Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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An Old Rat With No Brain Raises Some Very Interesting Questions

The researchers had no idea how strange their lab rat was until, in a routine procedure, they scanned its head

Yes, R222 was only a rat. A rat that turned out to have no brain. But here’s the thing: R222 had lived a normal life as a lab rat for two whole years. According to rat specialists, that’s like 70 human years. Researchers were, to say the least, puzzled. The story begins with a scientist scanning the brains of “very old” lab rats as part of a study on aging. Except that subject R222, otherwise a conventional rat, didn’t seem to have a brain. The brain cavity had collapsed and filled with fluid (hydrocephalus). We can see from the photo that where the control rat has brain, R222 has fluid: On further investigation, researchers found that all brain functions had…

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A Neuroscientist on Why We Can Build Human-like Brains

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist as well as a neuroscientist, thinks pattern recognition is the answer

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist who became a theoretical neuroscientist, made the argument last year that human intelligence is less complex than we make it out to be. Thus, building an artificial intelligence might be easier than we suppose. He offers some intriguing arguments and here are some responses: ➤ Is the information we need for building human-like AI in our genes? He doesn’t think so because a tomato has 7000 more genes than a human being. Further, our human genome offers only 25 million bytes of information for our brain’s design but there are 1015 connections in the adult neocortex. His conclusion? “there needs to be a much simpler, more efficient way of defining the blueprint for our brain…

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The Brain Is Not a Computer and Big Data Is Not a Big Answer

These claims are mere tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI

In Gaming AI, George Gilder (pictured) sets out six assumptions generally shared by those who believe that, in a Singularity sometime soon, we will merge with our machines. Some of these assumptions seem incorrect and they are certainly all discussable. So let’s look at the first two: • “The Modeling Assumption: A computer can deterministically model a brain.” (p. 50) That would be quite difficult because brains don’t function like computers: As neuroscientist Yuri Danilov said last year, “Right now people are saying, each synoptical connection is a microprocessor. So if it’s a microprocessor, you have 1012 neurons, each neuron has 105 synapses, so you have… you can compute how many parallel processing units you have in the brain if…

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Can We Make Brains in a Dish? Can We Make MINDS in a Dish?

Experiments with brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish

In a recent report, Nature addressed several studies on disembodied brains grown in the lab. One of those studies, published last year by Alysson Muotri of the University of California, San Diego, showed that brain organoids (organized clusters of brain cells) displayed electrical signals reminiscent of a twenty-five-week-old pre-term baby. the electrical activity continued for several months until the experiment was eventually stopped. Experiments with such brain organoids have left many wondering whether we should be concerned about creating brains-in-a-dish. Organoids, such as those made of kidney or liver cells, have been used to study drug development and disease. They are made either from embryonic stem cells—an ethically problematic source because they involve the destruction of an embryo—or induced pluripotent…

Human brain with an implanted chip.

Paralyzed Subject Gains Control Much Faster via a New Technique

The earlier technique for controlling a cursor through brain-computer interface worked but it required constant relearning

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have enabled a participant who is paralyzed in all four limbs to control a computer cursor, using only brain activity, by tapping into the brain’s own natural learning system. Without tapping into that system, brain-computer interface (BCI) needs extensive daily retraining in order to work. “It’s like asking someone to learn to ride a bike over and over again from scratch,” said study senior author Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, an associate professor of in the UC San Francisco Department of Neurology. “Adapting an artificial learning system to work smoothly with the brain’s sophisticated long-term learning schemas is something that’s never been shown before in a paralyzed person.” Nicholas Weiler, “First ‘Plug and…

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Why the Brain Can’t Be Understood Simply in Terms of Particles

For the same reasons as a basketball cannot be understood wholly as a “sphere,” the brain is more than particle physics in action
In a review of theoretical physicist Brian Greene’s latest book, philosopher Edward Feser explains why mathematics can’t capture all of reality. Read More ›
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Why the Mind Can’t Just Be the Brain

Thinking it through carefully, the idea doesn't even make sense

Philosopher Roger Scruton (1944–2020) defined neuroscience thus (I paraphrase): Neuroscience is a huge collection of answers with no memory of the questions. Over the past century, neuroscientists have amassed vast libraries of data. But their interpretation of their data on the mind-brain question shows no meaningful understanding of the genuine questions their research is tasked to answer. These questions are ancient: What is the relationship between the soul (or mind) and the body (or brain)? How is it that matter can think? How is it that third-person stuff gives rise to first-person experience? Answers to such questions from the neuroscience community show little evidence of the profound and subtle nature of the questions. Thus, neuroscientists provide answers to questions they…

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My Right Hemisphere Is An Atheist! No, Wait …

In reality, split-brain surgery does not split consciousness in any meaningful sense

The atheist neuroscientist who has made bizarre claims about the outcomes of split brain surgery appears not to know much about neurosurgery.

