Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Denyse O'Leary

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Set of numbers 1, 2, 3 made of leather. 3D render font with skin texture isolated on black background.

Further Dispatches From the War on Math

Discussions of social policy where math is relevant can be useful. But a student who does not understand how an equation works will fail at both math AND social policy

Earlier this year, I reposted an article that originally ran at Salvo on the war on the teaching of mathematics as a discipline in publicly funded schools in North America. The war continues so here are some updates: Recently, three mathematicians who immigrated to the United States weighed in: The United States has been dominant in the mathematical sciences since the mass exodus of European scientists in the 1930s. Because mathematics is the basis of science—as well as virtually all major technological advances, including scientific computing, climate modelling, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and robotics—US leadership in math has supplied our country with an enormous strategic advantage. But for various reasons, three of which we set out below, the United States is…

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Male hand cutting banking card with scissors

The New Internet: Reclassify Political Opponents as “Hate Groups”

Maybe this is something to talk to legislators about

You don’t want your tax money spent in a certain way? Maybe you are a “hater.” Increasingly, bad things can happen as a result. Even from corporations you trust. A friend has pointed out that many American corporations are not nearly so interested in making money these days as they are in politically correct positioning. Consider the current trend toward depublishing books the public wants to read and “de-newsing” news stories people want to hear. But the trend is growing beyond books and news. It could affect your right to bank and use credit institutions. Successful entrepreneur David Sacks has the story at Substack about how concerns about “hate speech” can further an agenda: Just as there is no set…

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sad mixed breed dog posing in a cage in animal shelter

Are Animals Capable of Committing Suicide?

Generally, experts think not. They may, of course, become profoundly depressed and engage in self-harm

At Discover Magazine, Richard Pallardy offers an anecdote: In April 1970, Ric O’Barry visited a dolphin named Kathy at the Miami Seaquarium, where she was languishing in “retirement” after three years as the title character on the television show Flipper. O’Barry, who had captured her from the wild and trained her to perform, remembers thinking that she seemed depressed. She was all alone in a concrete tank — not a good thing for a highly social animal like a dolphin. He claims the former cetacean starlet swam into his arms, sank to the bottom of the tank and refused to resurface, drowning herself. Richard Pallardy, “Do Animals Commit Suicide?” at Discover Magazine (August 10, 2021) There is no lack of…

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Cuttlefish Have Good Memories, Even in Old Age

They are cephalopods and many types of cephalopod show a number of intelligent characteristics which we are only beginning to investigate

Octopuses have been called a “second genesis” of intelligence, that is, they are invertebrates with high intelligence, instead of vertebrates. But their close relatives, squid and cuttlefish (they are all cephalopods), are not far behind, according to recent research. One unusual finding is that cuttlefish have very good memories: Can you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? Or on this day last year? It turns out that cuttlefish can, right up to old age – the first animal we’ve found that doesn’t show signs of deterioration in memory function over time. David Nield, “The Incredible Brains of Cuttlefish Hold Memories That Never Seem to Fade” at ScienceAlert (18 August 2021) Of course, cuttlefish live only a couple of…

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press and media camera ,video photographer on duty in public new

Media Try But Fail To Learn From Their Romance With Cuomo

Revoking Cuomo’s Emmy, amid facile self-reproach, is hardly a substitute for unpacking the bigger facts of what the recently resigned New York governor did wrong

In a revealing article in Columbia Journalism Review New York City journalist Ross Barkan talks about the many media fails in covering the misdeeds of recently resigned New York State governor Andrew Cuomo. And yet, somehow, Barkan deftly pulls the punches. His omissions tell us a good deal about what is wrong with mainstream media today. Cuomo was brought down by credible sexual assault and intimidation allegations over many years. One reason justice took so long was the media’s infatuation with Cuomo, ignoring on-the-ground realities of all types — some deadly, as we shall see. Barkan gets a lot of stuff right: Cuomo was not nearly as skilled at handling the COVID-19 epidemic as major media painted him: But Cuomo’s…

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Horseshoe Crab and Sand

Do Brains Really Evolve? The Horseshoe Crab’s Brain Didn’t

It’s very rare to find an intact fossil brain but a rare combination of minerals preserved one from 310 million years ago

Recently, paleontologist Russell Bicknell and colleagues found a fossil horseshoe crab in the Yale Peabody Museum, originally from the Mazon Creek fossil beds near Chicago. That, in itself wasn’t spectacular but, for geological reasons, the creature’s brain was preserved, an extremely rare situation. So how much had the horseshoe crab’s brain changed in 310 million years? Not at all, really: A new beautifully preserved fossil of a horseshoe crab has now revealed that their brains have hardly changed since at least the Carboniferous Period… The brain structure of the ancient crab is almost identical to that of living species. In fact, it is this extraordinary similarity that meant the researchers could be confident that what they were looking at was…

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Cocktail drink on night club.

