Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagStephen Jay Gould

Statue of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates in Athens, Greece.

David Berlinski: Humans Are Unique

Some argue that humans are growing more peaceful, enlightened, and improved by the year, and that a coming technological singularity may well usher in utopia. Berlinski isn’t buying it.
In this conversation and in his book, Berlinski argues that human beings have a fundamental essence that is radically different from other organisms. Read More ›
Thank You

How Human Language Is, and Isn’t, Like a Computer Program

A key difference is that a language cannot be downloaded into the brain, like a program. It must be painstakingly acquired

Giosuè Baggio, professor of psycholinguistics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has mixed feeling about comparing the brain’s management of human language to computation. In some ways, it is a useful analogy: If we look at what the brain does while people perform a language task, we find some of the signatures of a computational system at work. If we record electric or magnetic fields produced by the brain, for example, we find signals that are only sensitive to the identity of the sound one is hearing — say, that it is a b, instead of a d — and not to the pitch, volume, or any other concrete and contingent features of the speech sound. At some Read More ›

Another World Far Away

Exoplanets: The Same Laws of Physics Means Similar Life Forms

Even on Earth, life forms of widely differing ancestry, arrive at the same solutions to physics problems, leading scientists note

Famous paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was sure that, if the deck were reshuffled, humans would never evolve — even on this planet — again. As Paul Parsons puts it at BBC’s Science Focus Magazine, His reasoning was that evolution is driven by random sets of genetic mutations, modulated by random environmental effects, such as mass extinctions, and that it would be extremely rare for the exact same set of effects to crop up twice. Paul Parsons, “Could humans be the dominant species in the Universe, and we just don’t know it yet?” at Science Focus (November 19, 2021) But as very large telescopes, capable of peering into exoplanets, are under development, current analysts are rethinking that approach. There are Read More ›