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Choosing the High Road or Low Road

Freebits: An Interesting Argument From the Big Bang for Free Will

There are two types of uncertainty, we learn, only one of which could create free will

Caleb Scharf (pictured), author of The Ascent of Information (2021), offers an excerpt at Nautilus that introduces two new terms, the “dataome” and “freebits.” The dataome is all the ways human beings create information, from cave paintings to cloud servers. He asks, “Was all of this really inevitable? Did we ever have a choice in creating a dataome or doing any of the things we do, and does any self-aware entity in the universe have a choice either?” Relying on theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson’s 2013 essay, “The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine,” he asks us to consider that there are two types of uncertainty, only one of which could create choice. Typical “randomness” actually follows statistical laws, a…

ai orb
Artificial Intelligence. Digital age in the global world of the future. 3D illustration of computer mind in decentralized cyberspace

ET Expert Thinks That ET Is Probably AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Given the immense interstellar distances, not being alive might be the only way ET could get here.

Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) astronomer Seth Shostak (pictured) confesses that these are exciting times for alien hunters like himself, what with the Pentagon’s anticipated July 25 report on unidentified aerial phenomena. Still, he doesn’t expect any big revelations: “I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that aliens are present in our galaxy. But I don’t believe they’re hanging out in our airspace. Not now, and not in historic times.” On the other hand, he goes on to say, every third star in our galaxy could host an Earth-like planet so the odds are we are not alone. Few life forms on Earth resemble humans, so why should extraterrestrials? But if we are not alone, what would ET be like? A gaseous…

Flying saucers

The UAPs (UFOs) Are “Not Caused by Any U.S. Advanced Technology”

And that’s all the Pentagon probably really knows

June 25, the U.S. Department of Defense will release a report on UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), a term now preferred to UFOs (unidentified flying objects). A number of unusual sightings since 2017 prompted Congress to ask for a report. According to space industry reporter Leonard David, the justification is airspace safety and control, not an effort to support or refute claims about alien spacecraft: “The report’s firmest conclusion, it seems, is that the vast majority of UAP happenings and their surprising maneuvers are not caused by any U.S. advanced technology programs.” That might mean, for example, UAP are entirely homegrown products of revolutionary and clandestine technological advances, whether by other countries now challenging American airspace or by the U.S. itself…

Archaeological excavation.

Death: Child Grave From 80,000 Years Ago Shows Abstract Thinking

The lovingly prepared site on the Kenyan coast held the remains of a 2–3 year-old child

A child’s grave, found recently in Kenya, pushes clear evidence of abstract thinking back to 80,000 years ago, the Middle Stone Age. The child, nicknamed “Mtoto” (child in Swahili) by the archaeologists, was 2½ – 3 years old; whether a boy or a girl is as yet unclear: In a tour de force of discovery, recovery, and analysis, an interdisciplinary research team has uncovered the earliest known human burial in Africa. The grave, found less than 10 miles inland from southeast Kenya’s lush ocean beaches, contained the remains of a two- to three-year-old child buried with extraordinary care by a community of early Homo sapiens some 78,000 years ago. While some human burials in the Middle East and Europe are…

Stack of papers isolated on white background

A Vulnerable System: Fake Papers and Imaginary Scientists

Publication counts and citation indexes are too noisy and too easily manipulated to be reliable

In the last two posts, we examined how scientific publication has ceased to be a good measure of scientific accomplishment, and how the peer review system is being gamed by unscrupulous publishers and researchers alike. Now, we will continue the discussion on the undermining of scientific publication using two examples: SCIgen and citation counts. SCIgen In 2005 three MIT graduate computer science students created a prank program they called SCIgen for using randomly selected words to generate bogus computer-science papers complete with realistic graphs of random numbers. Their goal was “maximum amusement rather than coherence,” and also to demonstrate that some academic conferences will accept almost anything. They submitted a hoax paper titled, “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy,”…

Lying businessman holding fingers crossed behind his back

Gaming the System: The Flaws in Peer Review

Peer review is well-intentioned, but flawed in many ways

Last time, we examined how scientific publication has ceased to be a good measure of scientific accomplishment because it has now become a target, following Goodhart’s Law. In today’s post, we will continue that examination by turning to the peer review system, and how that system is being gamed by unscrupulous publishers and researchers alike. In theory, the peer review process is intended to ensure that research papers do not get published unless impartial experts in the field deem them worthy of publication. Peer review is well-intentioned, but flawed in many ways. First, the best researchers are incredibly busy and naturally more inclined to do their own research than to review someone else’s work. Thus, peer review is often cursory or…

Female Artist Works on Abstract Oil Painting, Moving Paint Brush Energetically She Creates Modern Masterpiece. Dark Creative Studio where Large Canvas Stands on Easel Illuminated. Low Angle Close-up

Intelligent Design Is Not What Most People Think It Is

Widespread confusion about Intelligent Design leads us to address the question: What exactly is it?

