Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Knowing the Enemy

Debate: Former Atheist Neurosurgeon vs. Former Christian Activist

At Theology Unleashed, each gets a chance to state his case and interrogate the other

“Does God exist?” On September 17, in a rip-roaring old-fashioned debate, Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty debated the question at Theology Unleashed. We’ll cover this debate for you, including transcripts and notes. First, each participant was given a chance upfront to state where he is coming from and why. Michael Egnor, representing the Yes side, went first. How did a medic, formerly an atheist, who cuts open people’s brains for a living, come to be sure there is a God? And how did a fundamentalist Christian come to be hosting The Atheist Experience? The debate hosts are Arjuna Das for Theology Unleashed and Nathan from Digital Gnosis as the moderator. A partial transcript and notes follow.…

Soup With Letter Noodles On Spoon

Can There Be a General Theory for Fine-Tuning?

If you make a bowl of alphabet soup and the letters arrange themselves and say, good morning, that is specified. What are the probabilities?

In Episode 2, the first part, (September 9, 2021), Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer discusses fine tuning in biology with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks the way “Life is so finely tuned that it is frightening,” Put another way, the billions of cells in our bodies are each like a city. Not as a group but each of them. No wonder we feel so sick when things are going wrong with our cells. It is like billions of dysfunctional cities… Anyway, Hössjer has been working on a general theory for fine-tuning: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-Episode-151-Hossjer-Diaz.mp3 This portion begins at 12:07 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Ola, you came up with a general theory. We…

Foam cell, a macrophage cell with lipid droplets

Life Is So Wonderfully Finely Tuned That It’s Frightening

A mathematician who uses statistical methods to model the fine tuning of molecular machines and systems in cells reflects…

In Episode 2, “Life is fine-tuned in a fearful and wonderful way” (September 9, 2021), Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer discusses fine tuning in biology with Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks. It’s a bit scary to think that each of our cells is like a city because it certainly gives us some idea of all the things that can (but, thankfully, usually don’t) go wrong, Note: Episode 1 was “Run the gambit of complexity” (September 20, 2021) discussed here and here. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-Episode-151-Hossjer-Diaz.mp3 This portion begins at 01:14 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Today we’re going to talk about fine tuning in biology. How biology is fine tuned to allow us to…

open eye in space

Researchers: The Universe Simulated Itself Into Existence

A recent physics journal paper proposes self-simulation as the origin of the universe, using a quantum gravity model

Yesterday, we looked at “Untitled Earth Sim 64,” a science fiction comedy based on the idea that Earth is a messed up simulation — created by entities that are in themselves simulations. And maybe their simulators were in turn simulated… And so forth. The problem is, where’s the original? Surprisingly, perhaps, there is a physics theory that offers an answer: The universe simulated itself: A new hypothesis says the universe self-simulates itself in a “strange loop”. A paper from the Quantum Gravity Research institute proposes there is an underlying panconsciousness. The work looks to unify insight from quantum mechanics with a non-materialistic perspective. How real are you? What if everything you are, everything you know, all the people in your…

Big Bang

The Big Bang: The Beginning of All Questions About the Universe

... and the mind and all that

This offbeat “Science Uprising” film discusses the way in which the Big Bang, — the idea of a cosmic beginning — is unpopular among many philosophers of science because it sounds like an argument for the existence of God. But it is the best science explanation: You may also wish to read: 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

Flu. Influenza viruses with RNA, surface proteins hemagglutinin and neuraminidase,  medically 3D illustration

Astrobiologist: ET Viruses Likely Exist on Planets That Host Life

Paul Davies points to viruses as “mobile genetic elements” that transfer information between life forms — for better or worse

University of Arizona astrobiologist Paul Davies, author of many books, including the recent What’s Eating the Universe? (2021), told The Guardian, recently that if cellular life exists on other planets, something like viruses probably also exist — to transfer genetic information from one life form to another. Viruses, said Davies, can be thought of as mobile, genetic elements. Indeed, a number of studies have suggested genetic material from viruses has been incorporated into the genomes of humans and other animals by a process known as horizontal gene transfer. Nicola Davis, “Viruses may exist ‘elsewhere in the universe’, warns scientist” at The Guardian (September 6, 2021) Horizontal gene transfer, by which life forms “swap” genes, are common in bacteria and have…

business and investment strategy analytics, financial simulation model

When a Simulated World Begins To Fall Apart — Sci-fi Saturday

Marie has reason to expect trouble when the simulator who explains reality to her cannot get her name right…

“Untitled Earth Sim 64” at DUST by Jonathan Wilhelmsson (September 10, 2021, 6:11) Marie is an offbeat woman who suspects that all is not right with the world. After experiencing various glitches in reality, she is called upon by a mysterious being that accidentally lets slip that her universe is a simulation. Marie’s life quickly unravels at this revelation, as she desperately looks for meaning in an untitled simulation. Review: This sci-fi comedy has won a number of awards and it is easy to see why. It is fast-paced and raises many interesting issues. When Marie (Karen Olrich-White) attempts to explain to her friend (Alexandra Frick) that she has learned from a mysterious voice (James Fraser) — amid a series…

