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TagConsciousness

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The eye of space

How a Materialist Philosopher Argued His Way to Panpsychism

Galen Strawson starts with the one fact of which we are most certain — our own consciousness

In 2018, science writer Robert Wright interviewed physicalist philosopher Galen Strawson (pictured) who, in a long conversation, explained the logical steps by which he — a philosopher who holds that nature is all there is and that everything is physical — also came to believe that consciousness underlies everything. Wright published a long excerpt from the discussion in June 2020, in which Strawson explains his reasoning. Wright starts things off by noting that “In recent years more and more philosophers seem to have embraced panpsychism—the view that consciousness pervades the universe and so is present, in however simple a form, in every little speck of matter.” Indeed, even publications like Scientific American have run panpsychist opinion pieces in recent years.…

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Closeup of hand female caregiver holding oxygen mask with cute child patient in hospital bed or home,little girl putting inhalation,doctor or nurse intensive care,health care,support,help concept

A Short Film Explores the Dreamscape of a Child in a Coma

While her faithful father waits and tries to connect with her…

Last week, five animated short films competed for Oscar gold, with the top prize going to the emotionally charged “If Anything Happens I Love You.” The short is a bold examination of bereavement as two parents grapple with the violent loss of their young daughter. It’s a worthy winner. However, my own pick didn’t make the shortlist. WiNDUP (2020), written and directed by young creative Yibing Jiang, is also a poignant meditation on parenthood and grief — in this case, for a child in a possibly irreversible coma — as well as a technical gem. Jiang’s company, Unity, uses custom-built software to create shorts in “real-time 3D” on standard computers. Doing without certain tools that animators take for granted today,…

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Unfolding of Geometry

A Physicist and Philosopher Examines Panpsychism

Idealism says everything is an idea in the mind of God. Panpsychism says everything participates in consciousness (thus is not just an idea)

In last week’s podcast,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is the view that “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. As Gordon noted in the earlier portion of this podcast, idealism is actually a practical philosophy. It originated with Plato (c. 424–347 BC) but the modern form, which he himself holds, is that of George Berkeley (1685–1753). In Berkeley’s view everything that exists is an idea in the mind of God. Thus, Dr. Egnor asked him what he thinks of panpsychism, the view that everything in the universe…

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Young blind man with white cane and guide dog sitting in park in city.

The Mystery of Blindsight Helps Us Understand the Mind Better

How can a blind person demonstrate awareness of an object in his visual field — and yet not be conscious of it?

Blindsight is the remarkable ability of some blind people to sense objects that they cannot actually see. It occurs when the blindness is caused by damage to the main part of the brain that processes visual information (the striate cortex). But the eyes themselves are intact. The eyes continue to see (sensation) but nothing is receiving the messages (perception). Or so we would think, except for this: One of the most contentious discussions in philosophy of mind and neuroscience is the nature of perception as opposed to sensation. How can we perceive objects in our environment? On a deeper level, what do we mean by “perception”? In what ways does perception differ from sensation, if at all? The neurobiology of…

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Artificial Intelligence digital Brain future technology on motherboard computer. Binary data. Brain of AI. Futuristic Innovative technology in science concept

How WOULD We Know If an AI Is Conscious?

It might be more complicated than we think. A powerful zombie is still a zombie.

Neuroscientist Joel Frohlich (pictured) asks us to reflect on the “philosophical zombie.” That’s not the zombie of the late nite frites. It’s an entity that behaves outwardly in every respect like you and me but has no inner experience (think Stepford Wives). Philosopher David Chalmers originated the term in 1996, by way of illustrating why consciousness is a Hard Problem. A powerful computer can crunch through many difficult jobs without any inner life or consciousness. But, Frohlich, who is editor in chief of the science communications website Knowing Neurons, asks, what if we weren’t sure? How would we test that? Trying to determine if a powerful AI is conscious means getting past programming that might enable it to generate plausible…

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Evolving Abstract Visualization

Can Mathematics Help Us Understand Consciousness?

Gregory Chaitin asks, what if the universe is information, not matter?

In last week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin, best known for Chaitin’s Unknowable Number, on, among other things, consciousness. What can mathematics contribute to the discussion. Also, what does Chaitin think about panpsychism (everything is conscious”)? The discussion began with reference to David Chalmers’s 1996 book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, in which Chalmers coined the term “Hard Problem of Consciousness.” The term acknowledged what everyone knew, that human consciousness is a very difficult problem to understand, especially from a materialist perspective.Are there other approaches? Chaitin offers a look at the challenge panpsychism presents to materialism: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-127-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 28:25…

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Omega, the letter of a Greek alphabet. Greek numerals, mathematical eight hundred number concept. Abstract, digital, wireframe, low poly mesh, Raster blue neon 3d illustration. Triangle, line dot

The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability

What does it mean for something to be unknowable? Is creativity non-computable? Do all things have a level of consciousness? Jump into today’s podcast, where Robert J. Marks continues his discussion with Gregory Chaitin about mathematical theory and philosophy. Show Notes 00:23 | Introducing Gregory Chaitin 00:40 | What is unknowability? 06:07 | Does non-computable mean unknowable? 09:43 | A…

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Field of poppies

Does Freezing the Brain’s “Connectome” Offer Hope of Immortality?

