Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Why the Idea That the Human Mind Is an Illusion Doesn’t Work

There is a simple way to test whether our thoughts are all illusions

Sitting in a room with me are some smart people listening to a podcast of neuroscientist Sam Harris. They nod solemnly as Harris tells them that their thoughts are all illusions. No one has free will either, Harris says, both on the podcast and in his 2012 book, Free Will. Sir Francis Crick (1916–2004) said much the same in his 1994 work, The Astonishing Hypothesis. Harris and Crick are science-trained and Crick is a Nobelist. But popular culture influencers think the same way. The widely-read manga graphic novel artist, Masashi Kishimoto, has a character say in his 2009 work, Naruto, Every single one of us goes through life depending on and bound by our individual knowledge and awareness. And we…

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Why Intelligent Design of the Universe Is Not an Absurd Idea

It is only eight pages, well within the patience of the average viewer and very clearly written

Raymond Bergner, psychology prof at Illinois State University, wrote a most interesting paper in 2017 discussing the intelligent design controversy—the question of whether the universe shows evidence of design. Mercifully, it is only eight pages, well within the patience of the average viewer and very clearly written. He makes clear he is not arguing for the concept but only explaining why it is not at all absurd. He makes a number of key points. Here are two, some thoughts interspersed: Many extraordinarily intelligent and relevantly informed people believe and have believed in intelligent design. Famously, Isaac Newton, himself a heretic and hardly a slave to conventional religious belief, once stated that, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and…


Physicists Say They Have Found the “Magic Number”

They have refined measurements of a number that is key to the workings of physics

Okay, first, it’s not literally “magic.” But some numbers are very important in the structure of our universe. In this case they are refining a very important but very strange number that links the forces of our universe: This pure number, with no units and dimensions, is key to the workings of the standard model of physics. Scientists were able to improve its precision 2.5 times or 81 parts per trillion (p.p.t.), determining the value of the constant to be α = 1/137.03599920611 (with the last two digits still being uncertain). Paul Ratner, “Scientists find the “magic number” that links forces of the universe” at BigThink The numbers that matter are not necessarily the ones we might expect. How about…

open eye in space

Science-Based Reasons Why Materialism Is a Dead End

Bernardo Kastrup points out that there is an “impassable explanatory gap between material quantities and experiential qualities.”

Bernardo Kastrup, a Dutch computer scientist and philosopher who has published fundamental theoretical reflections on the mind matter problem, offers some useful reflections on why materialism can’t really be true. First—and we sometimes forget this—science only exists as it is perceived by the human mind. We could do it well or badly or someway in between. We could succeed or fail. But it is a world of ideas, not things. He writes, Materialism—the view that nature is fundamentally constituted by matter outside and independent of mind—is a metaphysics, in that it makes statements about what nature essentially is. As such, it is also a theoretical inference: we cannot empirically observe matter outside and independent of mind, for we are forever…

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Must Science Be Materialist in Principle?

Philosopher Peter Vickers says yes. Philosopher and computer scientist Bernardo Kastrup says no.
Recently, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Dutch computer scientist, Bernardo Kastrup. Kastrup has been engaged in a debate with “science first” philosopher Peter Vickers. Read More ›
A miracle happened. Disabled handicapped man is healthy again. He is happy and jumping at sunset.

A Physicist Tries To Understand Miracles

Andersen helpfully dismisses foolish arguments against the possibility of miracles

In a longish and very interesting article, physicist Tim Andersen tries to understand miracles. From a religious perspective, miracles are direct actions by God. They need not involve violations of laws of nature. There is no “law of nature” that says your mom couldn’t get a remission from cancer—though friends who pray for it might say it’s a miracle if she does. Similarly, we are told in the Book of Daniel (6:22) that the mouths of the lions, to whom Daniel was thrown, were shut by an angel. But it’s not clear that any violation of the laws of nature was involved. All we know is that the lions did not attack Daniel. Andersen helpfully dismisses foolish arguments against the…


Jonathan Bartlett on Why We Do Not Live in a Simulated Universe

Bartlett: I can make a model of atoms moving around, but it actually requires entire computers, which are all made of trillions of atoms, to make that simulation.

