Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagMichael Egnor

man-looking-at-business-plan-at-whiteboard-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Man looking at business plan at whiteboard

Complexity Is Not Always a Bad Thing

It allows us to have an intellectual life

In a recent podcast, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and engineering prof Robert J. Marks discussed the difference between a bag of jigsaw puzzle pieces and a text message like “The city will get your car towed if you do not move it within the next 8 minutes”: Got your attention? That’s precisely what information does. It gets your attention. But what is information? How did those characters in a text message become important to you? Weren’t they just a string of letters and numbers? What, exactly, changed? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-112-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. The Show Notes and a full transcript are available below. Robert J. Marks: In terms of meaningful information, I think it’s obvious. Michael, they used to say that it…

quitting-smoking-male-hand-crushing-cigarette-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Quitting smoking - male hand crushing cigarette

Yellow Fingers Do Not Cause Lung Cancer

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and computer engineer Bob Marks look at the ways Big Data can mislead us into mistaking incidental events for causes

It’s easy to explain what “information” is if we don’t think much about it. But what if we ask a student, what does your term paper weigh? How much energy does it consume? More or less matter and energy than, say, lightning striking a tree? Of course, the student will protest, “But that’s not the point! It’s my term paper.” Exactly. So information is very different from matter and energy. It means something. Realizing that information is different from matter and energy can help us understand issues like the difference between the causes of a problem (causation) and circumstances that may be associated with the problem but do not cause it (correlation). In last week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on…

everyone-has-a-story-typed-words-on-a-vintage-typewriter-old-paper-close-up-my-history-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Everyone Has A Story, typed words on a vintage typewriter. old paper. close-up. my history

Do We Really Remain the Same Person Throughout Our Lives?

Or is the continuity of our selves just an illusion?

That’s an interesting question because most cells in our bodies will die and be replaced a number of times. Many brain cells die but they are not replaced. They are just gone. So what, if anything, remains the same? One well-known professor of psychology, Susan Blackmore (pictured), argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves: Susan says there is an “illusion of continuity”, but what we think is “us” is just a “multiple parallel system” with “multiple parallel things going on”. So, she says, “the so-called me now is just another reconstruction. There was another one half an hour ago, and there’ll be another one, but they’re not really the same person, they’re just…

question-signs-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Question Signs

Information Is the Currency of Life. But What IS It?

How do we understand information in a universe that resists resolution into one single, simple system?

At first, “What is information?” seems like a question with a simple answer. Stuff we need to know. Then, if we think about it, it dissolves into paradoxes. A storage medium—a backup drive, maybe—that contains vital information weighs exactly the same as one that contains nothing, gibberish, or dangerously outdated information. There is no way we can know without engaging intelligently with the content. That content is measured in bits and bytes, not kilograms and joules—which means that it is hard to relate to other quantities in our universe. In this week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on information and AI, Part 1.” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Walter Bradley Center director and computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks on how we…

a-child-with-epilepsy-during-a-seizure-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
A child with epilepsy during a seizure

Why, as a Neurosurgeon, I Believe in Free Will

The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: “Why are there no intellectual seizures?” Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways—convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention. But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these “intellectual” areas of the brain. Yet…

concept-of-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concept of

Do We Really Have Free Will? Four Things to Know

Free will makes more sense of our world than determinism and science certainly allows for it

Free will is a contentious topic in science these days. Theoretical physicists weigh in sharply on one side or the other. Just this month, based on quantum mechanics, mathematician Tim Andersen says maybe and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder says no. Based on cosmology, the study of our universe, physicist George Ellis said yes last June. With free will, as with consciousness, we don’t fully understand what’s involved. All insights from science are partial so we can’t look to science for a definitive answer. But maybe science can offer some hints. Here are four that might be helpful: 1.Has psychology shown that free will does not really exist? Psychological research on free will has supported the concept of free will but…

brain-doodle-illustration-with-textures-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Brain doodle illustration with textures

Your Mind vs. Your Brain: Ten Things To Know

Although we are only beginning to understand the workings of the brain, it clearly isn't the same thing as the mind

