Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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Canadian Geese Flying in V Formation

The Intelligence Birds and Bees Naturally Have — and We Don’t

An exploration of the stunning findings in Eric Cassell's new book, "Animal Algorithms"

You’re aiming to find your childhood friend’s home in a new city. A map helps; GPS is better. Accessing all that previously-acquired mapmakers’ knowledge, employing all of that satellite, radio and computing technology, you’ll probably (although not certainly) reach your goal. Could some “dumb bird” do any better?  Way better, actually.  Baked-in Brain Power A bird born near Wales (UK) knows how to fly over 6,200 miles (10,000 km) south in the winter, following the west coastlines of Europe and Africa, then crossing the Atlantic Ocean to land in Argentina. The same bird knows how to return to its original home a few months later. She flies north along the east coasts of South and North America, then crosses the Atlantic back Read More ›

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Happy beautiful twins girls point up isolated on blue background, two sisters showing something above their heads , advertisement, place for text, body language

Why Physicalism Is Failing as the Accepted Approach to Science

The argument that everything in nature can be reduced to physics was killed by the philosophical Zombie, as Prudence Louise explains
At Medium, Prudence Louise, a writer on philosophy and religion, explains that in 1994 philosopher David Chalmers killed the Zombie in cold blood, igniting “a zombie apocalypse.” Sounds like an unusual role for a philosopher. And the Zombie?: “The philosophical notion of a “zombie” basically refers to conceivable creatures which are physically indistinguishable from us but lack consciousness entirely (Chalmers 1996)” — Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Louise asks us to picture that: Imagine you meet your doppelganger. Someone physically identical to you, atom for atom. The only difference is the doppelganger has no inner consciousness. They look happy or sad, they even tell you of their hopes and dreams. But there is nothing more than physical processes moving in response to physical causes. Their lips move and sounds which are meaningful to you come out, but they experience nothing at all. From the outside you are identical. But from the inside the zombie is a hollow imitation. That is a philosophical zombie. The physical structure, functions and behavior are identical, but there is no consciousness. What exactly is the missing ingredient? Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) The zombie could, in principle, exist. At the same time, we all know we are not zombies in the sense that we know we are conscious more certainly than we know anything else. And if consciousness is an illusion, well, whose illusion is it? As Louise goes on to show, for a physicalist (a person who believes that everything is physical), the zombie is an “explanatory nightmare.” It forces us to sense that there is something besides the physical. Although we can explain more and more about the human body in terms of structure and function, there is no good science-based theory of consciousness on the horizon. And if we can explain everything about a human being except consciousness, well, we haven’t explained, say, the difference between Jane and Zombie-Jane, which humans generally agree is important. As Louise explains in her short article, “The stakes are high. If there can’t be a scientific explanation of conscious experience, this shows physicalism is false.” One problem is that science explains third-person phenomena but consciousness is a first-person phenomenon. She then goes into much more careful logical and philosophical detail but here’s the gist: When you move your body to the fridge in response to a desire for a snack, or take medication in response to pain, or lock the doors due to a fear of burglars, there is no causal connection between those conscious states and the physical effects of your body moving. This view isn’t fatal to the physicalist theory, but it puts it on critical life support. Our mental states cause actions which move matter constantly, giving us a lot of evidence it’s true. Any arguments those powers are illusory will need to be stronger than our confidence our conscious states cause our bodies to move. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Physicalism took root in a mechanistic view of the universe, pioneered by Isaac Newton. And before the Zombie even showed up, that view was already being challenged by quantum mechanics, in which the conscious observer plays a key role in what happens. But, for scientists, physicalism is not the only game in town: Alternative metaphysics, like idealism, substance dualism or panpsychism all avoid the hard problem by denying causal closure. They accept the observation that consciousness is non-physical, and it’s causally effective, which means causal closure must be false. Unlike the observations of consciousness and its causal powers, causal closure isn’t based on observations of the world. It’s a metaphysical commitment. Physicalism is confronting a problem created by its philosophical commitments being in conflict with our observations of the world. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Of the three alternatives Louise lists, panpsychism seems to the one many scientists are gravitating to. Instead of “nothing is conscious,” many now think everything is conscious. Just recently, prominent biochemist James Shapiro titled a paper “All living cells are cognitive.” And prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio offered that viruses have some type of intelligence. Other well-known science achievers argue that electrons have a rudimentary mind. In response to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, philosopher Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not in conflict with physics. It offers a simpler view of physics than dualism, with fewer gaps than materialism (including physicalism). Essentially, panpsychism offers a way for scientists to address human consciousness, as currently understood, without explaining it away as an illusion. It would allow them to say that if Zombie-Jane existed, she would be missing something critical that Jane has (and so does everything else, to at least some extent). Whether that benefit makes panpsychism a better explanation of reality than idealism or dualism is a separate question. Each of these points of view has its own issues but the Zombie isn’t one of them. You may also wish to read: Theoretical physicist slams panpsychism Electrons cannot be conscious Sabine Hossenfelder’s view because they cannot change their behavior. Hossenfelder’s impatience is understandable but she underestimates the seriousness of the problem serious thinkers about consciousness confront. There is a reason that some scientists believe that the universe is conscious: It would be more logically coherent to say that you think the universe is conscious than to say that your own consciousness is an illusion. With the first idea, you may be wrong. With the second idea, you are not anything. Read More ›
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Time travel machine. Surreal steampunk technology