When I tell people that I do work in Intelligent Design (ID) research, either the person I’m talking to has no idea what Intelligent Design is, or they have quite a faulty idea of what Intelligent Design is. This isn’t their fault — media reports don’t seem to be able to make sense of what we are doing either. Some people have attributed this to malice, and, while I’m sure there’s plenty of that to go around, I think that it is in large part actually the result of Intelligent Design doing something genuinely new, making it difficult for people to shove us into existing boxes. Intelligent Design, at its core, says that agency is a distinct causal category in the world. That…

Abstract green DNA

An Unlikely Collaboration to Elucidate Life’s Blueprints

Joining together the forces of biology and engineering to improve both fields

What happens when you get sixty biologists and engineers together in a conference for three days? That’s the question asked by Steve Laufman, head of the Engineering Research Group at Discovery. In the recent “Conference on Engineering in Living Systems,” biologists and engineers of every stripe got together to see how the two disciplines could benefit each other. For biologists, learning how engineers examine, design, and plan projects was eye-opening. Traditionally, biologists focus on individual interactions, not whole-systems approaches. For engineers, discovering the details of cellular architecture and control mechanisms was especially enlightening.  The conference had a diverse set of presentations, covering numerous areas of overlap between the two fields. One presentation discussed biologically-inspired robots, as well as how they can…

Custom library

Publish or Perish — Another Example of Goodhart’s Law

In becoming a target, publication has ceased to be a good measure

The linchpin of scientific advances is that scientists publish their findings so that others can learn from them and expand on their insights. This is why some books are rightly considered among the most influential mathematical and scientific books of all time:  Elements, Euclid, c. 300 B.C.Physics, Aristotle, c. 330 B.C.On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, Nicolaus Copernicus, 1543Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo Galilei, 1632Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Isaac Newton, 1687The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1859 As Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” It seems logical to gauge the importance of modern-day researchers by how much they have published and how often their research has been cited…

Young man wearing coverall and safety mask working on production line of modern pharmaceutical factory, portrait shot

U.S. Moratorium(ish) on Gain-of-Function Research

Evaluating the effectiveness of the 2014 U.S. moratorium on gain-of-function experiments

In the last two articles, we discussed the vindication of the lab leak theory through the publication of several investigative articles, and the risky nature of gain-of-function research and the evidence that it may be a key component to the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we turn to the U.S. Due to the risky nature of gain-of-function research, what actions has the U.S. government taken to mitigate those risks? In 2014, the U.S. government placed a moratorium on new gain-of-function experiments for influenza, MERS, and SARS. That moratorium defines “gain-of-function” in very broad terms covering any “research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease.” The moratorium expired in 2017 and was replaced by an oversight board,…

duck decoy with stuffed and calls

A Physicist’s Defense of Reality, Despite Quantum Physics

He explains why Eddington’s solid table really IS solid, even if, at the highest resolution, it is mostly empty space

In the wake of quantum physics, King’s College philosopher of physics Alexander Franklin is concerned to stress that “everyday reality is not illusory but emergent”: Popular science often tells us that we are radically deceived by the commonplace appearance of everyday objects and that colour and solidity are illusions. For instance, the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington [pictured] distinguished in 1928 between two tables: the familiar table and the scientific table, while the former is solid and coloured, the scientific table “is nearly all empty space”. Eddington then makes the striking claim that “modern physics has by delicate test and remorseless logic assured me that my second scientific table is the only one which is really there”. Alexander Franklin, “Solid objects…

Science fiction illustration of a battle cruiser spaceship travelling faster than the speed of light in hyperspace, 3d digitally rendered illustration

What If a Loved One Aged Much Faster Than You? – Sci-fi Saturday

It’s one of the implications of faster-than-light travel

“ARK” at DUST by Nelson Cruz (June 8, 2021, 8:19 min) “Captain Mira Bernhard is finally home after a lengthy mission to the new planet, GAIA – humanity’s last hope. But what’s only been a 5-year trip for her, has been 45-year wait for her husband.” Review: ARK debuted in 2020. Time, we are told, is running out for Earth. The radio announcer, informing the audience of Bernhard’s ship’s arrival, also announces that this will be the final week of broadcasts. We are told that Bernhard’s husband Peter (played by Patrick Gorman) does not know what to expect. But, of course, he really does. And he faces a big decision: Should he just free her (Sheila Cutchlow) to return to…

Medical science laboratory. Concept of virus and bacteria research

What Is Gain-of-Function Research and Why Is It Risky?

