Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


set of alien planet isolated on black background, nearby exoplanets (3d science illustration)

Among 5000 Known Exoplanets, There Are Some Really Strange Ones

Planets so strange that they prompt a rethink of the “planetary rulebook.”

PBS tells us that Hoth, the frozen planet in Star Wars, is not just imagination. It has a real-life counterpart among the exoplanets. Granted, astronomers call it OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb but even they think of it as “Hoth.” Here’s the video. Such strange planets are prompting a rethink of the “planetary rulebook.” Another strange one: Narrator: 51 Pegasi b is a gas giant, around half the mass of Jupiter, but so close to its star that part of its atmosphere may have been ripped away… Hannah Wakeford: These planets are baked by their stars’ radiation, the temperatures are in the thousands. David Charbonneau: Many astronomers didn’t believe it, because the planet was in the wrong place. It was enormous. It was massive,…

Independent Thinking

A British Philosopher Looks For a Way to Redefine Free Will

Julian Baggini’s proposed new approach assumes the existence of the very qualities that only a traditional view of the mind offers

British philosopher Julian Baggini, author of The Great Guide: What David Hume Can Teach Us about Being Human and Living Well (2021) argues against the idea of free will, as commonly understood (voluntarist free will). Citing the fact that the world is controlled by physics, he writes, No matter how free we feel, our understanding of nature tells us that no choice originates in us but traces its history throughout our histories and our environments. Even leaving aside physics, it seems obvious that, at the moment of any choice, the conditions for that choice have already been set, and to be able to escape them would be no more than the ability to generate random actions. And if all that…

Light teleport with business panels

Can We Teleport? Find a Wormhole? Survive the Universe’s Death?

Many ideas, once thought science fiction, have become science fact. How will these ones fare?

If anyone thinks that, by definition, none of this stuff could possibly happen, it’s worth remembering that many people would have said that decades ago about invisibility or the bionic hand. But here we are. Some things are impossible in principle, some in practice. In other cases, all we can do is see where we are in relation to the problem. Could humans be teleported to Mars? With teleportation, as in Star Trek, geologists could get from Houston to Mars to pick up some rocks injust minutes. Science writer Marcus Chown tells us that one reason the feat was considered impossible in the recent past was the inability to be certain of every atom in a human body, due to…

alien planet landscape, beautiful forest the surface of an exoplanet

NASA Develops a Scale for Assessing the Chances of ET Life

We’ve come a long way from mere snatches of (maybe) information to the need for standards in evaluating the expected incoming mass

Geoscientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, co-author with William Bains of The Cosmic Zoo (2017) and a number of other books on planetary habitability, thinks science needs standardized scales for assessing claims about extraterrestrial life. There are lots of claims: life on Mars detected by the Viking landers (1976), fossil life in a Mars-origin meteorite (1996), phosphine on Venus (2020) … all have some evidence in their favor. But scientists need a way to express degrees of certainty. Recently, NASA has proposed the Confidence of Life Detection Scale (CoLD), featuring seven benchmarks. The main problem is that evidence that might suggest life could just as easily be a non-biological process: Consider Jupiter’s moon Europa. A large asteroid impact could have volatilized ice on…

Girls eye with paint and earth
Girls eye with paint and earth

New Scientist Offers a Sympathetic Account of Panpsychism

A serious, long form article shows that physicalism (“the mind is just what the brain does”) is failing

Panpsychism, the view that all nature participates in consciousness, has been growing under the radar for some time in science. But it is now coming into plainer view. New Scientist is one of the last places one might have expected to find a serious, long-form account of panpsychism — one that, in the context, amounts to a defense. Yet that’s just what science writer and filmmaker Thomas Lewton has been permitted by the editors to do. He tells us about his own journey at his site: “Studying physics, I thought telescopes and particle colliders would offer firm answers, but instead they raised more questions.” And at New Scientist, he tells us why: It can seem as if there is an…

View of a white marble hindu temple

What Do Hindus Think About the Big Bang? The Cyclic Universe?

Hinduism posits a creator God but assumes the creation of cyclic universes

In last week’s Mind Matters News podcast, “Hinduism and the beginning of the universe,” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu 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. 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 Mark Solms (along with Egnor). https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/03/Mind-Matters-News-Episode-179-Arjuna-Gallagher-Episode-3-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript, notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow: The Big Bang and cyclical universes Michael Egnor: How do Hindus understand creation? Is the universe eternal? Was it created at a…

Science and research of the universe, spiral galaxy and physical formulas, concept of knowledge and education

Unexplained — Maybe Unexplainable — Numbers Control the Universe

For example, brilliant physicist Richard Feynman called 1/137, the fine structure constant, “a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man”

In Carl Sagan’s Contact, the extraterrestrials embedded a message in the irrational number pi (the circumference of a circle divided by its radius). But some other numbers are critical to the structure of our universe too — and why they are critical does not make obvious sense. ➤ Perhaps the most fundamental and mysterious one is the fine structure constant of the universe: A seemingly harmless, random number with no units or dimensions has cropped up in so many places in physics and seems to control one of the most fundamental interactions in the universe. Its name is the fine-structure constant, and it’s a measure of the strength of the interaction between charged particles and the electromagnetic force. The current…

Aerial view of nuclear explosion over a city.

What Would Surviving a Nuclear Explosion Be Like?

