Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Can We Eliminate the Idea of Function From the Study of Life?

The question is, can biology journals take away what they did not give, without harming their own enterprise?

We tend to assume that our values come in part from the careers we follow. Often, that’s true. If a given mindset works well at work, we may try it at home. But that process can work in reverse. We can start with a mindset and try to graft it onto our work. With mixed results. That seems to have happened in some quarters in biology. For example, the term “function” in life forms is linked historically with the idea that life forms show evidence of design. Therefore, philosopher Emmanuel Ratti and molecular biologist Pierre-Luc Germain argue, biologists shouldn’t use it: The notion of biological function is fraught with difficulties — intrinsically and irremediably so, we argue. The physiological practice…

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Why Free Will Is Philosophically and Scientifically Sound

As Michael Egnor points out in a recent podcast, it has been nearly a century since determinism was toppled in physics

In “Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor: Humans Have Free Will” a recent podcast at ID the Future, geoscientist Casey Luskin discussed science-based arguments against free will with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor (13:05 min). Are these arguments a serious challenge or are they just wishful thinking on the part of materialists? Here’s a partial transcript: Casey Luskin: Now I want to continue our conversation, Dr. Egnor, from the previous podcast, where we were talking about your debates on evolution news and views, responding to Dr. Jerry Coyne, the well known evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago. Coyne is what you might call an honest atheist in that he’s willing to admit the implications that atheism and Darwinian materialism have for concepts like free…

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When a Neurosurgeon and a Biologist Keep On Arguing…

… we suspect some pretty basic science issues are involved

In a recent ID: The Future podcast (June 24, 2022) Casey Luskin interviews pediatric neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on his blogosphere debates with evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. Egnor, who has authored many research papers, espouses a non-materialist view of the mind — and of life in general — with which Dr. Coyne, a committed atheist, emphatically disagrees. Here’s a partial transcript from “A Brain Surgeon Debates Evolutionist Jerry Coyne and Other Atheists”: Casey Luskin: We’re going to talk about these debates you’ve had with Dr. Coyne and others. Some of the arguments you’ve made, I think, have been very compelling. But before we get into that, I’d like to ask, why do you focus your writing so much on Dr. Jerry…

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Researchers: Learning by Inference Beats Learning by Association

They found that seeing the patterns underlying events (inference) allowed test volunteers to make predictions about future events

When we learn by association, we notice that some things occur together. For example, suppose three items are frequently seen together on a kitchen table — salt, ketchup, and vinegar. So we might learn to associate salt and vinegar with ketchup. But what, if any, is the relationship? When we infer information about the world around us, we don’t just associate items with each other. We see the pattern underlying them. By seeing the pattern in the group of condiments, we learn more: In this case, we infer that dinner will likely be fish and chips. If the group had been plum sauce, soya sauce, and Sriracha sauce, we would infer that fish and chips won’t be served this time;…

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Why Science News Sucks — A Response to a Disgusted Physicist

There are reasons why science journalists can't usually be skeptical in the way that other journalists can. Here are some of them

In her usual forthright manner, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder asks, by blog post and Youtube video, “Why does science news suck so much? It’s hardly an original question but among her suggested answers are some thoughtful reflections, including 9. Don’t forget that science is fallible A lot of media coverage on science policy remembers that science is fallible only when it’s convenient for them. When they’ve proclaimed something as fact that later turns out to be wrong, then they’ll blame science. Because science is fallible. Facemasks? Yeah, well, we lacked the data. Alright. But that’d be more convincing if science news acknowledged that their information might be wrong in the first place. The population bomb? Peak oil? The new ice…

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Can the Future Reach Back and Affect the Past?

Researchers say that only elementary particles can really time travel but there is another way…

If the future influenced the past, that would be retrocausality. As Victor Bhaura puts it, Retrocausality means that, when an experimenter chooses the measurement setting with which to measure a particle, that decision can influence the properties of that particle (or another one) in the past, even before the experimenter made their choice. In other words, a decision made in the present can influence something in the past. Victor Bhaura, “Retrocausality — Future Influences Past Information Before Occurrence Of An Event” at Medium (June 8, 2022) Bhaura reminds us of a limerick called “Relativity” from 1923: There was a young lady named BrightWhose speed was far faster than light;She set out one dayIn a relative wayAnd returned on the previous…

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Did Carl Sagan Think the Universe Shows No Design?

Like Fred Hoyle, he seems to have thought it showed design — until that view became politically associated with religion

It’s a complicated story. At one time, a religious skeptic like astronomer Carl Sagan (1934–1996) could write: The universe was made on purpose, the circle said. In whatever galaxy you happen to find yourself, you take the circumference of a circle, divide it by its diameter, measure closely enough, and uncover a miracle — another circle, drawn kilometers downstream of the decimal point. There would be richer messages farther in. It doesn’t matter what you look like, or what you’re made of, or where you come from. As long as you live in this universe, and have a modest talent for mathematics, sooner or later you’ll find it. It’s already here. It’s inside everything. You don’t have to leave your…

Time concept. Hi-res digitally generated image.

A Form of Time Travel That Might Be Possible…

In world of entropy, time runs in one direction and reversing it would create impossible contradictions. physicists say

Of the four dimensions, only time is mysterious. We can play games with the other three, the spatial dimensions — imagining, for example, 2- or even 1-dimensional universes, as in Flatland (1884). But in the end, they follow the rules. Time goes in one direction only and time travel — moving time in the other direction is easy to imagine in principle but full of nearly impossible conundrums in practice. Astrophysicists struggle to figure it out. Our brains are adapted to keeping track of the present (the experience of “now”) and the past (memory). But that only tells us how we come to be aware of time. It doesn’t tell us what time is. We get a bit closer, says…


Math Fun: Hilbert’s Hotel Manager Copes With Infinity With Poise!

What, exactly, happens when a would-be guest shows up at a fully booked hotel — with infinite rooms?

Hilbert’s Hotel is a thought experiment that the great mathematician David Hilbert (1862–1943) developed to help us see the “counterintuitiveness of infinity.” He asks us to imagine a hotel which is “full” — except that because it is infinite, it can always create one more room. Mathematician Marianne Freiberger explains: Suppose that your hotel has infinitely many rooms, numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. All rooms are occupied, when a new guest arrives and asks to be put up. What do you do? It’s easy. Ask the guest in room 1 to move to room 2, the guest in room 2 to move into room 3, the guest in room 3 to move into room 4, and so on. If there…

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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…

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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…

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“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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…