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Quantum Physics: Is Everything Determined? Egnor vs. Papineau

Physicalist philosopher David Papineau is clearly unhappy with the implications of quantum mechanics, as neurosurgeon Michael Egnor sets them out

Yesterday, we published the fifth portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Can traditional philosophy help us understand the mind vs. the brain?” In this final instalment, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 47 min where Papineau and Egnor start to talk about quantum physics, the physics that governs electrons, which famously do not obey the same rules as larger particles and are also the most basic level of the brain (partial transcript): Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He…

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Can Traditional Philosophy Help Us Understand Mind vs. Brain?

Michael Egnor asks us to look back to the traditional idea that the soul is the “form” of the body

Yesterday, we published the fourth portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Is the mind simply what the brain does?” Today, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 36 min where Papineau and Egnor start to talk about traditional philosophical ways of thinking about the soul and the body (partial transcript): Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Michael Egnor: In the…

Father And Son Competing In Video Games At Home

Why Did Video Gamers Uncover Fraud More Easily Than Scientists?

Video gamers are subject, a psychologist tells us, to much more rigorous constraints than scientists

In a recent article at The Atlantic, King’s College psychologist Stuart Ritchie, author of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth (2020), has noted a curious fact: Video gamers are much quicker to spot fraud than scientists. The video game fraud he focuses on involved a gamer’s claim that he had finished a round of Minecraft in a little over 19 minutes, a feat he attributed, Ritchie tells us, to “an incredible stretch of good luck.” “Incredible” is the right choice of word here. “Dream,” as the player was known, later admitted — in the face of skepticism — that he had “inadvertently” left some software running that improved his game — thus disqualifying…

Big bang explosion in space

Round 3: Egnor vs Papineau: The Big Bang Has No Natural Beginning

In the debate between theistic neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and naturalist philosopher David Papineau, the question gets round to the origin of the universe itself

Michael Egnor begins this portion of the discussion by asking What caused the Big Bang? What causes the singularities at the core of black holes? (Yesterday, we published materialist philosopher David Papineau’s reply to neurosurgeon Michael Egnor. For Egnor’s opening statement, go here. Starts, roughly, at 21:30 min: David Papineau: I don’t think it’s a coherent question. It’s like asking what causes the number five. I mean, you’re misapplying the notion of cause to the beginning of the material universe. … I’m not following. I said all physical effects have a physical cause, and you’re going to give me a counterexample of a physical effect that doesn’t have a physical cause, so what would that be? Note: The Big Bang,…

Black Hole in space

What Happens If Earth Passes Through a Black Hole—Sci-fi Saturday

This story isn’t exactly about passage through a black hole: It is a meditation on nothingness that crashes headfirst into nihilism

“Until There Was Nothing” at DUST by Paul Trillo (August 25, 2020, 5:36 min) “A philosophical video and art exploration of the Earth’s passage through a black hole.” Review: This film is actually a philosophical meditation on nothingness — the concept of non-entity, as every concept of mathematics, physics, natural law, and order vanishes. Gravity reverses itself at odd moments for no particular reason. Terrifying. Whether the filmmakers intended this or not, it is really a meditation on the way the fundamental constants of the universe work. And what would happen if they didn’t. For more, see the Kalam Constant, a philosophical proof of the existence of God. — A note re our new feature below: We sort reviewed films…


Researchers: Maybe Half of Earth-Sized Planets Missed by Studies

It’s not clear how many planets are in Earth’s size range but that is important for physics reasons for habitability as we know it

A recent study suggests that Earth-sized planets may be missed if they are orbiting one of two binary stars: Earth-sized planets may be much more common than previously realized. Astronomers working at NASA Ames Research Center have used the twin telescopes of the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, to determine that many planet-hosting stars identified by NASA’s TESS exoplanet-hunting mission are actually pairs of stars—known as binary stars—where the planets orbit one of the stars in the pair. After examining these binary stars, the team has concluded that Earth-sized planets in many two-star systems might be going unnoticed by transit searches like TESS’s, which look for changes in the light from a star when a planet passes…

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Aliens Who Landed Here Would Just Starve, Science Writer Predicts

We tend to assume that any life form could live with our complicated chemistry but what if — fundamentally — not?

NASA has — quite recently — stopped being snarky about aliens. That does not make them true. It just means we don’t have to live with the snark now. Which makes it easier to think. Will Lockett makes the point at Medium that if extraterrestrials did land on Earth, they would probablystarve to death: The way life forms work (at least, the only ones we know) involves chirality: All living organisms are based upon certain ‘mirror’ isomers of amino acids. Although normal chemical reactions produce right and left mirrors in equal amounts, often called a ‘racemic mixture’, the proteins which constitute the organelles in living cells are composed entirely of right handed forms of sugars and left handed forms of…

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COVID-19’s Origins: Uses and Misuses of the Explanatory Filter

How a critic of intelligent design theory misunderstands the application of design inference

Last year in July a prominent critic of intelligent design theory, Dr. Adam Shapiro, took the Discovery Institute to task for not debunking the lab origin theory. He says, Behe seems to miss an opportunity to demonstrate that intelligent design theory shows how those pathways are not irreducible complex. Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist and, How better to demonstrate its own apolitical nature than to apply its scientific process to debunk the Chinese lab myth? Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist First of all, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of ID. ID theory is only resilient against false positives, not false negatives, as Dr. Ewert…

Space and Galaxy light speed travel. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

No Free Lunches: Bernoulli is Right, Keynes is Wrong

What the Big Bang teaches us about nothing

Jacob Bernoulli made a now obvious observation about probability over three-and-a-half centuries ago: If nothing is known about the outcome of a random event, all outcomes can be assumed to be equally probable. Bernoulli’s Principle of Insufficient Reason (PrOIR) is commonly used. Throw a fair die. There are six outcomes, one for each face of the cube. The chance of getting five pips showing on the roll of a die is therefore one sixth. If a million lottery tickets are sold and you buy one ticket, the chances of winning are one in a million. This reasoning is intuitively obvious.  The assumption about the die is wrong if the die is loaded. But you don’t know that. You know nothing. So Bernoulli’s PrIOR…

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Do Larger Brains Make Us Human? Is That All?

Brain organoid studies suggest a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow larger than ape brains

In a study of “mini-brains” (brain organoids), the size of a pea, grown in a dish and incapable of further development, researchers have discovered a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow three times larger than primate brains: This new research, published in the journal Cell, used brain organoids to show that this transition occurs more slowly in humans compared to gorillas and chimpanzees – over seven days, compared to five. The progenitor cells in human brain organoids not only retained their cylindrical shape for longer, but also split more frequently so more cells were produced. This was linked to a gene called ZEB2, which switches on sooner in gorilla brain organoids than in human. By delaying the effects…

They Knows.

The Pentagon’s UAP (UFO) Report Signals a Sharp Attitude Change

The brass have committed themselves to going “wherever the data takes us”

As promised, the Pentagon released its UAP (UFO) report. And what did they find? First, they … lack sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects observed by American military pilots including whether they are advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin. Steve Gorman, “Watershed U.S. UFO report does not rule out extraterrestrial origin” at Reuters via Yahoo News (June 25, 2021) But read on: The report marked a turning point for the U.S. government after the military spent decades deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of unidentified flying objects and “flying saucers” dating back to the 1940s. Steve Gorman, “Watershed U.S. UFO report does not rule out extraterrestrial origin” at Reuters via Yahoo News (June 25,…

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…

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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…

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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,”…

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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…

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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…

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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…