In the third installment of our top 12 AI hypes of the year (the Dirty Dozen), Jonathan Bartlett offered some thoughts on why he thinks we are not living in an intelligent alien’s giant sim universe, as many believe (Elon Musk) or at least think the claim is reasonable ( Martin Rees, Nick Bostrom). Here’s what Jonathan, of the Blyth Institute says about it, in conversation with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks: Robert J. Marks: I think there’s three reasons that we can have this complexity that we observe. One is an intelligent creator. The second one which is purported is panspermia, that all of this complexity was planted here on earth by some aliens. Elon Musk actually…

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Researchers: We Don’t See ETs Because They Are All Dead

According to some NASA researchers, they may have destroyed themselves

A recent NASA study suggests that most extraterrestrial civilizations have died out. : The statement comes from researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology and Santiago High School who used an updated version of an equation to calculate the likely existence of intelligent life and determined aliens may have emerged some eight billion years after our galaxy formed. With these results, the team included the idea that progress of science and technology inevitably leads to the destruction of civilizations and because humans have yet to make contact outside our planet, scientists now think they know why… ‘If intelligent life is likely to destroy themselves, it is not surprising that there is little or no intelligent life…


Sci Fi Saturday: Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth

The trouble is, the robot is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics

In “Avarya” (19:30 min) by Gökalp Gönen (English subtitles) an elderly human fleeing Earth seeking a new habitable planet is trapped in his own ship after the robot overseer finds every single candidate planet unsuitable. The robot’s behavior is based strictly on Isaac Asimov’s’s Laws of Robotics: First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. And it’s a dark and witty…

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Science Writer Warns: Contact With Aliens Might Not Turn Out Well

Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning

Will Lockett offers some pessimistic thoughts: It is 100% possible that our cosmic neighbours might have no empathy at all, hunt us for sport, have tribal wars, regular duals to the death or ritualistically kill foreign organisms for religious reasons. So rather than being overrun by the galactic version of the British, it might be more like the Klingons or Predator (Ridley Scott). They may even be like the Vogons from Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy and see Earth as something in the way that needs to be demolished. Will Lockett, “Should We Meet Aliens?” at Medium Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning: If by some miracle there is a civilisation a few lightyears…

The head of a cyborg with wires on a gray background.

Sci Fi Saturday: Kiko: A Great Short But Key Questions Unanswered

A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store

“Kiko,” (9:20 min) by Jamil Munoz, tells the tale of a lonely retail service android who longs for a world beyond her store. Her signature line, “Goodnight, Charlie,” is priceless, as she is then all alone again, a mere as part of the business equipment. It’s an agreeable short (no spoilers, except that the kid who comes to her rescue is great). The android is wholly believable but the film never addresses the question of how the proprietor of “Charlie’s” computer retail store could have created or acquired a robot that had attributes like wanting a different type of life. A farmer can’t “create” a horse who wants to go to university. Even if the farmer could create a horse,…

Giving a helping hand.

And Walter Bradley Reached Out His Hand …

J. P. Moreland recalls Walter Bradley, who was there when it really mattered

In the Foreword to For a Greater Purpose, philosopher J. P. Moreland recalls an incident when both he and Walter Bradley were young football players: I had never suffered a concussion in my life, but there I was, laying on my back in the middle of a field, with a twilight wooziness that made me want to faint. Suddenly, I noticed a hand enter my cloudy visual field and a voice asked me how many fingers he was holding up. Three, I said, and as I did, I began to come out of it. I was able to see to whom the hand belonged: Butch (we used to call him that) Bradley! … Walter Bradley reached out his hand to…

sri lanka elephant

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Next-Stage Evolution Children Appear?

A sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities

Here’s the last item in our Saturday reviews of free, relevant sci-fi fun from DUST, the sci-fi channel at YouTube. This one is “Vikaari”from Synhedrion Studios (Sri Lanka, 13:54): Due to some possible “evolutionary transformation,” children in Sri Lanka are born with no emotional reaction to anything but with the ability for telekinesis and a hive mind. It’s suggested that that is an adaptive response to continuous warfare. Many want to kill them, saying “They look like kids, but they’re not.” Eerily reminiscent of the persecution of people with Down Syndrome. Evolution theories are evoked in glowing color to explain the situation though many such theories are contested today. The story is very well done as a parable of the…

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The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Gets an Update

The universe appears fine-tuned for life to a dramatic degree; it’s at least reasonable to think it’s out there

California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Santiago High School are updating the famous Drake Equation (1961): Over the span of human history, many have wondered if life exists on other planets—intelligent or otherwise. As new tools have been applied to the question, many space scientists have become convinced that the likelihood of extraterrestrial civilizations developing seems more probable than not given all that has been learned. As other exoplanet systems have been found, many circling stars very similar to our sun, it has become difficult to find anything unique about our own planet to justify a belief that Earth alone ever produced life. In this new effort, the researchers have expanded on research done by Frank Drake…

Spaceship in space above the planets in distant solar system. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Astrobiologist: Change How We Search For ET!