Can a Man Go Back and Fix His Past? — Sci-Fi Saturday

It turns out that the old man calling from 2120 doesn’t just want to give his younger self advice; he wants to change the past to prevent tragedy

“Hey, it’s me” (2020) at DUST by Mark Sposato & Courtney Sposato (October 11, 2021), 11:11 min. A selfish man tries to alter his destiny when he receives an ominous phone call from his future self. Review: Year 2120 and a sick and unhappy old man (Cedric Cannon) wants to go back and talk to his past self (RJ Brown). The past self, in 2030, is young and swinging and already has the neon telephone that can do that — as he shows his “date.” And then the phone rings and it’s his old man. That is, himself as a sick old man (120 years old)… And he has only seven minutes with him. No more spoilers. The story revolves Read More ›

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Extraterrestrial aliens spaceship fly above small town, ufo with blue spotlights in dark stormy sky.

Elon Musk Keeps Buzz About Extraterrestrials in the News

He has said that we may be ET’s sims. Then this year he created an uproar by doubting UFOs — and another one months later by implying that they do exist. Huh?

Self-driving car and private space travel entrepreneur Elon Musk has been all over the map recently as far as ET is concerned. He has claimed that our universe may have been simulated by extraterrestrials. He has hinted that he himself is an extraterrestrial. Earlier this year, he apparently reversed course and identified (on Twitter) the strongest argument for the idea that ET doesn’t even exist: ‘Strongest argument against aliens,’ Musk tweeted, along with two charts that shows camera resolution has advanced, but UFO pictures have remained the same. The post concludes that extraterrestrials do not exist, due to most images showing floating blobs, but many of the comments argue otherwise. One user responded with ‘that’s exactly what an alien would Read More ›

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bacteria

University of Chicago Biochemist: All Living Cells Are Cognitive

James Shapiro’s recent paper points out, with examples, that bacteria meet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “cognitive”

University of Chicago biochemist and evolutionary biologist James Shapiro has a message that those who believe that consciousness is an illusion (as, for example, philosopher Daniel Dennett claims) should heed: If all living things are “cognitive” then, to what extent would life itself have to be an illusion? Something’s wrong there. Let’s follow the thread of what Shapiro is saying. He takes a simple approach: If bacteria and archaea, thought to be the oldest, simplest life forms from at least 2 billion years ago, can be shown to have cognitive processes, then it stands to reason that most (if not all) of the more complex life forms have them too: All living cells sense and respond to changes in external Read More ›

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The universe within. Silhouette of a man inside the universe, physical and mathematical formulas.. The concept on scientific and philosophical topics.  Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Philosopher: Panpsychism Is Not in Conflict With Physics at All