Here are some reasons why they aren’t really the same: 1.Is the human brain unique in some way? Yes, but not so much in its structure as in the things we do with it. For example, the human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms, which is a bit of a puzzle, considering the different things we do with our brains. The human brain is bigger than most. But then lemurs performed as well as chimps on the primate cognitive test battery (a primate intelligence test) and lemurs only have brains that are 1/200th the size of chimps’ brains. So, what we humans are doing differently from lemurs and chimps doesn’t depend wholly on brain size either.…

world-alzheimers-day-concept-human-hands-holding-brain-of-earth-over-blurred-blue-nature-background-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›
stunning-jar-with-piece-of-forest-save-the-earth-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Stunning jar with piece of forest, save the earth concept

How Can We Be Sure We Are Not Just An ET’s Simulation?

A number of books and films are based on the Planetarium Hypothesis. Should we believe it?

Science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the Prime Directive hypothesis (The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions.”) This week, let’s look at the Planetarium hypothesis, the sixth in his series: “humanity is in a simulation, and the aliens are the ones running it! In order to ensure that human beings do not become aware of this fact, they ensure that the simulation presents us with a “Great Silence” whenever we look out and listen to the depths of space.” (August…

charting-consciousness-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Charting Consciousness.

Michael Egnor: What Happens to Our Consciousness After We Die?

Computer programmer and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup provides a surprising answer

In this week’s podcast, “Can Computers Think?”, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup. As a scientist, Bernardo has worked for The European Organization for Nuclear Research and for Phillips Research Laboratories, and has authored many academic papers and books. This week, they look at a big question, “Will computers ever be conscious?”. But Egnor brought up an even bigger one: “What happens to our consciousness after we die?” As a scientist, Kastrup has worked for The European Organization for Nuclear Research and for Phillips Research Laboratories and has authored many academic papers and books. He is a leading advocate of cosmopsychism, the idea that intelligence did not randomly evolve somehow to help life forms…

nautilus-shell-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
nautilus shell

Does Physics Today Point to Mind Rather Than Matter Only?

A cosmopsychist looks at the universe, God, and free will

In a recent podcast, “Does the Moon Exist if No One is Looking at It?”, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup. As a scientist, Kastrup has worked for The European Organization for Nuclear Research and for Phillips Research Laboratories, and has authored many academic papers and books. This week’s topic is the way physics today points to mind as opposed to materialism. Kastrup offers some thoughts on God and free will as well, from his cosmopsychist (or objective idealist) position: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-095-Bernardo-Kastrup.mp3 From the transcript: (Other discussions in the series, Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Michael Egnor: You have said and written that physics points to the mind. What…

glorious-sky-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Glorious Sky - Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

Bernardo Kastrup Argues for a Universal Mind as a Reasonable Idea

The challenge, he says, is not why there is consciousness but why there are so many separate instances of consciousnesses

In a recent podcast, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup; This week, the topic was panpsychism and cosmopsychism. (Last week, the topic was why consciousness couldn’t just evolve from the mud.) https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-096-Bernardo-Kastrup.mp3 A partial transcript follows: (The complete transcript is here. The Show Notes and Resources are below.) Dr. Kastrup made clear that he is not a panpsychism but rather a cosmopsychist. He explains the difference, defining panpsychism as follows: Bernardo Kastrup (pictured): Panpsychism, well, to be more accurately called constitutive panpsychism, it’s the notion that at least some of the elementary particles that constitutes the universe, at least some of them, are fundamentally conscious. In other words, they have experiential states, fundamental experiential…

asian-women-travel-relax-in-the-holiday-standing-on-the-mountain-thailand-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Asian women travel relax in the holiday. Standing on the mountain. Thailand

Bernardo Kastrup on Panpsychism and Cosmopsychism

How do we know what happens around us? Is the whole universe conscious? Dr. Michael Egnor and Dr. Bernardo Kastrup discuss panpsychism, cosmopsychism, and conciousness. Show Notes 00:35 | Introducing Dr. Bernardo Kastrup 01:29 | Panpsychism and cosmopsychism 02:42 | Using your senses to convey information to the mind 04:24 | Communicating feelings 05:33 | Differentiating complex internal states from…

group-of-people-swims-in-a-mud-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
group of people swims in a mud

Why Consciousness Couldn’t Just Evolve from the Mud

Kastrup, a panpsychist, is sympathetic to the basic intuitions behind the idea that there is design in nature (intelligent design theory)
In a recent podcast, “Does the Moon Exist if No One is Looking at It?”, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup. Dr. Kastrup has been, in Dr. Egnor’s words, “leading a modern renaissance of metaphysical idealism”—that is, reality is essentially mental rather than physical. Read More ›
black-silhouettes-of-people-looking-through-telescope-on-big-red-moon-in-dark-twilight-on-shore-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Black silhouettes of people looking through telescope on big red moon in dark twilight on shore.