Some cryogenics researchers are looking at methods of freezing the brain’s memory apparatus in the hope of reviving it one day and saving it as an artificial intelligence

According to Philip Jaekl, a writer with neuroscience training, the connectome is the “ complete network of neurons and all the connections between them, called synapses.” Taking a leaf from Sebastian Seung’s book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, he argues, “You are your connectome.” In that case, Seung’s “you” is very complex. Many types of memory are mediated through the connectome. Jaekl writes, Thus, a key to unlocking the correspondence between the connectome and memory is to elucidate the entire circuitry of the brain. Tracing the wiring at this scale is no easy task when considering the sheer complexity involved. A mere cubic millimetre of brain tissue contains around 50,000 neurons, with an astonishing total…

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3d rendered medically accurate illustration of the human cell anatomy

A New Theory Links Consciousness to Bioelectricity

Consciousness as a function of bioelectric fields? That’s a remarkable idea because it includes the notion that our individual cells are conscious

Bioelectricity is the electricity produced by living organisms as they go about the business of moving, breathing, digesting, etc. Bioelectric currents differ from electric currents that power machines because they consist of ions (molecules that carry an electric charge) rather than electrons. (Encyclopedia.com). But it is still electricity. So what’s the link with consciousness? Evolutionary biologist and lawyer Tam Hunt argues, Nature seems to have figured out that electric fields, similar to the role they play in human-created machines, can power a wide array of processes essential to life. Perhaps even consciousness itself. A veritable army of neuroscientists and electrophysiologists around the world are developing steadily deeper insights into the degree that electric and magnetic fields—“brainwaves” or “neural oscillations”—seem to…

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pet lizard in a tank

No, You Do Not Have a Lizard Brain Inside Your Human Brain

The “lizard brain” is part of what science used to know about the brain that ain’t so

Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), Northeastern University psychology prof and author of Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain (2020), is candid about the way new research has cast doubt on old saws in science: “As a neuroscientist, I see scientific myths about the brain repeated regularly in the media and corners of academic research.” The myth she targets in a recent article at Nautilus is the “triune brain,” the idea that our brain developed and continues to function in three successive layers. First developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean (1913–2007) in the 1960s and set out in more detail in his 1990 book The Triune Brain in Evolution, the triune brain theory posited three successive layers of brain: ●…

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Wireframed Robot hand making contact with human hand on dark 3D rendering

Bingecast: John Lennox on Artificial Intelligence and Humanity

In this bingecast episode, Robert J. Marks talks with Dr. John C. Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, about all things artificial intelligence. Should robots have rights? What are A.I.’s advantages and threats to humanity? And does theology have anything to say about all of this? Listen in as they discuss Dr. Lennox’s book 2084, and wrestle…

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Theoretical Physicist Argues, the Sim Universe Is Pseudoscience

It’s a lot of fun in science fiction and some scitech celebs buy in. But Sabine Hossenfelder and others explain why it’s fiction

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder does not like the notion that we are living in a giant computer sim. Elon Musk likes it (“Elon Musk says there’s a ‘one in billions’ chance reality is not a simulation”) and so does Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Neil deGrasse Tyson says it’s ‘very likely’ the universe is a simulation”). Philosopher of science Nick Bostrom advanced that view in a seminal 2003 paper in Philosophical Quarterly. Former Astronomer Royal Martin Rees is sympathetic to it. Some call it the Planetarium hypothesis, when it is cited as a reason we do not see intelligent extraterrestrials. One source offers “15 irrefutable reasons” why, like Neo in The Matrix (1999), we might be living in a universe that is…

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The New Caledonian crow bird on the tree. Raven in tropical jungle

We Knew Crows Were Smart But They Turn Out To Be Even Smarter

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the mysteries of animal intelligence

Recently, some researchers have claimed that crows — already known to be smart — are even conscious: Nieder’s experiment showed that the birds were actively evaluating how to solve a particular problem they were confronted with. In effect, they were thinking it over. This ability to consciously assess a problem is associated with the cerebral cortex in the brains of humans. But birds have no cerebral cortex. Nieder found that in crows, thinking occurs in the pallium—the layers of gray and white matter covering the upper surface of the cerebrum in vertebrates. Other studies support the notion that the bird brain can, in principle, support the development of higher intelligence. This idea had been dismissed in the past due to…

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Bottom view of three professional doctors leaning over the patient and wearing medical masks while holding the anesthetic inhaler

What Is Your Soul Doing When You’re Under Anesthesia?