Responding to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not a dualist perspective

At IAI.tv, University of Durham philosophy prof Philip Goff tells us that “The world of academic philosophy has been rocked by the conversion of one of the most influential materialists of the last thirty years, Michael Tye, to a form of panpsychism (panprotopsychism) in his latest book. And the main annual UK philosophy conference held a plenary panel on panpsychism this year for the first time in its history.” That’s part of a pattern in which philosophy and science are warming to panpsychism, the belief that either all entities or all living entities participate in consciousness. Dr. Goff, author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, offers some thoughts on what panpsychism is and isn’t: Panpsychism is the Read More ›

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Man in front of the universe with his arms raised

Physicist: If Humans Died Out, the Galaxy Might Lose All Meaning

Ahead of a big climate change conference, Brian Cox assesses the prospect of other habitable planets or their civilizations much more soberly than we often hear

Ahead of the big climate change conference COP 26 (31 Oct – 12 Nov 2021), physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox offers an ominous warning which also raises some questions. Speaking in connection with his new series, Universe, he presents a starkly different picture from much that we hear: Humans might be the only intelligent beings in our galaxy, so destroying our civilisation could be a galactic disaster, Prof Brian Cox has warned leaders in the run-up to Cop26. Speaking at the launch of his new BBC Two series Universe, the physicist and presenter said that having spoken to the scientists around the world advising the show, he thought that humans and sentient life on Earth “might be a remarkable, naturally Read More ›

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Mars Base

Theoretical Physicist: Colonizing Mars Is a Ridiculous Idea

Making Mars habitable (terraforming) has been kicking around engineering circles for decades. What are the chances, given Moore’s Law-level increases in technology?

And so what does a theoretical physicist know about it, you ask? Well, when it’s Sabine Hossenfelder, she is alwaysworth listening to: The biggest problem is not that Mars is “minus 60 degrees Celsius or minus 80 Fahrenheit,” she explains, but that it has no magnetic field so the atmosphere was blown away by the solar winds. So to form Mars into a second Earth, we would first need to give it a magnetic field. How easy is that?: In a paper that was just published in April in the International Journal of Astrobiology, two physicists explain that all you have to do put a superconducting wire around Mars, simple enough, isn’t it? The circle would have to have a Read More ›

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Exoplanets with moon

How Exoplanets Have Made the Search for ET Respectable

Recent years have seen a marked change from official skepticism to official curiosity, which includes more generous funding for the search

Exoplanets were first confirmed in 1992. Before that, it was easy to simply mock the search for the flying saucers and the little green men. After that, the obvious question became: If planets, why not habitable planets? If inhabited, why not by intelligent life forms? It was the naysayers who had more to prove. More recently, astrobiologists looking for signals from intelligent extraterrestrials (technosignatures) have started to doubt that the old standby, radio, is the best choice, as science writer Corey S. Powell reports, ‘I was never a big fan of what might be called “beacon SETI”,’ the astrophysicist Adam Frank from the University of Rochester tells me. ‘The idea is that you’re waiting for somebody to send you a Read More ›

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multiverse and alternative universes concept

Why Just Anything Can’t Happen via Infinite Universes

We can see why not, using simple mathematical reasoning in this universe

Can anything happen if there are an infinite number of universes each with an infinite number of possibilities in each? Can you be bald in one universe and fully haired in another? Can you have two eyeballs in this universe and three in another? The answer is no. In a nutshell, the reason is that some infinities are bigger than other infinities. (And this is not a claim like infinity plus one is bigger than infinity. Infinity plus one is still infinity.) The number of points on a line segment from, say zero to one, is a bigger infinity than the number of counting numbers {1,2,3,…}. We can label the infinite number of universes in the multiverse as universe #1, Read More ›

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Illustration of spiral arrangement in nature.  Golden Ratio concept

New film: C.S. Lewis as a staunch defender of the mind’s reality

Lewis started out thinking that “the findings of science have concluded that human reason” resulted merely from “natural selection with random mutations… to confer upon humans a reproductive advantage.”