Does the Moon Exist if No One is Looking at It?

Is our physical reality purely subjective or is it objective? Why has materialim been around for so long? Do we have free will? Dr. Michael Egnor and Dr. Bernardo Kastrup discuss physics, idealism, materialism, and free will. Show Notes 00:28 | Introducing Dr. Bernardo Kastrup 01:22 | How quantum mechanics points to the mind 02:40 | Does the moon exist…

black-chimpanzee-mammal-ape-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Black Chimpanzee Mammal Ape

But, in the End, Did the Chimpanzee Really Talk?

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection

Recently, Michael Egnor commented on radical primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s effort to level the playing field between humans and bonobos by including the latter as authors of a research paper on animal welfare: “Non-human animals don’t have abstract knowledge-making and practices that would allow them to be meaningfully consulted. It is reality, not anthropocentric bias, that has left animals out of this decision-making process.” There is a larger and very interesting story around that paper, recently relayed at Smithsonian Magazine by Lindsay Stern (right), a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Yale and author of a novel, The Study of Animal Languages. Her article tells us a good deal about the motivations of those who, essentially, see bonobos not as apes…

paradigm-of-quantum-wave-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Paradigm of Quantum Wave

At Nautilus: Electrons DO have a “rudimentary mind”

Panpsychists in science believe that nature is all there is but, they say, it includes consciousness as a fundamental fact of nature

A leading theory of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory (IIT) proposed by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Giulio Tononi and championed by by another leading neuroscientist, Christof Koch, has clear panpsychist affiliations. It is favored by proponents of the idea that electrons are conscious. Whoa!, you say. How can electrons be conscious? Wouldn’t they at least need a brain to be conscious? Let’s hear an explanation from proponent Tam Hunt (right) at Nautilus: You might see the rise of panpsychism as part of a Copernican trend—the idea that we’re not special. The Earth is not the center of the universe. Humans are not a treasured creation, or even the pinnacle of evolution. So why should we think that creatures with brains, like…

breaking-through-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Breaking Through Concept

Michael Egnor: Denying Free Will Is Totalitarian

Specifically, “The denial of free will is the cornerstone of totalitarian systems.” That’s what he told podcaster Lucas Skrobot in the second of two podcast discussions: Dr. Michael Egnor | Free Will and Totalitarian Ideologies (Part 2 of 2) [E152] Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has written a fair bit on free will for Mind Matters News. Here are some selections to consider: No free will means no justice: “Free will is the cornerstone of all human rights and the cornerstone of our Constitutional rights. The denial of free will is, literally, the denial of human freedom. Without free will, we are livestock, without the presumption of innocence, without actual innocence, and without rights. A justice system that has no respect for…

psychology-concept-sunrise-and-woman-silhouette-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Psychology concept. Sunrise and woman silhouette.

Neurosurgeon Explains Why You Are Not a Zombie

Podcaster Lucas Skrobot recently interviewed neurosurgeon Michael Egnor on the difference between the mind and the brain. Egnor told him, “My wife jokes with me that meeting me is always the worst part of a person’s life.” At 22:08, Dr. Egnor provides a thought experiment to explain that minds must transcend materials—the zombie problem. The zombie problem? Ah yes, the philosophers’ zombie: For that, you might also see one of Egnor’s articles: “Neuroscientist Michael Graziano should meet the p-zombie.” To understand consciousness, we need to establish what it is not before we create any more new theories: A p-zombie (a philosophical zombie, as distinguished from the kind that sells movies) is identical to a human being but has no first-person…

double-exposure-portrait-of-attractive-and-young-girl-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpeg
Double exposure portrait of attractive and young girl

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.

Read More ›