Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagDavid Chalmers

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Anomalocaris, creature of the Cambrian period, isolated on black background

Did Minimal Consciousness Drive the Cambrian Explosion?

Eva Jablonka’s team makes the daring case, repurposing Hungarian chemist Tibor Gánti’s origin of life studies

Eva Jablonka is “one of the world’s foremost experts in epigenetic inheritance and evolution” but she has also had a longstanding interest in consciousness studies. She was author, with Marion J. Lamb, of Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (MIT Press 2006/rev. 2014). She and neurobiologist Simona Ginsburg, along with illustrator Anna Zeligowski, offer a new approach to the origin of consciousness in an essay at IAI.TV — one with an interesting departure from many approaches to consciousness: Taking their inspiration from Hungarian chemist Tibor Gánti (1933–2009), who posited a chemoton — the minimal life form or protocell — as the origin of life, they first attempt to define minimal consciousness,…

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The Day Philosophers Started To Take Consciousness Seriously

Of course, once they did, they found themselves deep in huge conundrums

We sometimes forget how far we are from solving the mystery of consciousness. An anecdote from 1994 might help us understand. Picture an utterly boring, pointless conference in Tucson, Arizona, one of whose attendees was an obscure philosopher from Australia, scheduled to give the third talk. And shook everything up: The brain, Chalmers began by pointing out, poses all sorts of problems to keep scientists busy. How do we learn, store memories, or perceive things? How do you know to jerk your hand away from scalding water, or hear your name spoken across the room at a noisy party? But these were all “easy problems”, in the scheme of things: given enough time and money, experts would figure them out.…

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Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Will We Soon Be Able to Test Theories of Consciousness?

Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field

Science journalist and author Anil Ananthaswamy has written a thoughtful piece at New Scientist on the leading models of consciousness and their relationship to quantum mechanics (quantum physics). Are we reaching the point where we can test at least one of them? Ananthaswamy is well qualified to assess the arguments. He is the author of both Through Two Doors at Once (2018) on quantum physics and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) on the nature of the self. Models of consciousness that assume that “consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains” (materialist or naturalist theories) fall into three general classes, as he explains. Analysts like Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett and Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano argue that consciousness…

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Science Journalist: No Hype. Consciousness Is a HARD Problem!

Michael Hanlon reflected on the many futile efforts to “solve” consciousness

British science journalist Michael Hanlon (1964–2016), co-author with Tracey Brown of In the Interests of Safety (2014), had some sobering things to say about the trivial pursuit of an easy theory of consciousness. Considering materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett and less materialist philosopher David Chalmers (who coined the term the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”), he reflects, Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Daniel Dennett wrote that: ‘Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery.’ A few years later, Chalmers added: ‘[It] may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.’ They were right then and, despite the tremendous scientific advances since, they are still right today. I do not think that the…

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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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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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Laboratory mice in the experiment test. Blue filter.

Has Neuroscience “Proved” That the Mind Is Just the Brain?

This is hardly the first time that bizarre claims have been made for minimal findings. In neuroscience, materialism is the answer only if you don’t understand the questions.

Last month, materialist neurologist Steven Novella made a rather astonishing claim in a post at his Neurologica blog: A recent open-access study of learning and decision-making in mice shows that the human mind is merely what the human brain does. That’s a lot for mice to prove. In the study, the mice were trained to choose holes from which food is provided. Their brain activity was measured as they learned and decided which holes were best. The research looks specifically at quick and intuitive decision-making vs. decision-making that is slower and involves analysis of the situation. The investigators found that analysis-based decisions in the mice involve brain activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is a region of the brain…

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Why Some Scientists Believe the Universe Is Conscious

They’re not mystics. But materialism is not giving good answers so they are looking around

These prominent thinkers are driven to panpsychism because materialism about the mind doesn’t really work. So if panpsychism ends up seeming absurd, dualism—there really is an immaterial world—is also worth considering.

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Panpsychism: You Are Conscious but So Is Your Coffee Mug

Materialists have a solution to the problem of consciousness, and it may startle you
To understand why Scientific American would take panpsychism or the "multiple personality disorder" universe seriously, one needs to begin by grasping how very hard the problem of consciousness is for materialists (naturalists). Put simply, it is easier for many today to stomach the idea that an electron is conscious than the idea that consciousness is not a material entity. Read More ›