The Wuhan Institute of Virology and the NIH find themselves in a tough spot

Last time, we talked about the vindication of the lab leak theory, as a growing number of investigative articles have pointed to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now,we turn to the role risky gain-of-function research may have played in the affair. To understand why some in the U.S. government and the NIH want to downplay funding of gain-of-function research, we need to understand what exactly it is. All viruses mutate, some faster than others. Influenza is one of the fastest mutating viruses, followed by HIV. SARS-CoV-2 mutates slower than both viruses, which is why many scientists believe vaccine booster shots will likely be every few years, rather than annually, like the flu. Scientists need to…

Science laboratory research and development concept. microscope with test tubes

Lab Leak Theory Vindicated: What That Means for Fighting COVID-19

What was the U.S. government's role in downplaying the lab leak theory?

Vanity Fair adds to the growing number of investigative articles pointing to a lab accident as the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at the U.S. government’s role in downplaying that lab leak theory. Behind closed doors, however, national security and public health experts and officials across a range of departments in the executive branch were locked in high-stakes battles over what could and couldn’t be investigated and made public. Katherine Eban, “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins” at Vanity Fair At a time when the Mainstream Media has sullied its reputation by parroting experts rather than seeking multiple viewpoints and checking sources, several articles stand out as excellent pieces of long-form writing and…

DNA in hand on blue background.
DNA in hand on blue background concept design.

The Coolest Tech on the Planet (Hint: It’s Inside You!)

The intricate design of the living cell has left many materialists stumped

These days, we surround ourselves with technology to stay in touch, to keep ourselves informed, and to manage the challenges of our daily lives. We also recognize in our devices and machines all the hallmarks of design, understanding reflexively that they express the ingenuity of engineers or software developers. Our appreciation for applied intelligence comes as second nature to us — we intuitively recognize the work of other minds. But what happens when we look up from our technology and survey the world of nature? When we look up at the movement of the planets, or into the eyes of our children, or when we peer through a microscope into a living cell? Do we see signs of minds in…

A girl with Down syndrome blows bubbles. The daily life of a child with disabilities. Chromosomal genetic disorder in a child.

Richard Dawkins is not just ableist, he’s unscientific

He refuses to see the joy that people with Down Syndrome bring into the world

Originally published on MercatorNet on June 2, 2021 by Ann Farmer Way back when, one of life’s great certainties used to be that no matter how obnoxious, prejudiced, jaundiced or snooty Richard Dawkins, the Grand Poobah of Atheism, was, the accolades would continue to roll in. Alas! Those were the Good Old Days for poor old Richard. Nowadays he is looking more and more like a bewildered T-Rex the day after the Cretaceous extinction event. Earlier this year Richard was cancelled by the American Humanist Association. It revoked his 1996 humanist of the year award because he had expressed scepticism about trans people in one of his recent tweets. It turns out that Richard needed his mouth washed out with soap…

astronomy, bright, constellation

A Wrinkle In Time: Reading Science Fiction At An Early Age

An early introduction to science fiction will be a boon to any child's imagination

When I was young, my father was constantly pressing new books into my hands. The first in remembrance was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The second to stand out was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. It was a funny choice, really. My father’s theology does not match L’Engle’s universalism, nor are his preferred subjects math and science. At the time, I was unable to wrap my mind around concepts of dimension and time introduced by L’Engle, but the novel became a fast favorite that I have returned to in my adulthood. A Wrinkle In Time was most recently brought back into popular view when an adaptation imagined by director Ava DuVernay was released in theaters…

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,…

Image catastrophe on Earth

What Would the Ruins of “Eden” Be Like?: Sci-fi Saturday

Scavenging for artifacts on a ruined planet, a space drifter comes across the ruins of a high-tech civilization

“Eden” (2018) at DUST (May 20, 2021) by Kristian Bakstad, 11:51 min: “Deep in the recesses of space, a lone scavenger hunts for a valuable artifact on a desolate planet. When he discovers an abandoned facility, he ventures inside hoping for his big payday; but instead encounters a mad man and the remnants of a religious cult.” Review: This one got a lot of negative reviews but the studio has been around for a while, so let’s have another look. The lead character (Christoff Lundgren) is agreeably scuzzy, batting around in space. The opening portrays his lifestyle well: His tracking system detects something that might be evidence of a ruined advanced ET civilization to scavenge. He needs something he can…

Woman wearing gloves with biohazard chemical protective suit and mask. She crossed her arms with unhappy face.

Covid-19 Lab Leak Theory Upgraded from Conspiracy to Plausible

Many scientists were discouraged from openly discussing the possibility of a lab leak, which hindered serious investigation

Could the SARS-CoV-2 virus have originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology? The public was informed, until quite recently, that the “scientific consensus” was that the virus that causes COVID-19 likely passed from animal to human and was neither designed nor accidentally released from a lab in Wuhan. However, this “consensus” has turned out to be anything but. Several scientists have voiced their concern over the lack of transparency on the part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), imploring that the “lab leak” hypothesis should not be thrown out. They were largely ignored. Some scientists have even said that they experienced “very intense, very subtle pressures” to avoid advancing the lab leak theory. It’s advancing anyway, as more evidence accumulates.…