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to spend an evening with famed writer C. S. Lewis, now’s your chance. On November 3, theaters around the United States and Canada will premiere a film titled The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis, and it may be the next best thing to meeting the real Lewis, who died in 1963. Adapted from a one-man stage show by New York actor Max McLean, The Most Reluctant Convert portrays Lewis’s intellectual journey from scientific materialism to idealism to theism to Christianity. It’s a cerebral and “talky” film, but that doesn’t mean it’s slow or boring. Clocking in at just 73 minutes, the film moves briskly and includes plenty of emotion and humor.  (This Read More ›

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Black hole illustration

13. Egnor vs. Dillahunty: Are Singularities a Part of Science?

Also, an audience member asks the debaters: Does atheism make better predictions than theism?

In the “Does God exist?” debate at Theology Unleashed between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), we now look at questions from the audience on whether singularities are really a part of science and whether atheism is really a belief system that can make predictions. Readers may recall that the debate opened with Egnor explaining why, as former atheist, he became a theist. Then Dillahunty explained why, as a former theist, he became an atheist. Michael Egnor then made his opening argument, offering ten proofs for the existence of God. Matt Dillahunty responded in his own opening argument that the propositions were all unfalsifiable. When, in Section 4, it was Egnor’s turn to rebut Read More ›

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double moon above Crater Landscape on alien Planet.

Would ET Intelligences Understand the 1974 Arecibo Message?

Probably not, says astrobiologist Dirke Schulz-Makuch, who raises the question of whether we could ever really communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences

In early, easily-mocked sci fi, a little green man points his raygun at an unsuspecting passerby and barks “Take me to your leader.” Fast forward: If the little green man didn’t have the technology to figure out who the leader was before landing, he certainly wouldn’t have the technology to get here. In any real-world scenario, we must assume that extraterrestrial intelligences are doing common sense logical things that we would do: Check Earth’s inhabitants out first by monitoring our communications. Some analysts have pointed out that there are places they could even hide technology in our solar system (Lagrange points, for example) with much less chance of being noticed. But then the question is, what to say to them? Read More ›

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Time flies

A Man in Dire Need Contacts His Unborn Grandson — Sci-Fi Saturday

The grandson “gets the mail” and sends back something from the future, via a mysterious mailbox, that gives the felons a considerable surprise

“Mailbox” at DUST by Louis Yin (October 15, 2021, 17:00 min) An American Chinese immigrant makes contact with his grandson in the future via a mailbox. Together they have to deal with their mutual enemies. Review: Based on Yanan Wang’s short story, “The Post man,” the story begins in New York City in 1946, where Chinese immigrants are oppressed by a criminal landlord. The gritty, authentically period tale begins to revolve around an old mailbox that turns out not to be time bound. Not a spoiler: Bo (William Yuekun Wu) can mail things to the future. His grandson (whose life appears to have only somewhat improved by being two generations on… ) can, however, help by mailing back stuff from Read More ›

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Extrasolar planet with atmosphere and moon

Harvard Astronomer: Advanced Aliens Engineered the Big Bang

Avi Loeb writes in Scientific American that when we humans are sufficiently advanced, we will create other universes as well

At Scientific American, Avi Loeb, the longest-serving chair of astronomy at Harvard (2011–2020), tackles the question of what came before the Big Bang. He surveys the conventional explanations for this singularity in time and space (when all points are zero) and comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion: Creation by an alien intelligence is the best way to account for our universe: Now there are a variety of conjectures in the scientific literature for our cosmic origins, including the ideas that our universe emerged from a vacuum fluctuation, or that it is cyclic with repeated periods of contraction and expansion, or that it was selected by the anthropic principle out of the string theory landscape of the multiverse—where, as the MIT Read More ›

Abstract tech background 3D illustration. Quantum computer archi
Abstract tech background 3D illustration. Quantum computer architecture. Futuristic technologies in global communication network

Seth Lloyd Will Take Us Into the Quantum Realm at COSM 2021

Dr. Lloyd, an MIT physicist, will tackle "Quantum Computing: Does it Change Everything, or Anything?"

