Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagRichard Dawkins

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Sanger Sequencing. 3D illustration of a method of DNA sequencing.

If DNA Is a Language, Who Is the Speaker?

Philosopher Steve Meyer talks about the significance of Francis Crick’s sequence hypothesis that shows that DNA is literally a language of life

In a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Steve Meyer looked at the question of whether a multiverse, as in Multiverse of Madness (2022), or God, as in many traditions is the origin of our universe. That is, is our universe designed — as considerable evidence suggests — or is ours just one of a few lucky universes whose extra-lucky conditions allow for advanced life? Dr. Meyer is the author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021) which argues that the evidence from science favors God over a multiverse. (Sample here.) In this first of four transcripts of the talk, he talks about how and why it matters to ordinary people which…

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weasel peering out of a burrow

Dawkins’ Weasel Program vs the Information Life Acquires En Route

To demonstrate what is wrong with fully naturalist assumptions like those of Richard Dawkins’ Weasel program, I developed Weasel Libs, modeled on Mad Libs

In his famous Weasel program zoologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins shows that the simple combination of random mutation and natural selection (Darwinian evolution) can produce the English sentence, “Methinks it is like a weasel”, in a short time period. The point of his program is to demonstrate that evolution can generate the complex, pre-specified DNA sequences we find in biology before the heat death of the universe. His argument sounds persuasive because both English sentences and DNA sequences are made up of symbols. Both can be randomly modified anywhere, and by cumulative selection, they can plausibly adapt to the environment in reasonably short order. Writers in English can learn to pen best-selling novels through trial and error and audience feedback.…

Curious weasel looks out from behind a rock

Dawkins’ Dubious Double Weasel and the Combinatorial Cataclysm

Dawkins has successfully reduced a combinatorial explosion to a manageable problem...or has he?

In Richard Dawkins’ book, The Blind Watchmaker, he proposed a famous (and infamous) computer program to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection, known as the “Weasel program.” The program demonstrates that by varying a single letter at a time, it is possible to rapidly evolve a coherent English sentence from a string of gibberish. The way the program works is as follows: First, a sequence of characters is randomly assembled by drawing from the 26 English letters and the space. Then, one character is randomly reassigned. The resulting sequence is compared to the phrase from Hamlet, a quote uttered by Polonius: “methinks it is like a weasel.” For every character that matches, a point is scored. If the new sequence…

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Large cog wheels in the motor.

Can Computers –- and People — Learn To Think From the Bottom Up?

That’s the big promise made in a recent article at Aeon

Tufts University biologist Michael Levin and Columbia University neuroscientist Rafael Yuste have an ambitious project in hand: To explain how evolution “‘hacked’ its way to intelligence from the bottom up,” that is, from nothing. They base their thesis on computer science: This is intelligence in action: the ability to reach a particular goal or solve a problem by undertaking new steps in the face of changing circumstances. It’s evident not just in intelligent people and mammals and birds and cephalopods, but also cells and tissues, individual neurons and networks of neurons, viruses, ribosomes and RNA fragments, down to motor proteins and molecular networks. Across all these scales, living things solve problems and achieve goals by flexibly navigating different spaces –…

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blinded slaves in the water

Books: Cancel Culture As an Invisible Army of Censors

The new censorship is different from traditional “banned” or “challenged” lists because a younger, much more active crowd is behind it

For authors, Cancel Culture, powered by social media, is becoming a serious business. A poorly thought-out tweet from years past — or merely one to which socially powerful people take exception — may destroy a career. The mob has hit genre fiction hard. One author, studying the trend, recounts, Since March, I have been sending discreet messages to authors of young adult fiction. I approached 24 people, in several countries, all writing in English. In total, 15 authors replied, of whom 11 agreed to talk to me, either by email or on the phone. Two subsequently withdrew, in one case following professional advice. Two have received death threats and five would only talk if I concealed their identity. This is…

DNA in hand on blue background.
DNA in hand on blue background concept design.

The Coolest Tech on the Planet (Hint: It’s Inside You!)

The intricate design of the living cell has left many materialists stumped

These days, we surround ourselves with technology to stay in touch, to keep ourselves informed, and to manage the challenges of our daily lives. We also recognize in our devices and machines all the hallmarks of design, understanding reflexively that they express the ingenuity of engineers or software developers. Our appreciation for applied intelligence comes as second nature to us — we intuitively recognize the work of other minds. But what happens when we look up from our technology and survey the world of nature? When we look up at the movement of the planets, or into the eyes of our children, or when we peer through a microscope into a living cell? Do we see signs of minds in…

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A girl with Down syndrome blows bubbles. The daily life of a child with disabilities. Chromosomal genetic disorder in a child.

Richard Dawkins is not just ableist, he’s unscientific

He refuses to see the joy that people with Down Syndrome bring into the world

Originally published on MercatorNet on June 2, 2021 by Ann Farmer Way back when, one of life’s great certainties used to be that no matter how obnoxious, prejudiced, jaundiced or snooty Richard Dawkins, the Grand Poobah of Atheism, was, the accolades would continue to roll in. Alas! Those were the Good Old Days for poor old Richard. Nowadays he is looking more and more like a bewildered T-Rex the day after the Cretaceous extinction event. Earlier this year Richard was cancelled by the American Humanist Association. It revoked his 1996 humanist of the year award because he had expressed scepticism about trans people in one of his recent tweets. It turns out that Richard needed his mouth washed out with soap…

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World philosophy day education concept: tree of knowledge planting on opening old big book in library with textbook  in natural background

Why Do Some Famous Materialist Scientists Hate Philosophy?

Philosopher of biology Massimo Pigliucci takes Richard Dawkins to task for dismissing philosophy but he might have said the same of Stephen Hawking

Massimo Pigliucci (pictured) makes clear that he is a naturalist (materialist) like zoologist Richard Dawkins. For example, he tells us that they crossed paths at a conference whose purpose was to promote naturalism (materialism): Over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism: the view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings. Sean Carroll, “Moving Naturalism Forward (announcement)” at Preposterous Universe…

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Glasswing butterfly

Technology? Hey, Bugs Invented It All Before Us!

Do bugs really show no evidence of design? Computer engineers can test that

Bugs look like little robots, don’t they? Living robots, too, defying our best our attempts to recreate something like them. A 2018 science paper “It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature: Functional Materials in Insects” goes into just how amazing these little creatures are from a materials sciences perspective. The paper is open access so you can read it for yourself. But let me also illustrate some of the remarkable “technologies” insects use, captured on video: This bionic “dragonfly” really flies, sort of: But so do billions of wild dragonflies who fly very efficiently, in order to hunt: The range of material capabilities is astonishing. Cicadas have a clicking loudspeaker they use to amplify their racket. Tiger moths have a…

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robots call center

Why Richard Dawkins Thinks AI May Replace Us

He likes the idea because it is consistent with his naturalist philosophy

Dawkins thinks we didn’t evolve so as to understand consciousness. But that our odd situation points nowhere. Isn’t all this past its sell-by date?

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How a Computer Programmer looks at DNA

And finds it to be "amazing" code
From 2006 through 2017, Dutch entrepreneur and software developer Bert Hubert contributed from time to time to a web page where he listed many of the ways the workings of DNA can be likened to coding decisions by programmers. Read More ›