Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy

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Full moon in a black night sky

Sixty Billion Stars. And No Aliens? What Now?

Are we approaching a crisis of faith in ET?

At Universe Today, Matt Williams asks if it is time to update the Drake Equation, by which you could settle — in your own mind — how likely the aliens are. It began to be developed nearly sixty years ago at a conference at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. And everyone took for granted that we would be hearing from the aliens soon. That was the basis of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) — keeping the hope alive. Rather than being an actual means for quantifying the number of intelligent species in our galaxy, the purpose of the equation was meant to frame the discussion on SETI. In addition to encapsulating the challenges facing scientists,…

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There But For Fortune

Life in the Plural: If There Were Two of You, Would “You” Exist?

According to philosopher Angus Menuge, there can’t be two of you, because two things cannot be one thing.

In the third podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, on unique features of human consciousness, including the fact that our experiences are a unity, which has prompted some interesting thought experiments, for example those of Richard Swinburne. But here’s another one: What if there really were two of you? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Angus-Menuge-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 This portion begins at 06:49 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: What is the idea of “too many thinkers” in philosophy? Angus Menuge (pictured): The simple view of personal identity is that your soul or your mind is always you. That’s a dualist view.…

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Information technology background. Network business infographics. it computer technology concept.

It From Bit: What Did John Archibald Wheeler Get Right—and Wrong?

In a chapter in a forthcoming book, William Dembski explores the strengths and weaknesses of Wheeler’s perspective that the universe is, at bottom, information

In his chapter in a forthcoming book, Mind and Matter: Modern Dualism, Idealism and the Empirical Sciences (Discovery Institute Press), information theorist William Dembski looks at the ways physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008, pictured) changed our understanding of reality. What did Wheeler, an early atomic bomb theorist who coined the terms “black hole” and “wormhole,” get right? What did he get wrong? Wheeler is probably best known for a catchphrase, “it from bit,” introduced in a 1989 paper where he explains, It from bit symbolises the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the…

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Abstract fractal spiral. Shell background

Why Some Think Emergence Is Replacing Materialism in Science

Materialism, in the form of reductionism, posits a world without novelty — but that is not the world we live in

Many of us might need a pause to recall just what the word “reductionism” means. But we surely recognize it when we hear it: “Humans are nothing but big-brained apes,” “The mind is just what the brain does,” or “The Earth is a mere speck in a not-very-interesting galaxy.” That, materialists tell us, is What Science Shows. But is it? Really? In an article at BigThink, University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank (pictured) argues that reductionism is — for good reasons — fading in science: “Reductionism offers a narrow view of the universe that fails to explain reality.” It is slowly being replaced: Reductionism is the view that everything true about the world can be explained by atoms and their…

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Neurons electrical pulses. Interconnected neurons with electrical pulses.

How a Materialist Philosopher Argued His Way to Panpsychism

Galen Strawson starts with the one fact of which we are most certain — our own consciousness

In 2018, science writer Robert Wright interviewed physicalist philosopher Galen Strawson (pictured) who, in a long conversation, explained the logical steps by which he — a philosopher who holds that nature is all there is and that everything is physical — also came to believe that consciousness underlies everything. Wright published a long excerpt from the discussion in June 2020, in which Strawson explains his reasoning. Wright starts things off by noting that “In recent years more and more philosophers seem to have embraced panpsychism—the view that consciousness pervades the universe and so is present, in however simple a form, in every little speck of matter.” Indeed, even publications like Scientific American have run panpsychist opinion pieces in recent years.…

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World philosophy day education concept: tree of knowledge planting on opening old big book in library with textbook  in natural background

Why Do Some Famous Materialist Scientists Hate Philosophy?

Philosopher of biology Massimo Pigliucci takes Richard Dawkins to task for dismissing philosophy but he might have said the same of Stephen Hawking

Massimo Pigliucci (pictured) makes clear that he is a naturalist (materialist) like zoologist Richard Dawkins. For example, he tells us that they crossed paths at a conference whose purpose was to promote naturalism (materialism): Over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism: the view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings. Sean Carroll, “Moving Naturalism Forward (announcement)” at Preposterous Universe…

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young bearded man opens the bottle of milk standing near fridge at home

If the Mind and Body Are So Different, How Can They Interact?