Neptune Planet Solar System space isolated

Researchers: There Are Cold Planets Throughout Our Galaxy

They report that there are even cold planets in the Galactic bulge, where it was not certain they would exist

Researchers from Osaka University, using gravitational microlensing, have determined that there are cold planets throughout our galaxy. Cold planets would have average temperatures below the freezing point. The results show that the planetary distribution is not strongly dependent on the distance from the Galactic center. Instead, cold planets orbiting far from their stars seem to exist universally in the Milky Way. This includes the Galactic bulge, which has a very different environment to the solar neighborhood, and where the presence of planets has long been uncertain. “Stars in the bulge region are older and are located much closer to each other than stars in the solar neighborhood,” explains lead author of the study Naoki Koshimoto. “Our finding that planets reside…

Concept Of Open Mind

New Theory of Mind Offers More Information, Less Materialism

First, let’s begin by noting a remarkable fact: Panpsychism seems to have triumphed in the area of theories of consciousness.

At Nautilus, evolutionary biologist Tam Hunt asks us to consider the “General Resonance Theory of Consciousness,” which he has been developing with psychologist Jonathan Schooler — “a framework with a panpsychist foundation. It may, he thinks, “at least in theory, provide more complete answers to the full array of questions the hard problem of consciousness poses.” Hunt’s quite clear about the panpsychism (the view that everything in the universe participates in consciousness): Since I came up in philosophy, rather than neuroscience or psychology, for me the easy part was deciding the philosophical orientation. Schooler and I duked it out over whether we should adopt a materialist, idealist, panpsychist, or some other position on our way to a complete answer. I…

Motion Blur Stretcher Gurney Patient Hospital Emergency

When the AI Call Center Can’t Handle Crises —Sci-Fi Saturday

It’s not clear whether this is a bug or a feature but it is certainly something that could happen.

“Lifeline” at DUST by Harry Jackson (September 6, 2021, 7:57 min) Jess, and her trial for a job at a high-tech call centre. When her competitor suddenly collapses, her only means to save him is a state of the art computer system. The problem is, the art is in a terrible state. Review: It’s a very good story. It illustrates the huge problem that any electronics-run system faces: Problems that only human intelligence can resolve. Gwyneth Keyworth, as Jess, sees that her co-worker Nathan Bryon is apparently collapsing at his desk. But she cannot call an ambulance because the high-tech call center does not allow that option. It’s not entirely clear why Jess does not use a private cell number…

green eyes
Demonic eyes

Ancient Philosopher: There Might Be Life Forms Not Bound to Earth

Surprisingly, a philosopher may have thought of it first over 2500 years ago

Wade Roush, author of Extraterrestrials, discusses the views of Anaximander (c. 610—546 B.C.E.) Anaximander, a philosopher who lived in Miletus in modern-day Turkey, contributed one key idea. He was the first to propose that Earth is a body floating in an infinite void, held up by nothing. For someone who lived 2,200 years before Isaac Newton, this was a stunning insight. The philosopher Karl Popper called it “one of the boldest, most revolutionary, and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thought.” Anaximander also thought Earth was a cylinder with the continents arrayed on one flat end, so he wasn’t right about everything. But he did invent the idea of space, a place with no absolute up or…

Merry Christmas

Philosopher Ed Feser Distinguishes Matter From Materialism

Feser, of Pasadena College, California, asks us to consider what materialists are really saying

Edward Feser explains the problem by starting with what the materialist is not saying: The matter to which he would reduce everything is not the matter of common sense, not the hard earth of daily experience. It is instead a highly abstract theoretical construct which – just like Descartes’ res cogitans – is not and indeed cannot be known directly via perception (nor, unlike the res cogitans, by introspection either). Moreover, it is a conception the materialist has inherited from Cartesian dualism itself. And it is that conception of matter, rather than the Cartesian’s commitment to a non-empirical res cogitans, that has made it so difficult for Cartesians and materialists alike to account for how conscious awareness relates to the…

Piano tuning process. closeup of hand and tools of tuner working on grand piano. Detailed view of Upright Piano during a tuning

Ours Is a Finely Tuned — and No Free Lunch — Universe

Mathematician Ola Hössjer and biostatistician Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón explain to Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks why nature works so seamlessly

Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks had a chance, recently, to talk with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer and University of Miami biostatistician Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón on the many ways in which the universe is finely tuned for life. This is Part 1. Part 2 will shortly follow. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-Episode-150-Hossjer-Diaz-.mp3 This portion begins at 00:00 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Today on Mind Matters news on the podcast, we’re going to talk about fine-tuning of the universe for life. Scientists know that Earth is is finely tuned for life to come into existence. For example, pronounced atheist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001). Hoyle was a great astronomer, maybe known best for his coining the term, Big…

Mystical dark blue foggy forest with snowflakes.

