Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagJohn Horgan

Genetic research and Biotech science Concept. Human Biology and pharmaceutical technology on laboratory background.

Is Science Slipping Away on Us by Degrees?

Science writers weigh in on misrepresentation of science history, reasons for loss of trust, and whether physics is ripe for a revolution

Science writers have been thinking about the present and future position of science recently. Here are three interesting recent examples: Is science just cultural knowledge? In Horizons (Mariner 2022), University of Warwick science historian James Poskett argues that modern science did not really originate in Western Europe as often supposed: “Modern science wasn’t invented in Europe but came about as part of a global exchange”: We are usually told that modern science was invented in Europe sometime between 1500 and 1700. This was an era in which a small group of European pioneers overturned ancient superstition and developed the first modern scientific theories. Think of Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus and his heliocentric model of the universe or English mathematician Isaac Read More ›

The arched stone colonnade with lanterns

When Science Writers Say Things We Hardly Expected…

Some science writers are monotonous boosters for Answers from Science but the better ones challenge themselves, and thus challenge us too

Science writers have the sort of relationship to science that automotive writers do to cars. Readers often hear a thumbs up! or down! about one trend, theory, or school of thought. But in the rush and press of news, we less often hear a philosophical reflection that goes beyond cliches like “Science is self-correcting.” But, every now and again, we do. Here are three recent examples. The “Scientific Method” is Rather Messier than We Think… Philip Ball, author of Beautiful Experiments: An Illustrated History of Experimental Science (University of Chicago 2023), discusses the messy truth about how theories win out in a recent article at Nautilus: Scientists often assert that their practice is governed by the “scientific method,” in which Read More ›

Armageddon. Nuclear bomb or asteroid impact creates a nuke mushroom

Science as Insight vs. Science as Power

What are the core purposes of science and math? Evaluating the idea of "knowledge as power" in the computer age

Should machines replace mathematicians? This phrase is the headline of a new post by science writer John Horgan, who comments on the current state of mathematics and the growing potential of AI and computers to do all the “heavy lifting” of the mathematical enterprise. Horgan notes that mathematicians were the ones to develop computers in the first place, but now, with the advent of advanced computing and artificial intelligence, the role of human-driven mathematics is getting vague. However, maybe math is more about input and output but a “way of being human.” For Horgan, data and computation don’t get to the heart of scientific and mathematical endeavors. It needs to mean something more than an impersonal process geared towards calculable Read More ›

Health care researchers working in life science laboratory, medical science technology research work for test a vaccine, coronavirus covid-19 vaccine protection cure treatment

Gloomy News from a Nature Article: Is the End of Science Near?

A study in the premier science journal notes the long term falling off of truly original findings, as opposed to endless citations of others’ findings

Science writer Tibi Puiu reports on new findings that reflect what many today, have begun to suspect: Over the past few decades, the number of science and technology research papers published has soared, rising at a rate of nearly 10% each year. In the biomedical field alone, there are more than a million papers pouring into the PubMed database each year, or around two studies per minute… The new study revealed that the “disruptiveness” of contemporary science has decreased, rendering ever diminishing returns. In this particular context, authors define disruptiveness as the degree to which a study departs from previous literature and renders it obsolete. In other words, a highly disruptive study is one that completely changes the way we Read More ›

walk into fog
Man with his back walking through the fog street

Is a Science Writer’s “Agnosticism” a Futile Pursuit?

John Horgan, a creative thinker and able writer, is agnostic about quantum mechanics, consciousness, and God. But let’s look at the bases for that.

If science writer John Horgan had merely said that agnosticism is the only sensible stance regarding God, there would be little surprise. That view is over-represented in popular science writing. But he says the same thing about quantum mechanics and consciousness too. Some brief snippets from his article (with brief responses): He’s not happy that quantum mechanics, a well-established branch of science (our computers would not work if it were not real) cannot eliminate the role of the conscious observer: Quantum mechanics Introducing consciousness into physics undermines its claim to objectivity. Moreover, as far as we know, consciousness arises only in certain organisms that have existed for a brief period here on Earth. So how can quantum mechanics, if it’s Read More ›

people on chip.jpg
Tiny people betwixt logic board

Why Did a Prominent Science Writer Come To Doubt the AI Takeover?

John Horgan’s endorsement of Erik J. Larson’s new book critiquing AI claims stems from considerable experience covering the industry for science publications

At first, science writer John Horgan (pictured), author of a number of books including The End of Science (1996), accepted the conventional AI story: When I started writing about science decades ago, artificial intelligence seemed ascendant. IEEE Spectrum, the technology magazine for which I worked, produced a special issue on how AI would transform the world. I edited an article in which computer scientist Frederick Hayes-Roth predicted that AI would soon replace experts in law, medicine, finance and other professions. John Horgan, “Will Artificial Intelligence Ever Live Up to Its Hype?” at Scientific American (December 4, 2020) But that year, 1984, ushered in an AI winter, in which innovation stalled and funding dried up. By 1998, problems like non-recurrent engineering Read More ›

Artificial intelligence and future technologies. Mixed media

#10: Big AI Claims Fail To Work Outside Lab

A recent article in Scientific American makes clear that grand claims are often not followed up with great achievements

As the year winds down, our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews fellow computer nerds (our Brain Trust) Jonathan Bartlett and Eric Holloway about 12 overhyped AI concepts of the past year. Hey, as we like to say, great stuff happened in AI this year. But well, lots of “stuff” happened too and it’s time to have some fun! So here’s #10: Replication problems tarnish the image of rapid AI progress: #10 starts at about 12:44 A partial transcript and Show Notes follow, along with Additional Resources and the entire transcript. Robert J. Marks: # 10, Will artificial intelligence ever live up to its hype? The subtitle to the article with that name in this month’s Scientific American Read More ›

Vintage tone beautiful pedestrian stone bridge and knee-wobbling vantage point over the second tier 69-foot drop of Multnomah Falls lower in winter time. Natural and seasonal waterfall background

How Do You Know You Are Not the Only Human Who Ever Existed?

Can evidence or logic help you decide? You might be surprised…

Solipsism is the belief that you are the only human being who has ever existed; all others are the inventions of your imagination. G.K. Chesterton famously received a letter from a reader who commented (I paraphrase), ‘Solipsism is a compelling metaphysical position. I’m surprised more people don’t believe it.” At Scientific American, columnist John Horgan describes solipsism as a central dilemma of human life. In a recent essay, “How do I know I’m not the only conscious being in the universe?”, he writes, It is a central dilemma of human life—more urgent, arguably, than the inevitability of suffering and death. I have been brooding and ranting to my students about it for years. It surely troubles us more than ever Read More ›

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.

Read More ›
Hoodie with smoke in front of face

Has Science Shown That Consciousness Is Only an Illusion?

Using clever analogies, Philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that consciousness is all smoke and mirrors
British philosopher Papineau recommends taking Dennett’s theories “with a pinch of salt.” American essayist David Bentley Hart is less charitable: “Daniel Dennett’s latest book marks five decades of majestic failure to explain consciousness” Read More ›