There’s a longstanding controversy in the pursuit of extraterrestrial life as to whether life forms must be carbon-based

Sara Imari Walker, of Arizona State University, puts her finger on a key issue: The discovery of life on another planet should be a momentous event for humanity, but any announcement of a biosignature detection made right now will not be a milestone but a mess, because scientists will have no consensus that we’ve even made a discovery. Here on Earth, we don’t recognize life by its atmospheric byproducts. In fact, none of our current biosignatures address the central question: What about us makes us alive? Our biosignatures are not definitive signs of life because we don’t have a coherent theory of what life is… Carl Sagan famously showed that adopting a definition that includes the ability to eat, metabolize,…

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Smith and Cordes’ Phantom Pattern Problem A Top 2020 Book

Published by Oxford in 2020, it deals with the “patterns” Big Data throws up that aren’t really there

David Auerbach has picked The Phantom Pattern Problem (2020) by Gary Smith and Jay Cordes as one of the top books of 2020 in the science and tech category. Auerbach, who describes himself as “a writer and software engineer, trying to bridge the two realms,” is the author of BITWISE: A Life in Code (2018). He has an interesting way of choosing books to recommend: Those that resist the “increasingly desperate and defensive oversimplification” of popular culture: I hesitate to mention too many other books for fear of neglecting the others, but I will say that of the science and technology books, several deal with subjects that are currently inundated with popularizations. In my eye, those below are notably superior…

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Sci-Fi Saturday Film: “Speed of Time” from DUST

A computer nerd writing a pizza delivery program discovers that his work is way more important than he, or anyone, thought

From the free DUST sci-fi channel at YouTube: “Speed of Time,” 12:19 min by Russ Nickel and William J. Stribling, September 17, 2020: “Johnny Killfire (John Hennigan) must go back in time and team up with his former self (Sean Marquette) to stop the TimeBorgs from getting their hands on an app that breaks the space-time continuum by delivering pizzas into the past…before they were even ordered.” It sounds like an agreeable quarter hour. Imagine what happens when an accomplished ground warrior busts in from another time on a quiet family at the breakfast table… Unfortunately, things go downhill from there, unless the film is intended as a satire on a certain type of science fiction. Pizza delivery rips a…

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Sci-Fi Saturday Film: “Alone” at DUST

Space engineer Kaya Torres, the only survivor of a black hole, contacts an “interstellar penpal” to keep her company until she dies

From the free DUST sci-fi channel at YouTube: “Alone” by William Helmuth (December 3, 2020): From the Press Kit: Kaya Torres, an engineer with a sailor’s mouth and a stubborn spirit, barely escapes her research ship when calamity breaks it in half. Now she’s circling a black hole in a pod, with no one coming, no one to help. She’s alone. While figuring out what to do, Kaya starts sending messages to Hammer, a cartographer marooned on a nearby planet. And as their friendship grows, Kaya’s options slowly dwindle, until survival seems hopelessly out of reach… As Torres is “marooned on my lifepod” as the only survivor of the DSV Intrepid, she is able to contact an “interstellar penpal” to…

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Sci-Fi Saturday Film: “The Beacon” at DUST

Especially harrowing is the Arctic encounter where the grieving husband finds out what really happened

From the free DUST sci-fi channel at YouTube: (“The Beacon” by Chris Staehler, 25:10 min) “Mark and Kara Verne are both young shipping pilots struggling to make ends meet. When Kara goes missing months after taking a large interstellar contract, Mark travels to the far reaches of the galaxy in search of his wife.” The story sets up well. A business opportunity suddenly presents itself that will enable the copule to greatly improve their fortunes. When she goes missing, her desperate husband has a hard time finding out what happened. The film is definitely worth seeing, if only for the bureaucrat from hell that Mark confronts about the problem though it strikes a false note when he offers her a…

set of funny colored stickers with different emotions

Study: The Expression of Human Emotions Is Universal

Most representations in visual arts depend on the universality of human emotion

Most of us wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the expression of human emotions is universal. But today there is a study for everything and 16 “universal human emotional expressions” have been identified: Whether at a birthday party in Brazil, a funeral in Kenya or protests in Hong Kong, humans all use variations of the same facial expressions in similar social contexts, such as smiles, frowns, grimaces and scowls, a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows… Researchers at UC Berkeley and Google used machine-learning technology known as a “deep neural network” to analyze facial expressions in some 6 million video clips uploaded to YouTube from people in 144 countries spanning North, Central and South America, Africa, Europe,…