A look at different models of the mind–body problem

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the notoriously difficult mind–body problem. In the first part, they talked about we know we are not just bodies, citing the immateriality and indivisibility of the mind and the evidence from near-death experiences. But then how does the immaterial mind interact with the material body? Menuge offers some initial thoughts: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 12:30 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge: Many philosophers, materialists like Hobbs, but even people sympathetic with Descartes, raised this issue — they couldn’t really see what was the mechanism or the medium by which mind and matter could interact. When…

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set of Detective of Holmes times

Abduction: A Thinking Skill You Can Do But Computers Can’t

A Norwegian police detective fills us in on how to use abduction for better thinking

Ivar Fahsing, detective chief superintendent at the Norwegian Police University College, has “worked on some of the worst crimes in Norway for 30 years.” He had to hone his thinking skills but, he says, many of us have never learned to “make safe judgments under pressure.” He is also convinced that any of us can improve our skills and he offers some help from his experience investigating crimes. One skill he focuses on is abduction, which was Sherlock Holmes’s favorite method. Yes, Holmes always tells his sidekick and foil, Dr. Watson, that he uses deduction — but he doesn’t: In the Sherlock Holmes novels, our titular hero continuously assails Dr Watson, a man of science, about the merits of deductive…

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Futuristic heads up display blue green abstract interface

How the Explanatory Filter Can Help Quash Conspiracy Theories

I found Dembski’s explanatory filter quite helpful in investigating voter fraud claims

William Dembski’s explanatory filter is a decision strategy for identifying events that are unlikely to have happened purely by chance. The filter proceeds in three main steps, which can be illustrated via the plot device in Contact, a novel (1985) by Carl Sagan, followed by a film (1997): Eliminate events of large probability (necessity): A radio telescope receives a pattern of beeps and pauses. Perhaps the pattern seems strange to us but we could just be overinterpreting inevitable space noise. Eliminate events of medium probability (chance): The pattern turns out to be a sequence of prime numbers. However, large randomly generated numbers sometimes feature apparent patterns (five 5s in a row, for example) that don’t signify anything. Specify the event…

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Villa Melzi - Dante e Beatrice

One of the Greatest Poets Asks, Can We Be Good Without Free Will?

As a centuries old poem shows, materialism is a logical mistake and not really a coherent system of belief

Medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, exiled for life from his native Florence, took the opportunity to write a magnificent trilogy — the Divine Comedy — in which he tours Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The Comedy is more than a poetic masterpiece. It is a profound philosophical and theological reflection on this life and on eternity. Remarkably, although Dante’s immediate guides through the unseen worlds are, famously, the Roman poet Virgil (70 BC–19 BC) and later, a childhood sweetheart Beatrice (who died young), his philosophical guide is the philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. The metaphysics, the ethics, and the theology of the Divine Comedy deeply reflect Thomas’s influence. That is remarkable, considering that Dante (1265–1321 AD), who was only a child…

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Big brother

How Orwell’s 1984 Can Be Seen As an Argument for God’s Existence

Atheism is not only fundamental to the power of the Party in 1984 but is also its central weakness

University of Nebraska political science prof Carson Holloway (pictured) asks, “Does discrediting the existence of God promote enlightened thinking or a lack of objective reality?” Unpacking the social structure in George Orwell’s classic totalitarian dystopia, 1984 (1949), he observes that not only does the Party have the power of life and death but the atheistic Party faithful fear death as utter annihilation: Atheism is the moral basis of the Party’s unlimited hold on its own members because it makes them terrified of death as absolute nonexistence. Like any government, the Party in 1984 has the power to kill disobedient subjects. Party members, however, view death not just as the end of bodily life, but as a complete erasure of their…

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Detective board with photos of suspected criminals, crime scenes and evidence with red threads

Why Computers Will Likely Never Perform Abductive Inferences

As Erik Larson points out in The Myth of Artificial Intelligence, what computers “know” must be painstakingly programmed

I’ve been reviewing philosopher and programmer Erik Larson’s The Myth of Artificial Intelligence. See my earlier posts, here, here, here, here, and here. Larson did an interesting podcast with the Brookings Institution through its Lawfare Blog shortly after the release of his book. It’s well worth a listen, and Larson elucidates in that interview many of the key points in his book. The one place in the interview where I wish he had elaborated further was on the question of abductive inference (aka retroductive inference or inference to the best explanation). For me, the key to understanding why computers cannot, and most likely will never, be able to perform abductive inferences is the problem of underdetermination of explanation by data. This may seem like a mouthful, but the idea is straightforward.…

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alien

Zoologist: Law of Evolution Can Predict What Aliens Will Be Like

Arik Kershenbaum’s new book argues that convergent evolution on Earth helps us understand what to expect from extraterrestrial life

Cambridge zoologist Arik Kershenbaum, author of Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy (2021), thinks that convergent evolution here on Earth can offer us guides to what must happen on other planets that can support life. “Convergent evolution” means that radically different life forms arrive at the same solutions. He told science writer Dan Falk in an interview: Sometimes this “convergence” of traits is for something obviously useful, like wings. But sometimes convergence produces bizarrely similar creatures that share so many characteristics, it can be hard to believe they’re not closely related. The recently extinct thylacine [a large predatory marsupial native to Tasmania and mainland Australia], for example, could easily be mistaken for a peculiar breed of dog, but it’s much more…

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Mad wide smile with many teeth on black background. Deco element, card-, flyer- base, clip art

IS the Moon There If No One Looks? Or Is There No “There” There?