If You Met Someone in a Dream Every Night… ? Sci-Fi Saturday

In a sci-fi short, a paramedic must confront a question about the nature of reality

“Time is a Place” (2017) by Tim Nackashi (uploaded at DUST November 24, 2018, 7:08 min) Two strangers, a woman and a man, are haunted by a recurring dream they seem to share night after night. Their illusory time together in the dream is more freeing than anything in waking life. She has not told him that in reality, she is a paramedic who discovered his unconscious body at the scene of an accident. Review: The film started out as a mess. It was unclear whether the characters are dead or alive — but, under the circumstances, that must matter. It remains unclear until the very end. But the basic idea is, in principle, intriguing: What if two people share…

Exoplanets with moon

Could “Rogue Planets” Hold the Key to Extraterrestrial Life?

A new paper asks us to think about the possibilities of planets that have been kicked out of a predictable orbit.

A new paper asks us to think about the possibilities of planets that have been kicked out of a predictable orbit: In a new paper, Alberto Fairén from the Center of Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and I look into the possibility that planets wandering through interstellar space could also host life. These “rogue” planets may have been ejected out of their original solar system during the early, chaotic phase of planetary formation. There are two general types of rogue planets: gas giants like Saturn and Neptune, and rocky Earthlike planets. While the chances for life on gas giants is extremely remote, rocky migrating planets could in principle host microbial life. To do that, they would need internal heat from the…

Full moon on desert mountain peaks at sand storm

When the Robot Discovers Nature — Sci-Fi Saturday

On a ruined planet, a dog robot get caught in a time warp

“Genesis” (2020) at DUST May 2, 2021 Constantin Kormann(4:00 min, animated) Our protagonist lands on a foreign planet, finds an alien artifact and travels back into a time, where the planet was covered by a lush forest. Review: The “protagonist” is actually a dog robot who finds itself trapped in a time warp. The big question would, of course, be — why go back to techno-civilization, especially if you are just a dog anyway? Cute. But what happens when the battery runs out? Curiously, we think we should make robots like the animals we know. Think of Boston Dynamics’s controversial police “dogs.” Nature seems to have thought of everything first — an argument, if you like, for intelligent design. Anyway,…

Oumuamua is a mildly active comet, and the first interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.

What Space Object ‘Oumuamua Says About How Science Works

The space object, thought by at least one famed astronomer to be an ET lightsail, prompts thoughts about how scientists decide what to believe

The subtitle of Matthew Bothwell’s wrap-up on ‘Oumuamua is most informative: An alien-made artefact or just interstellar debris? What ʻOumuamua says about how science works when data is scarce. At least one astronomer, Harvard’s Avi Loeb, insisted that ‘Oumuamua must be an “extraterrestrial light sail.” And few suggested that that couldn’t possibly be true. Right. What do we do when we are not sure? Bothwell, author of the forthcoming Invisible Universe, offers some thoughts. W all imagine ET in our own image: Victorians of the late 19th century, living in the era of ambitious engineering, looked at Mars and saw globe-spanning canals – evidence, they believed, of a grand industrial civilisation mirroring their own. In the Cold War 1960s, as…

Coins on a gray table

Why Is Randomness A Good Model, But Not A Good Explanation?

After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science

The previous article I wrote about randomness proved quite controversial. After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science. How can I say randomness is not a scientific explanation? Let me first make a distinction between a model and an explanation. A model shows us how some physical thing operates, but it does not explain the cause of the thing. An explanation, on the other hand, tries to explain the cause. But surely if we can effectively model something with randomness, then randomness must also be part of the causal explanation for the thing? Well, not so fast. Let’s look at how we model randomness with computers. Computers themselves are not random in the slightest.…

Concept of shame and ridicule

Non-Materialist Science Is Wanted — Dead or Alive

Exploring a non-materialist approach to the mind has included a death threat for neurosurgeon Michael Egnor

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In the previous segment, they discussed the way in which epilepsy provides a glimpse into the way the mind is not simply the brain but has powers in its own right. In this segment, Dr. Egnor talks about the problems of being a non-materialist physician in a materialist world — death threats and all. Here is a partial transcript and notes for the 1 hour 44 minute mark to the 1 hour 56 minute mark: Arjuna Das: You said how scientists, if they reject physicalism, it doesn’t help their career. They might get less opportunities or less prestige or whatever… I…

Picture of a young man having an asthma attack

How Much Can Will Power Do Against Nature? – Sci-fi Saturday

Despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang

“Outcast” (2020) at DUST by Royce Adkins (August 16, 2021, 12:29 min) A former super soldier with chronic asthma fights to prove his worth. Review: The film opens with a gritty scene in a hospital where a veteran medic (Rod Emelle) tells a veteran soldier (Aaron) that if he doesn’t start using his asthma meds right, they will kill him quicker than his respiratory problems. Not too many spoilers, one hopes, but despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang. His friend Imara (Gail Bean) is wants to dissuade him from the role of lone wolf lawman. As the story…