’s argument for the multiverse: If cosmic inflation and quantum field theory are both correct, then the Multiverse arises as an inevitable consequence of the two, combined… Those regions of space where inflation end and the hot Big Bang begins are each their own, independent Universe, and together, they make up a Multiverse. We may not be able to measure these other Universes, at least not just yet, but there’s every reason to expect that if inflation and quantum field theory are both correct, then the Multiverse inevitably exists. Ethan Siegel and Adam Frank, “Is the Multiverse real? Two…

Atom Particle Eyes

Theoretical Physicist: Quantum Theory Must Be Replaced

Impatient with the results of recent experiments, she seeks a better theory that is not observer-dependent

Recently, we ran a piece featuring the views of well-known science writer John Horgan who talked about a truly strange element of quantum physics confirmed by recent experiments — that it seems as if there is no knowledge apart from observers’ minds. Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder is decidedly unhappy with that approach: Physicists have shown that objective reality doesn’t exist. This is allegedly an insight derived from quantum mechanics. And not only this, it’s been experimentally confirmed. Really? How do you prove that reality doesn’t exist? Has it really been done? And do we have to stop saying “really” now? That’s what we’ll talk about today. Many of you’ve asked me to comment on those headlines claiming that reality doesn’t…

Atheism. Torn sheet of paper with the inscription.

Faith in God Is the Only Coherent Basis for Reason

Access to truth is always a matter of faith — the validity of reason cannot be validated by reason itself

Atheists commonly assert that there is a profound dichotomy between faith and reason. This is exemplified by atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne ’s book Faith vs. Fact. He implies that we can have faith in the truth of something or we can have factual knowledge of the truth but we cannot have both. Faith and fact are, in his view, mutually exclusive. But that is not true. Faith in God provides an indispensable foundation for the power of human reason. In the perspective proposed by medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), we must accept radical skepticism about the veracity of our perceptions and our concepts. One may ask: how do we know that what we perceive or what we…

Asian woman doctor in personal protective suit or PPE wearing mask and goggles pray for covid-19 outbreak to improve. Medical, coronavirus, covid-19 and healthcare concept.

Excluding All Reference to God From Science Is A Form of Theology

It’s negative theology, to be sure, Michael Egnor and his guest Joshua Farris agree, but still a theology — and one with implications

In this third podcast discussion, “Don’t Blame Me, I’m a Meat Robot,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and theology professor Joshua Farris discuss how a belief in God is compatible with science. Egnor argues that belief in God is a necessity, to prevent science going off the rails: https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/02/MInd-Matters-Episode-174-Joshua-Farris-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript, notes, and links follow: Michael Egnor: I wanted to talk just a little bit about philosophy of science and its relation to theology. First question is, is a belief in God compatible with the practice of science? It seems like a silly question, but it’s actually a pretty hot question nowadays… Joshua Farris: There’s this common idea that when we proceed utilizing the method of methodological naturalism — as methodological…

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,…

Blue glowing antimatter

A Physicist Defends Imperfection in Our Universe: It’s Essential

We owe our existence, says Marcelo Gleiser, to the fact that our universe is full of lopsided, not balanced, quantities

Philosopher and physicist Marcelo Gleiser, author of A tear at the edge of creation (2013), sees lack of symmetry — lopsidedness — as essential to the nature of our universe: We left-handed people are a minority among humans, roughly a 1:10 ratio. But make no mistake: the Universe loves left-handedness, from subatomic particles to life itself. In fact, without this fundamental asymmetry in Nature, the Universe would be a very different place — bland, mostly filled with radiation, and without stars, planets, or life. Still, there is a prevalent aesthetic in the physical sciences that pushes for mathematical perfection — expressed as symmetry — as the blueprint for Nature. And, as is often the case, we get lost in a…

ecosystem terrarium with small plants

Philosopher: We Can’t Prove That We Aren’t Living in a Simulation

David Chalmers looks at the issues, step by step, in an excerpt from his new book, Reality+, and rules out proving that it is false

Philosopher David Chalmers, best known for the phrase “Hard Problem of consciousness” and the philosopher’s zombie thought experiment. tells us that we can’t actually prove that we are not living in a simulation: “You might think we have definitive evidence we’re not in a simulation. That’s impossible.” The idea that we live in a simulation is basic to The Matrix films. People use the expressions red-pilled and blue-pilled every day now. The idea also underlies one of the explanations offered for why we don’t see extraterrestrials; according to the Planetarium Hypothesis, we are living in their “planetarium.” It’s not just films and ET lore. Elon Musk has claimed to take seriously that we are aliens’ sims. So does Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Neil…

Big Bang in Space, The Birth of the Universe 3d illustration

How Easy Is It To Imagine Absolutely Nothing?

Theories around the Big Bang provide an interesting test of the concept

The Big Bang is, for most, the beginning of all science questions about the universe … and the mind and all that Many dislike the Big Bang because, while it is makes the best sense of the universe, it implies that there is a God. What are the arguments either way? Some see the Big Bang as engineered, though not by a divine Mind. Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, argued in Scientific American last October that advanced aliens engineered the Big Bang and that, when we humans are sufficiently advanced, we will create other universes as well. Loeb’s hypothesis is not logically stranger than the many that attempt to account for the Big Bang without underlying information/intelligence. It does not appear…

multiverse conceptual illustration

In an Infinity of Universes, Is Another You Reading This Article?

