Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Can Crabs Think? Can Lobsters Feel? What We Know Now

In Switzerland, it is now illegal to boil a lobster alive. Are the Swiss right? Is it cruel?

Because crustaceans have shells, we may tend to think of them as like machines. Yet crustaceans, along with octopuses, show some surprising abilities and complexities. Take crabs, for example: A new Swansea University study has revealed how common shore crabs can navigate their way around a complex maze and can even remember the route in order to find food … Spatial learning is quite complicated, so figuring out how it works in crustaceans gives us a better understanding of how widespread this ability, and learning in general, is in the animal kingdom.” The researchers tested 12 crabs over four weeks, placing food at the end of the maze each time. The route to the end of the maze required five…

Nerve Cell. 3D. Neurons

Researchers Can’t Explain: Memories Drift From Neuron to Neuron

Memories are supposed to stay put in the neurons that lay them down. A recent study, published at Nature, shows that they move a lot…

“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused”, a recent article at The Atlantic begins. It’s about the way nervous system cells don’t simply lay down memories and keep them. The memories drift from neuron to neuron, quite contrary to textbook claims and traditional neuroscience assumptions: The relatively simple explanation found in neuroscience textbooks is that specific groups of neurons reliably fire when their owner smells a rose, sees a sunset, or hears a bell. These representations—these patterns of neural firing—presumably stay the same from one moment to the next. But as Schoonover, Fink, and others have found, they sometimes don’t. They change—and to a confusing and unexpected extent. Schoonover, Fink,…

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Do You Have a “Selfish Prefrontal Cortex”?

Do you tell “white lies” only for selfish motives?

A recent neuroscience paper claims to determine whether your motives are selfish: You may think a little white lie about a bad haircut is strictly for your friend’s benefit, but your brain activity says otherwise. Distinct activity patterns in the prefrontal cortex reveal when a white lie has selfish motives, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience. White lies — formally called Pareto lies — can benefit both parties, but their true motives are encoded by the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). This brain region computes the value of different social behaviors, with some subregions focusing on internal motivations and others on external ones. Kim and Kim predicted activity patterns in these subregions could elucidate the true motive behind…

X-ray of the head and brain of a person

Bingecast: Michael Egnor on the Human Brain

In this Bingecast episode, Dr. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor explore the human brain and its relationship to the mind. Is the mind an emergent property of the brain? Is there neurological evidence for the soul? What have brain experiments taught us about free will and the human person? Can you still think in a coma? Show Notes…

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Dr. Angus Menuge: Models of Consciousness (Part II)

What is it like to see a red rose? To smell a red rose? To feel pain? In this week’s podcast, Dr. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Angus Menuge continue their discussion on philosophies of the mind, delving into competing definitions of consciousness. Show Notes 00:26 | Introducing Dr. Angus Menuge 01:01 | Phenomenal consciousness and qualia 07:25 | Experiencing…

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How Do We Know We Are Not Just Physical Bodies?

The mind–body problem is one of the most difficult issues in modern philosophy

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the notoriously difficult mind–body problem. Dr. Marks asks, “Is there a part of you that is not physical? Are we meat puppets limited to scientific analysis described totally by the laws of nature? “ That’s the mind–body problem! It’s more complex today because some claim we will build computers that have minds like humans (but not bodies like humans). But first, how do we know we are not just bodies? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 04:06 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge (pictured): Well, the real question is how two such different realms can relate. If…

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Neuroscientist: We Are Closing In On the Secret of Self-Awareness

But then he turns around and admits that we are frustratingly far from understanding how it all works. His frustration is understandable.

Cognitive neuroscientist Stephen M. Fleming, author of Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness (2021), offers an excerpt at Slate in which he implies that we have made some headway in understanding self-awareness. Size alone is not the key to intellectual capacity, he says, but rather the “brain soup,” the number of neurons that can be packed into the brain. Primates of all types (monkeys, apes, and humans) are much more efficient at packing neurons into the brain than rodents are: “Regardless of their position on the tree, it seems that primates are evolutionary outliers—but, relative to other primates, humans are not.” He points to a portion of the prefrontal cortex, the “association cortex” which is “particularly well-developed” in humans, relative…

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Young Filmmaker Tackles the Hype About Computing the Brain

In Silico, in which Noah Hutton sorts hope from hype, goes livestream today

Twelve years ago Noah Hutton (pictured), who had some background in neuroscience, heard prominent neuroscientist Henry Markram tell viewers in a TED talk that he had determined how to simulate a complete human brain, via supercomputers, within a decade. At the time, Hutton didn’t question that and he started to document the Blue Brain project that Markham directed, which started with a mouse brain. But then things stalled: As Hutton recounted in Scientific American yesterday, “there were magnificent fly-through visualizations of the first square millimeter of simulated rat brain set to The Blue Danube available in a visitor’s screening room, but a definite lack of progress along the road map towards a human brain.” There was, however, the recognition that…

Creative background, the human brain on a blue background, the hemisphere is responsible for logic, and responsible for creativity. different hemispheres of the brain, 3D illustration, 3D render
Creative background, the human brain on a blue background, the hemisphere is responsible for logic, and responsible for creativity. different hemispheres of the brain, 3D illustration, 3D render

Bruce Gordon on the Meaning of Neuroscience (Part III)

In this third and final episode with Dr. Bruce Gordon, host Michael Egnor picks Gordon’s brain on the overlaps between historical metaphysical perspectives and modern neuroscience. What does St. Thomas Aquinas have to say about metaphysical realities, and how does that compare to Plato’s idealism? Who is right? And what can near-death experiences and other phenomena tell us about the…

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Cute little boy thinking

Boy Born With 2% of Brain “Does Maths, He Loves Science”