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Neurons cells concept

Elon Musk’s Myths About the Mind

According to Musk, everything in the brain is an electrical signal. That’s pretty naive

Neuroscientists used to think that each neuron was as complex as a switch. But newer research shows that each neuron is more similar to a microprocessor. Musk’s 3,000 Neuralink electrodes controlled by a single processor does not remotely match your brain’s 80 billion processors, all linked together.

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Philosopher: Consciousness is Not a Problem. Dualism Is!

Physicalist David Papineau says consciousness is just “brain processes that feel like something”

Physicalist David Papineau  argues that consciousness “seems mysterious not because of any hidden essence, but only because we think about it in a special way.” In short, it's all in our heads. But wait, say others, the hard problem of consciousness is not so easily dismissed.

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Bingecast: Yuri Danilov on the Complexity of our Brains

Recent discoveries about the brain have uncovered more of its complexity and changed what we thought we knew about it. Will more discoveries in the future change our views again? Robert J. Marks discusses neuroplasticity, restoring brain function through brain stimulation, and other fascinating discoveries about the human brain with Yuri Danilov. Show Notes 0:01:13 | Introducing Yuri Danilov, Senior…

The Creative Brain

Is There a Creativity Module in the Brain?

Both hemispheres are important for creativity, according to recent research, but the adventure lies beyond

What we are really learning is that minute mapping of the brain is not likely to give us a complete explanation of creativity. Let alone a means of control. Answers, when they appear, lie in the immaterial world of the mind.

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How Not To Debate Materialists

This is the story of how a gifted scientist lost a debate with a Darwinist — a debate he should have won

Although ape brains do differ somewhat from human brains in cortical anatomy, it is the similarity between the brains of apes and men, rather than the differences, that provide striking evidence of human exceptionalism.

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Bingecast: Jonathan Sackier on Healing the Brain

The brain can also both adapt and heal itself. How can we facilitate this healing in patients with brain challenges? Can this healing be accelerated without brain surgery? Using stimulation to the tongue can result in incredible changes to brain functions. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Jonathan Sackier discuss brain trauma, healing and stimulation. Show Notes 01:11 | Introducing Dr.…


Michael Egnor on Splitting the Brain and Staying You

If you lose all four of your limbs, are you still you? Most people would say yes. What if your brain were cut into two pieces? Would you still be you? Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor discuss splitting the brain and the research of Roger Sperry. Show Notes 00:30 | Introducing Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and…


Michael Egnor: Free Will or Free Won’t?

There have been ongoing philosophical and theological arguments about free will vs. predestination. How do experiments on the human brain inform us on this question? Robert J. Marks discusses free will, free won’t, predestination, and the brain with Dr. Michael Egnor. Show Notes 00:40 | Introducing Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York,…

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The Mind Is the Opposite of a Computer

Matthew Cobb, a materialist, only scratches the surface when he explains why your brain is not a computer

Mental activity always has meaning—every thought is about something. Computation, by contrast, always lacks meaning in itself. A word processing program doesn’t care about the opinion that you’re expressing when you use it. In fact, what makes computation so useful is that it doesn’t have its own meaning. Because the mind always has meaning and computation never does, the mind is the opposite of computation.

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Can We Understand the Brain the Way We “Understand” New York City?

The “connectome” (a complete “wiring diagram” of the brain) is giving neuroscientists pause for thought

If the brain is immensely complex, it may elude complete understanding in detail. Deep Learning may survey it but that won’t convey understanding to us. We may need to look at more comprehensive ways of knowing.

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We Will Never “Solve” the Brain

A science historian offers a look at some of the difficulties we face in understanding the brain

In a forthcoming book, science historian Matthew Cobb suggests that we may need to be content with different explanations for different brain parts. And that the image of the brain as a computer is definitely on the way out.

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Why Pioneer Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield Said the Mind Is More Than the Brain

He gave three lines of reasoning, based on brain surgery on over a thousand patients

Michael Egnor points out that Penfield offered three lines of evidence: His inability to stimulate intellectual thought during brain operations, the inability of seizures to cause intellectual thought, and his inability to stimulate the will. … So he concluded that the intellect and the will are not from the brain. Which is precisely what Aristotle said.

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