Quantum physics has captured the imagination of culture, despite the fact that it upends everyday physics. Take, for instance, Marvel’s Ant Man (2015), whose creators consulted with physicists in their seemingly-absurd application of quantum physics to a fictional superhero universe. Quantum science will be one of the many topics explored at COSM 2021 this November. To aid in that exploration, physicist Seth Lloyd will be joining to discuss, “Quantum Computing: Does it Change Everything, or Anything?” Dr. Lloyd earned his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, and is currently a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. His research interests lie in quantum information and control theory. He has authored and co-authored over 200 scientific publications, and is the author of Programming the Read More ›

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The Altamira Caves. Spanish rock art. It is the highest representation of cave painting in Spain

There Is No Such Thing as a Fossil Mind

A chapter on evolutionary psychology in Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith (2021) looks at the curious discipline of evolutionary psychology

This month, the The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (Harvest House 2021) appeared. The basic theme of the handbook, as described by editors design theorist William Dembski and Joseph Holden is “Science and Christianity are often presented as opposites, when in fact the order of the universe and the complexity of life powerfully testify to intelligent design.” I wrote one of the chapters, “What is evolutionary psychology?”. It concerns the effort to understand human psychology by appealing to a prehuman (“evolutionary”) past. As such, it explains a large variety of human behaviours as the unconscious enactment of a Darwinian survival scenario among not-quite humans that is wired into modules in Read More ›

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question mark on sticky note

10: Christian Egnor and Atheist Dillahunty Now Take Questions…

For example, “ What is Mr. Egnor’s best evidence of any god that would make me believe?”

In the “Does God exist?” debate between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), the debaters get questions from the audience. Readers may recall that the debate opened with Egnor explaining why, as former atheist, he became a theist. Then Dillahunty explained why, as a former theist, he became an atheist. Michael Egnor then made his opening argument, offering ten proofs for the existence of God. Matt Dillahunty responded in his own opening argument that the propositions were all unfalsifiable. When, in Section 4, it was Egnor’s turn to rebut Dillahunty, Dillahunty was not easily able to recall Aquinas’s First Way (the first logical argument for the existence of God). Then, turning to the origin Read More ›

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Sand dunes in Death Valley

What if the Rescue is the Worst Part? — Sci-Fi Saturday

Crashed spaceship crew members find themselves on a desert planet with some very strange features

“Beachworld” at DUST by Jackie Perez (September 20, 2021, 14:00 min) Beachworld is an adaptation of a Stephen King’s short story as part of his Dollar Baby program. Lieutenant Shapiro’s ship is destroyed in a crash on a deserted desert planet covered in sand dunes. As she begins to understand the severity of her situation, she sets out to discover other survivors and formulate a rescue plan. Her crewmate Rand is alive, but spellbound by his new surroundings. It’s up to her alone to figure out how to get back home. She finds their ship’s emergency beacon, and an unsavory salvage crew answers their distress call. Ultimately, their rescue comes too late as Shapiro has succumbed to the planet’s hypnotizing Read More ›

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collection of alien planets in front of the Milky Way galaxy, nearby exoplanets

Physicist: Copernican Principle Doesn’t Make Earth Insignificant

That, Marcelo Gleiser says, is a philosophical attitude, unrelated to the science

Theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014) offers some thoughts on what the Copernican Principle means and doesn’t mean about Earth’s status as a planet — whether Earth is a special place or a pale blue dot. He has no objection to the Copernican Principle (“a cornerstone of astronomy”) as such. The problem, he points out, is what happened next: Copernicus famously proposed that Earth was not the center of the universe; the sun was. The Earth, he suggested, was just another planet orbiting the sun like Mars or Jupiter… The principle, as understood today, is usually stated as, “Earth is an ordinary planet, and we, human observers, are ordinary too.” There is nothing special about Read More ›