Maybe. But the recent science evidence is not especially encouraging

It is generally believed that the early universe widely inflated. So, reporting on a recent article submitted to Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, Stony Brook astrophysicist Paul Sutter points out: First off, they found that eternal inflation wasn’t nearly as common as originally thought. Their explanation for why cosmologists had thought eternal inflation was generic was because those earlier cosmologists had studied only a limited set of models. They found that many viable inflation models (“viable” here means they didn’t obviously contradict observations) didn’t lead to an eternally inflating scenario. Paul Sutter, “How real is the multiverse?” at Space.com (December 16, 2021) Cosmologists line up on both sides: Prominent proponents of the multiverse have included well-known cosmologists such as Max Tegmark and…

Billboard for the abandoned town of Nothing, Arizona.

How Can the Universe Have Arisen From Nothing?

We are asked to examine the problem logically

Science writer Prudence Louise offers some realism on the topic: The question of cosmic origins is a perennially popular question, but most theists think the answer has been known for thousands of years. God is the ultimate cause of the cosmos. While there’s room to disagree with that theistic conclusion, there are rational limits on the valid ways to reject it. None of the outcomes of rejecting God are appealing. They’re the sort of explanatory gaps we reluctantly accept in the wider context of our philosophical commitments. Prudence Louise, “Universes from Nothing?: Scientific euphemisms and equivocations” at Medium (November 21, 2021) (November 21, 2021) She runs through a number of ideas that sound popular in the lunchroom but don’t stand…

Twisted clock face. Time concept

The Central Mystery of the Universe Is Time

Physicists assume everything is reversible in principle — yet time isn’t. Why not?

Physicist Paul Davies unpacks it, so far as anyone can: Physicists first got to grips with the problem of the arrow of time in the middle of the nineteenth century by considering the behavior of gas molecules rushing around and colliding. Imagine a box of gas with a barrier down the middle. Suppose the gas on the left is hotter than on the right. If the barrier is removed, the faster-moving molecules on the left collide with the slower ones on the right, redistributing the energy. Soon the gas reaches a uniform temperature, a condition known as thermodynamic equilibrium. This process is irreversible. You never see the opposite happening. Without external interference, heat always flows from hot to cold. It’s…

Jellyfishes in dark deep water

Nautilus Offers a “Primer” on Panpsychism

Noting the growth in interest from science writers as well as neuroscientists and philosophers, the magazine offers four essays discussing current approaches

Recently, we’ve been discussing the way panpsychism is creating competition for naturalism in the sciences. Where naturalism sees cognition/consciousness as an illusion that happen to aid survival, panpsychism sees it as part of the substrate of nature, more obviously present in more complex entities like humans than in less complex ones. Neither view appeals to the supernatural in principle but to the panpsychist, information is as much a part of nature as matter or energy. Its effects are pervasive and real. And consciousness is not something to just be explained away. Such a view may change the way many see nature on topics ranging from the environment to evolution. In a 2020 special edition of Nautilus, “Panpsychism: This Changes Everything,”…

Big data futuristic visualization abstract illustration

How AI Changed — in a Very Big Way — Around the Year 2000

With the advent of huge amounts of data, AI companies switched from using deductive logic to inductive logic

In “Hyping Artificial Intelligence Hinders Innovation” (podcast episode 163), Andrew McDiarmid interviewed Erik J. Larson, author of The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do (2021) (Harvard University Press, 2021) on the way “Machines will RULE!” hype discredits — and distracts attention from — actual progress in AI. Erik Larson has founded two two DARPA-funded artificial intelligence startups. Inthe book he urges us to go back to the drawing board with AI research and development. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/34ce0d74-aa74-4ad9-9599-e9ddf2be56a7-Mind-Matters-News-Episode-163-Erik-Larson-.mp3 This portion begins at 01:59 min. A partial transcript and notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Andrew McDiarmid: Can you paint a picture first for us of what the AI landscape looks like today and why it’s not…

Light bulb with big hands in moment of insight on blue

Physicist: Science, by Nature, Can’t Have a Theory of Everything

Such a theory is a sort of religious quest that has united philosophers, theologians, and scientists, But is it possible?

With admirable clarity, astronomer and physicist Marcelo Gleiser explains what a Theory of Everything is and is not: It’s not about every detail of life that happens to us. It’s the search for a single, underlying force that unites the four fundamental forces of nature — gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force — into one single underlying force. Why haven’t we found it? Well, first, he says, “We do not see this unity because it is only manifest at extremely high energies, well beyond what we can perceive even with our most powerful machines.” But second — and more significantly — there is a real question, Gleiser contends, whether science is by nature suited to…

AGLA is a magical name of God

Egnor and Solms: What Does It Mean To Say God Is a Person?

Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason

Last time out, as South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor continued to discuss the mind vs. the brain at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021). Solms said that he believed in Spinoza’s God — so did Albert Einstein, actually. Now he asks Egnor about the idea that God is a Person. Summary to date: In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr. Egnor then responded that his clinical experience supports the view that brain is not mind. Then Solms pointed to the…