It’s an intriguing and important question and you may be surprised by some of the answers

First, no one should worry about unpleasant awareness during anesthesia. I’ve performed more than 7000 brain operations and I’ve never had a patient experience unpleasant awareness related to anesthesia. It does happen, but it’s rare, and I’ve never seen it. I’ve had general anesthesia myself four times, and as I tell my anesthesiology colleagues, I’m a big fan of anesthesia. Modern anesthesia is safe, highly effective, and indispensable. Don’t be afraid of it. But I do need to tell you that there are scientific facts about anesthesia and awareness that may surprise you. Second, when I use the word “soul,” rather than “mind” or “consciousness,” to describe mental states, I am not using the word in a spooky or New…

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Hand turning off the bulb lamp.Turning off the light.

Your Soul Has No “Off Switch”

A major modern misunderstanding of the human mind is to assume that it is like a machine with an “on” and an “off” switch

I have written, in an earlier post, about the problem of “consciousness:” — that is, the problem inherent to the word itself and to the concept it conveys. I believe that “consciousness” is a mere narrative gloss on the mind — it denotes nothing beyond the mental powers of the soul. This is not just linguistic nitpicking. The concept of “consciousness” is much worse than useless. It leads us to misunderstand the mind in a profound way, as I will explain. The point may seem subtle but I believe that, if you think deeply enough about it, you will see that it is obviously true. First, I am not saying “consciousness” is an illusion. or possibly a delusion. This witless…

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Junger Mann mit Glühbirnen-Helm

Does the Ability To Think Depend on Consciousness?

From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states

The title question might seem like a strange one but it is vitally important if we are to interpret neuroscience correctly and if we are to understand the mind–brain relationship. In my view, the capacity for thought does not depend on consciousness. The term “consciousness” is at best meaningless and at worst an impediment to understanding the mind. “Consciousness” is a very vague term and, ultimately, I don’t think it has any useful meaning at all, apart from other categories such as sensation, perception, imagination, reason etc. Aristotle had no distinct term for it. Nor do I think did any of the ancient or medieval philosophers. Consciousness is a modern term that seems to subsume all of the sensate powers…

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Spiral Profile

Toward a Serious Scientific Theory of Consciousness

Quantum physics arises from the fact that when we do not observe a particle, it can be in two different places at once, such that it interacts with itself

Consciousness is the ultimate hard problem of philosophy of science. As of today, there is absolutely no scientific solution to the problem. The nature of consciousness seems ineffable: first person experience appears to be a completely different category of existence than objective externaldescription. This dilemma has led philosophers such as Daniel Dennett to use the ultimate solution: deny the problem exists. Unfortunately, that solution never worked for me at school. The objective reality of bad grades is quite hard to deny. Yet, we need not resort to Daniel Dennett’s ultimate solution. There are concrete things we can say about consciousness if we use the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics and the computer science concept of Kolmogorov complexity. Quantum physics…

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Speed of Painted Dream

A Theoretical Physicist Grapples With the Math of Consciousness

Looking at the various theories, she is not very happy

She’s not very happy with what she sees: The currently most popular mathematical approach to consciousness is integrated information theory, IIT for short. It was put forward by a neurologist, Giulio Tononi, in two thousand and four. In IIT, each system is assigned a number, that’s big Phi, which is the “integrated information” and supposedly a measure of consciousness. The better a system is at distributing information while it’s processing the information, the larger Phi. A system that’s fragmented and has many parts that calculate in isolation may process lots of information, but this information is not “integrated”, so Phi is small. For example, a digital camera has millions of light receptors. It processes large amounts of information. But the…

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Psychology concept. Sunrise and woman silhouette.

Can Our Minds Extend Beyond Our Bodies?

It depends on how we define our “minds” — Can we disentangle our minds from our experiences?

Well, here’s a fun coffee break challenge offered by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., the author of Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology) (2016): … our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions. “I realized if someone asked me to define the shoreline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the shore is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “You can’t limit our understanding of the coastline to insist it’s one or the other. I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline—some…

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Inner Life of Super Human

A Silicon Valley Psychologist Doesn’t Believe in Consciousness

Duncan Riach thinks that, with increasing complexity, computers will appear to be conscious too but it’s a misunderstanding for both humans and computers

Duncan Riach, who believes that computers can become selves, doesn’t believe in consciousness. As he explains, I’ve lost friends over this because a denial of consciousness undermines a final refuge of the arrogance of selfhood: universal consciousness. But even most normal people are strongly insistent that consciousness is a real thing, a special thing, and that they possess it. The problem I have is that there’s not only no evidence for it, but what people seem to be referring to as consciousness is explainable as an effect no more unusual, no less materialistically explainable, than water flowing downhill… Rather than jumping to the conclusion that this body has a soul and/or that somehow this “I am,” this feeling of something…