Nuclear war has been in the news lately but we naturally try to avoid thinking about its effects

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to renewed concerns about the use of nuclear weapons. We hear a variety of responses ranging from “real but not immediate danger” through “a wake-up call for the world.” Here’s what would happen if a nuclear weapon was detonated in an average American community: Pete and Judy Bradley are relaxing on a Sunday afternoon following a Thanksgiving weekend with family members. Highways and airports are filled with travelers on their way home. While the Bradleys are looking at the digital photos they took during the holiday, their darkened living room is suddenly, brilliantly illuminated by a blinding flash of light. The photo of their granddaughter displayed on their computer screen disappears. The Bradleys…

boy in blue balls
Child playing in ball pit. Colorful toys for kids. Kindergarten or preschool play room. Toddler kid at day care indoor playground. Balls pool for children. Birthday party for active preschooler

At Scientific American: Does Quantum Mechanics Kill Free Will?

Physicists take sides. Sabine Hossenfelder thinks superdeterminism enables quantum mechanics to kill free will; George Ellis disagrees

One of the most interesting science writers of our era is John Horgan, who has managed to infuriate so many of the right people (to infuriate, that is) while giving the rest of us something to ponder. In a recent column in Scientific American he takes on the question of whether quantum mechanics (quantum physics) rules out free will. At first glance, that might seem unlikely. Isn’t quantum mechanics (QM) the ultimate in things you can’t determine in advance? Ah, but some physicists think they have found a way around that: superdeterminism. Sabine Hossenfelder explains that, if we knew enough, we would see that everything is determined anyhow: “The reason we can’t predict the outcome of a quantum measurement,” she…

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…

Clocks in sky. Time flies

Even If a Time Machine Didn’t Kill You, It Wouldn’t Change Much

Here are some interesting reflections by science buffs on time machines, as seen in movie clips. Are they even possible?

Cartoonist and science fan David B. Clear explains why it’s not as simple as in the sci-fi films: Let’s assume you’d travel back 1,000 years into the past. Where exactly in the universe was our Earth so long ago? You would have to know and you would have to know very precisely. The smallest error and you’d end up in space again or, which is not much better, you’d transport yourself into the Earth’s crust, into the middle of a mountain, or somewhere in the middle of the atmosphere… And even if you could make sure that there’s nothing standing at your destination, you still have another problem — you need to match the Earth’s speed and direction. In other…

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…

Most of the energy of a collapsing supernova is radiated in the form of neutrinos, produced when protons and electrons in the nucleus combine to form neutrons

Some Elements of Our Universe Do Not Make Scientific Sense

Well-attested observations of neutrinos are not compatible with the Standard Model of our universe that most physicists accept

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder offers a look at a burgeoning genuine mystery in physics that involves the “outsider” particle, the neutrino. According to Fermi National Accelerator Lab, the neutrino is: one of the so-called fundamental particles, which means it isn’t made of any smaller pieces, at least that we know of. Neutrinos are members of the same group as the most famous fundamental particle, the electron (which is powering the device you’re reading this on right now). But while electrons have a negative charge, neutrinos have no charge at all. Neutrinos are also incredibly small and light. They have some mass, but not much. They are the lightest of all the subatomic particles that have mass. They’re also extremely common—in…

Science and research of the universe, spiral galaxy and physical formulas, concept of knowledge and education

Why a Science Fiction View of the Universe Makes Sense

Our universe is very difficult to understand, as a theoretical cosmologist explains

Theoretical cosmologist Katie Mack, author of The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) (2020) lists, in an essay based on her book, a number of facts about our universe that make it hard for us to even fathom it. Even astronomers, she says, have a hard time: Here in the Solar System, space and time are both more or less well-behaved, but when you have to deal with the cosmos as a whole, you have to factor in the fact that it refuses to sit still for its fitting… If you look at a galaxy far, far away, not only do you have to factor in that the image you’re looking at is old, you have to account for the fact…

Glowing forex chart background

What If Quantum Physics Were Applied To Economics?

A mathematician argues that ideas that seemed bizarre in classical physics makes perfect sense in economics

Applied mathematician David Orrell offers a look at the difference quantum mechanical thinking would make to economics. The author of Money, Magic, and How to Dismantle a Financial Bomb: Quantum Economics for the Real World (2022) received considerable criticism for an article he wrote four years ago, “Economics is quantum,” which he summarizes in a followup article, published this month: The idea is that money is best understood as a quantum social technology, with quantum properties of its own. In financial transactions, for example, value can be modelled as a probabilistic wave function which ‘collapses’ down to an exact number when money is exchanged. When you put your house up for sale, you might have a fuzzy idea of its…

Quantum Wave

Study: Science Fiction Not As Strange As Quantum Physics Fact

At least, that’s what we can assume from a failed effort to disprove physicist Eugene Wigner’s thought experiment

According to prominent science writer John Horgan, a “radical quantum hypothesis” is creating doubt about objective reality: The author of Mind-Body Problems explains that, while quantum mechanics has been confirmed by countless experiments as well as by computer chips, it “defies common sense.” Specifically, it creates doubt about what “the facts” are. In 1961, physicist Eugene Wigner proposed a thought experiment, similar to the more famous Schrödinger’s Cat dilemma: Instead of the fabled cat in a box, imagine that a friend of Wigner is inside a laboratory monitoring a radioactive specimen. When the specimen decays, a detector flashes. Now imagine that Wigner is outside the lab. If Wigner’s friend sees the detector flash, he knows that the specimen has decayed.…

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…