Noah Wall’s story raises intriguing questions about the relationship between the brain and the mind

Well before Noah Wall was born, his odds did not look very good. Scans showed he had developed a cyst which was destroying his brain, along with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Doctors predicted he would likely never talk, walk, or eat on his own. Five times his parents, Michelle (Shelly) and Rob, were pressed to abort him. Shelly recalls, “It wasn’t until around the 12 week scan that they knew something just wasn’t quite right,” Shelly told The Epoch Times in a video interview. “I said, ‘Does the baby have a heartbeat?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s all that matters to us.’” Shelly and Rob were referred to the RVI Hospital in Newcastle, where their baby…

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Why a “Budding” Neuroscientist Is Skeptical of Brain Scans

After reading her perceptive essay about the problems in fMRI imaging in neuroscience, I’m sad that a gifted student has doubts about a career in the field

Kelsey Ichikawa has just published a superb essay about the pitfalls of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain. Ms. Ichikawa (pictured), who describes herself as a ”budding” neuroscientist who graduated last year from Harvard, discusses the snares into which misinterpretation can lead us. fMRI brain scanning is a relatively new technology in which researchers and clinicians use magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain to detect brain activity almost as it happens. The technique is widely used, both for clinical care of patients (neurosurgeons use it to map sensitive parts of the brain prior to surgery) and for research purposes. A major thrust of neuroscience research in the last couple of decades has been the use of fMRI…

Near death experience

Physician Explains Why He Takes Near-Death Experiences Seriously

Near-death experiences don’t fit easily into traditional science categories because they occur — often with life-changing effects — when the brain is damaged or unconscious

Health and science writer Markham Heid recounts a story from psychiatrist Bruce Greyson’s book After (2021) that typifies the near-death experiences (NDEs) that have excited research interest: The truck driver’s story sounded far-fetched. The man claimed that in the middle of his quadruple bypass heart surgery — during which he was fully anesthetized and his eyes were taped shut — he had “come to” and found that he was looking down at his own body and the doctors preparing to operate on it. He described the scene in detail, and he recalled that his surgeon had waved his elbows in the air as if he were mimicking a bird flapping its wings. Later, when asked about his patient’s peculiar account,…

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A Reader Asks: Does Neuroscience Disprove Free Will?

Materialists sometimes misrepresent the evidence for free will, especially Benjamin Libet’s work

Here’s the question: I have a question regarding free will. Sam Harris in his interview with Dan Dennett said that “If we decide to do go to somewhere we experience it later but our brain decided it much earlier than our experience to this decision. If we scan the brain at that time we will tell you before you came to know” Now it raise a question because we decide through intellect. You said that free will is due to intellect so intellect is challenged here. It’s an excellent question. The answer in brief is that we most certainly do have free will. We can see this from three perspectives: scientific, philosophical, and logical. The scientific evidence The scientific evidence…


Psychologist: Consciousness Is Not a Thing But a Point of View

Mark Solms attempts to explain consciousness in his new book, Hidden Spring

Anyone who thinks about consciousness soon realizes that it is a Hard Problem. It means being a subject of experience, rather than an object to which experiences happen. A dog has consciousness. He yelps when in pain. But a rock does not care about becoming sand. In an interesting article in Psychology Today, neuropsychologist Mark Solms outlines some thoughts from a book he has written on the subject, The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness (Norton, 2021): Physiological processes do not produce consciousness in the sense that the liver produces bile. Consciousness is not a thing but rather a point of view. What we perceive objectively as physiological processes in the brain we perceive subjectively as conscious…

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Why Consciousness Shows That Materialism Is False

The mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way

My friend and colleague Bill Dembski, a leading advocate of intelligent design of the universe and life forms, has done a superb short interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn on Closer to Truth. Bill takes a position that will surprise many fellow Christians—he doesn’t believe that consciousness represents an insurmountable challenge to materialism: Bill makes the point that much of the popular argument hinges on shifting meanings of “materialism” and “consciousness.” By contrast, he argues, the design inference in biology is a much more effective challenge to materialism. I agree that design in nature is an effective challenge to materialism. But I also believe that the mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way—and in much the same way that evidence…

Cat looking to little gerbil mouse on the table. Concept of prey, food, pest.

Can We Find Purpose in a Universe With No Underlying Purpose?

That’s the ambitious goal of a prominent science writer

British science writer Philip Ball offers us a guide to a very interesting project: an attempt to “naturalize” the idea of agency, that is, make the desire to do things—the mouse’s desire to escape the cat— explainable from a fully materialist perspective. That’s much harder than it seems. Rocks don’t desire anything. So we can’t just start from the bottom. It’s also not enough to say that the mouse wants to avoid getting killed. That’s true but it doesn’t really explain anything. For example, a person looks both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting run over. But, by itself, that doesn’t explain why she tries to avoid getting run over. One must factor in her memory, background knowledge,…

Woman scientist holding lab rat, medicine development, tests on animals

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…

artificial intelligence brain

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…

Cell abstract concept. Microorganisms under microscope

Are Our Minds Just an Extension of the Minds of Our Cells?

A prominent philosopher and a well-known biologist make the case, offering an illustration

Naturalism, the idea that physical nature is all there is, can lead us down some strange paths. In the words of prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett and prominent biologist Michael Levin, both of Tufts University, the road to “biology’s next great horizon” is the attempt to “understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones).” They think that the principle of natural selection acting on random mutations can create everything, including minds: Thanks to Charles Darwin, biology doesn’t ever have to invoke an ‘intelligent designer’ who created all those mechanisms. Evolution by natural selection has done – and is still doing – all that refining and focusing and differentiating work. We’re all just physical mechanisms made of…