Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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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.…

Phrenology Head

Phrenology: The Pseudoscience That Just Won’t Give Up

Are we arguing about this AGAIN?

Phrenology is the detailed study of cranial sizes and shapes as a proxy for brain size and shape. Practitioners believed themselves to be able to use this information as an indicator of both the character and the mental abilities of the person whose brain was being investigated. Phrenology has been widely discredited, and is thought by many today to be pseudoscience. However, the vestiges of phrenology remain with us today, and are still used to justify various common beliefs and inferences, even by otherwise very educated people. The most common way that this happens is the use of brain size in the evaluation of the character of human evolution. It is often supposed by researchers that brain size can be…

Quantum particle, quantum mechanics

Can a Materialist Consciousness Theory Survive Quantum Mechanics?

Quantum mechanics requires that the observer be part of the measurement; thus quantum measurements must include consciousness

In Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks’s second podcast with philosopher Angus Menuge, where the big topic is the perennial “Hard Problem of consciousness, one of the questions was whether quantum mechanics can help decipher consciousness. But that leads to another question: Can any materialist view of consciousness survive quantum mechanics? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-134-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 22:35 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Is quantum consciousness rooted in materialism? Can you look at quantum consciousness and say, this is materialistic? Angus Menuge: That’s a tricky question. For most materialists, their paradigm is really set by older 19th-century views of physical science. By definition, this goes beyond that. However, if one defines materialism…

Melting Watch

Sci-fi Saturday: In a Future Market, Time To Live Is Bought, Sold

An employee wants to rebel against the greed and injustice but then she would run out of time …

“The Bargain” at DUST by Eleonora Mignoli (May 18, 2021, 10:57 min) “Hired by a man who buys and sells time, a young bodyguard is torn between serving her master and fighting for the people he ruins with his power.” Cora is indentured in the service of Hue, the creator and owner of time-exchanging technology. She is alive thanks to Hue’s monthly “payments”: on her own, she’d have only a few weeks left. She works as his bodyguard and assistant, extracting or injecting time from his clients. She is horrified by Hue’s predatory deals, but complaining means breaching her contract. However, when a single mother of two falls victim to his extortion, Cora’s leash finally snaps. She now has to…

Two ants. Conflict, ants fight. Conceptually - dialogue, conversation, meeting, showdown, difficult negotiations. Beautiful rainbow background. Ants large, raised abdomens

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Insects Could Put Humans on Trial?

In Science+, a shrunken inventor finds himself facing Ant Justice

“Science+” at DUST by Leela Varghese (February 28, 2021, 11:11 min) “When Matt accidentally shrinks himself and is captured by the ants whom he has unwittingly been squashing, he must find a way to escape their clutches and his impending death sentence.” Review: This is what good comedy looks like. Matt is filming himself doing various science projects for his (possibly) YouTube program “Science+”, when he gets shrunk by his own shrink-o-matic. The ants, seen face to face, turn out to be roughly like people, of whom — Matt discovers — he has killed nearly 3500. They learned English from humans in Britain but otherwise they speak Ant. You must hear that. And no more spoilers. The story raises some…

Spherical energetic quantum bubble

Can Quantum Mechanics Help Decipher Consciousness? Free Will?

Nobel laureate Roger Penrose, among others, looked to the quantum world for models

In Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks’s second podcast with philosopher Angus Menuge, the big topic is the perennial “Hard Problem of consciousness and various proposed solutions. One of the questions that oftem\n comes up is quantum consciousness. Earlier, they had discussed Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and panpsychism. But now, what about recent Nobelist Roger Penrose’s approach: quantum consciousness? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-134-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 18:22 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks (pictured): Okay. Another model of consciousness of which I am aware is so-called quantum consciousness. I’m really interested in this because reading the works of Roger Penrose, he maintains that humans can do non-algorithmic things. And he looked around at the…

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…

scientific publication

Inside the Economics of Science Papers

Here’s an inside look at who pays if you read for free

When a scholarly paper is published, someone has to pay. Publishers like Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), my professional society, and Springer charge big bucks to read their papers. The fees are billed to individual subscribers and, more commonly, to companies and universities who want to give their employees access to the papers. My own university, Baylor, like most research universities, has a considerable library budget on account of these publisher fees. There is growing pressure to kill these fees in favor of “open access” to scholarly papers. Thus, anyone can read a scholarly paper at any time for free. Free access takes the money from the pockets of publishers so they push back. Someone has to pay,…

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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Texture background abstract black and white or silver Glitter and elegant for Christmas

Researchers Make a Trillion Aluminum Atoms Behave as Single Wave

Such demonstrations show that quantum computers, which could solve much bigger problems much faster, are viable

Just recently, researchers managed to “entangle” two very tiny aluminum drums as if they were merely quantum particles — a first that helps pave the way for quantum computing. But it’s an unsettling first because the world above the level of the electron (macroscopic world) is supposed to behave according to Newton’s classical physics rules, not weird quantum rules under which two entangled particles sync no matter how far apart they are (non-locality). Like conductors of a spooky symphony, researchers have ‘entangled’ two small mechanical drums and precisely measured their linked quantum properties. Entangled pairs like this might someday perform computations and transmit data in large-scale quantum networks. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “Quantum drum duet measured” at…