Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagRobert Sapolsky

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Once a Supporter, Science Writer Airs Doubts About Free Will

ChatGPT has set John Horgan thinking about whether he is just "ChatGPT-Me" himself

Earlier this month, prominent science writer John Horgan posted entries at his blog Cross-Check (here and here), defending free will in light of Robert Sapolsky’s recent no-free-will book, Determined. But two weeks later, he has suddenly begun to air doubts about free will because of concerns about… ChatGPT: I’ve aggressively defended free will lately. Writing, I argue here and here, exemplifies the conscious deliberations and decisions that constitute free will. But in the dead of night, hell, in the cold glare of morning, I fear I have no more free will than a mindless machine-learning program like ChatGPT. … What am I but a program that reflexively turns prompts into all-too-predictable responses based on my prior experiences? My program is Read More ›

Independent Thinking

The Free Will Debate Really Heated Up This Year

Many commentators are weighing in; surprisingly, perhaps, well-known materialists are disputing the claim that there is no free will

The two big books of the season on free will are primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s Determined (Penguin 2023), which maintains that there is no free will, and neuroscientist Kevin Mitchell’s Free Agents (Princeton University Press, 2023), which maintains that evolution gave us free will. Prominent cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker argues that Sapolsky is wrong to say there is no free will because 1. Levels of analysis. The fact that individual neurons are deterministic doesn’t mean that an intricate assembly of billions of neurons is deterministic. Matter is mostly empty space, but that doesn’t mean we can walk through walls…. 2. Determinism in the technical math sense (input perfectly predicting output) is false when applied to human behavior. Identical twins reared together Read More ›

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Can Evolution Create Free Will? A Neurologist Says Yes

Could the impersonal natural force of evolution shape hierarchies in the human cerebral cortex so that we have the free will that it does not itself have?

The traditional materialist stance, one that neuroscientist Sam Harris, theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne endorse — along with many thinkers past and present — is that in this universe there can’t be free will. Albert Einstein (1879–1955) expressed the basic view in a 1932 address to the Spinoza Society where he stated,””Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” Now a debate seems to have started up again. From one corner we learn that free will could possibly exist, provided that it is materialized or, if you like “evolutionized.” A new key player is primatologist and Stanford professor of neurology, Robert Read More ›

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Neuroscience Has Never Provided Much Evidence for Materialism

In a chapter of the new book, Minding the Brain, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor points out that many great neuroscientists were non-materialists

Over the past century, philosophers and philosophy connoisseurs have had a great time making fun of dualism. It was so easy. The human mind, we are told, is just the ghost in the machine, something that, as science will prove, doesn’t really exist. We are just bodies with brains. Life is all material. An early warning that things aren’t as simple as that should be the outcome of the wager between prominent neuroscientist Christof Koch and dualist philosopher David Chalmers. After 25 years of search, Koch conceded to Chalmers because no consciousness “signature” had been found in the brain. Was it just a ripple effect of that outcome that, shortly afterward, many leading neuroscientists denounced Koch’s well-regarded Integrated Information Theory Read More ›