Elementary particles do not need to be in a particular place until they are observed and then that's where they are

In last week’s podcast,,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed idealist philosopher of science and physicist Bruce Gordon on how the quantum physics that underlies our universe makes much more sense if we have a non-materialist view of reality. Even then, it challenges our conventional view of how nature “must” work: We were introduced to the quantum eraser experiment, which showed that what happens at the level of individual particles depends on whether you choose to measure or not. This segment looks at non-locality, the science of being in no one particular place. Elementary particles can do that too: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-130-Bruce-Gordon.mp3 This portion begins at 12:36 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Bruce Gordon: So another…

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Quantum Wave

In Quantum Physics, “Reality” Really Is What We Choose To Observe

Physicist Bruce Gordon argues that idealist philosophy is the best way to make sense of the puzzling world of quantum physics

In last week’s podcast,,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed idealist philosopher of science and physicist Bruce Gordon on how the quantum physics that underlies our universe makes much more sense if we have a non-materialist view of reality. Even then, it challenges our conventional view of how nature “must” work: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-130-Bruce-Gordon.mp3 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: When I was in college, I was a biochemistry major and I took some courses in quantum mechanics. It was noted in the course that when you look at the most fundamental properties of subatomic particles, matter seems to disappear. That the reality of the subatomic particles is that they’re mathematical concepts. It utterly fascinated me…

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Bubbles

How Materialism Proves Unbounded Scientific Ignorance

There is an infinite number of things that are true that we cannot prove scientifically and never will

Science is based on a glut of laws from physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other areas. The assumption of scientific materialism, as I understand it, is that science has explained or will explain everything. The final conclusion of scientific materialism, also known as scientism, is nicely captured in a question chemist Peter Atkins asked philosopher William Lane Craig in a debate: “Do you deny that science can account for everything?” Scientism’s assumption that science can establish everything is self-refuting. Careful analysis shows that there is an infinite number of things that are true that we cannot prove scientifically and never will. Stephen Hawking saw the tip of the iceberg of this truth when he said, “Up to now, most people have…

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Chain hanging from the sky

Why the Universe Itself Can’t Be the Most Fundamental Thing

Atheist biology professor Jerry Coyne is mistaken in dismissing my observation that proofs of God’s existence follow the same logical structure as any other scientific theory

Jerry Coyne has posted in reply to my observation that God’s existence can be demonstrated by the ordinary methods of science. That is to say, all proofs of God’s existence are scientific theories in the sense that they have the same logical structure as any other scientific theory that proposes explanations for the natural world. Scientific theories are inductive in that they depend upon evidence in the natural world to reach a conclusion. Thus demonstrations of God’s existence, for example Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways, are scientific theories in the sense that Newton’s Law of Gravitation, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution are scientific theories. Scientific theories can demonstrate the existence of things outside of nature…

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Unfolding of Geometry

A Physicist and Philosopher Examines Panpsychism

Idealism says everything is an idea in the mind of God. Panpsychism says everything participates in consciousness (thus is not just an idea)

In last week’s podcast,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is the view that “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. As Gordon noted in the earlier portion of this podcast, idealism is actually a practical philosophy. It originated with Plato (c. 424–347 BC) but the modern form, which he himself holds, is that of George Berkeley (1685–1753). In Berkeley’s view everything that exists is an idea in the mind of God. Thus, Dr. Egnor asked him what he thinks of panpsychism, the view that everything in the universe…

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Bench on scenic overlook in Oklahoma, southeastern region in the Ouachita Mountains,   scenic vistas of the mountains

Why Idealism Is Actually a Practical Philosophy

Not what you heard? Philosopher of science — and pianist — Bruce Gordon says, think again

In last week’s podcast,,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Gordon thinks that idealism is defensible, reasonable, and too easily discarded: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-129-Bruce-Gordon.mp3 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: At its most fundamental level, is reality more like a mind? Or is it more like a physical object? That question — and questions like that — are fundamental to our understanding of nature and our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of God. I should point out…

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World mental health day concept: Silhouette of human standing to worship God in meadow autumn sunset background

Here’s Why an Argument for God’s Existence Is Scientific

The form of reasoning and the type of evidence accepted is the same as with Newton’s theories or Darwin’s

Atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is a fountain of nonsensical arguments against the existence of God. If a scholar wanted to write a review paper on the most ridiculous arguments against God’s existence so far in the 21st century, he would need look no further than Coyne’s blog. Coyne’s latest post denying God’s existence takes issue with an essay by Samuel Benson in the Deseret News in which Benson makes the case that invoking both a miracle and a scientific achievement in the development of the COVID vaccine is not necessarily contradictory. Benson points out that the natural world, properly understood, can only be explained using both science and theology. In support of his view, he quotes the president of…