Defending the Mind’s Reality at a Materialist Cocktail Party

What to say when you find yourself among self-assured elite sloganeers

Most of the university cocktail set is quite sure that the mind is simply what the brain does. To doubt that, in their view, is to part company with science. And yet the evidence points in the opposite direction. If you are stuck with them, here are some snatches of their usual brilliance, along with suggested replies and their sources. Arguments from evolution Claim: We are just animals so, as we might expect, the human brain is not really unique. The human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms!1 Response: That’s the remarkable part. What we do with our brains sets us apart. And greater size doesn’t really account for that. Lemurs, whose brains are only 1/200th…

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email marketing concept, send e-mail or newsletter

Why So Many Mainstream Media Figures Really Hate Substack

The subscription newsletter service allows good writers to reach their audiences without a horde of censors and gatekeepers, as is usually the case in mainstream media today

Substack — a newsletter site where popular writers can make money via private newsletters — has thoroughly rattled many traditional legacy mainstream media. Founded in 2017 and headquartered in San Francisco, it essentially ensures that the writer, not the medium, is the primary financial beneficiary of the writer’s talent. It also doesn’t need to censor writers on account of, say, money from China. One result is that many well-known writers from, for example, the New York Times, Vox, and BuzzFeed quit their jobs and started writing for newsletter subscribers who pay for premium content, print or podcast, typically $5 a month or $50 a year. Only a few thousand subscribers are needed to generate a nice income for a talented…

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Religion conflicts global issue

Religion Is Far Too Complex to Have a Single Evolution Story

Casey Luskin reflects on Yuval Noah Harari’s thesis that religion evolved through stages because humans needed it in order to co-operate in larger groups

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015), historian Yuval Noah Harari recounts a familiar sort of tale about the origin of religion. Casey Luskin, who has been reviewing the book, explains, Yuval Noah Harari tells the standard evolutionary story. According to this story, religion began as a form of animism among small bands of hunters and gatherers and then proceeded to polytheism and finally monotheism as group size grew with the first agricultural civilizations. At each stage, he argues, religion evolved in order to provide the glue that gave the group the cohesive unity it needed (at its given size) to cooperate and survive. Casey Luskin, “Reviewing Sapiens: Getting the Origin of Religion Backwards” at Evolution News and Science…

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Hand with microphone tied with rope, depicting the idea of freedom of the press, idea of the repression of the mass media or freedom of expression

Newsletter Group Creates Alarm Plus Demands for Censorship

Substack is getting a lot of ink these days — raising both hope from readers and hand wringing from old media

The traditional media our parents grew up with are slowly dying in a chronic low-ratings crises — but surprising new media are being born. Substack is getting a lot of ink these days — raising both hope and handwringing. Its very existence shows how information is rapidly changing. At Substack, an online subscription newsletter system founded in 2017, tech guys Chris Best and Hamish McKenzie point out bluntly that the “New York Times” model of information is doomed: Today, as a result of a mass shift of advertising revenue to Google and Facebook, the news business is in crisis. The great journalistic totems of the last century are dying. News organizations—and other entities that masquerade as them—are turning to increasingly…

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parrot

Do Birds Really Understand What They Are Saying?

Remarkable claims are made for some birds

Perhaps because parrots can carefully mimic human voices (and many other sounds), many claims are made for their intelligence For example, that they understand abstractions like currency: After training eight African grey parrots and six blue-headed macaws to barter metal rings for walnuts, the researchers paired the birds up with same-species partners. They then put the parrots in clear chambers joined by a transfer hole, and gave one bird—the donor—ten rings, while the other was left with none. Even without the promise of a reward for themselves, seven out of eight of the African grey parrot donors passed some of their available tokens through the transfer hole to their broke partners, usually shuttling them beak to beak. On average, about…

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Close up of math formulas on a blackboard

Is Our “Number Sense” Biology, Culture — or Something Else?

It’s a surprisingly controversial question with a — perhaps unsettling — answer

British science writer Philip Ball, author of How to Grow a Human, offers an even-handed account of a controversy on the origin of our ability to understand numbers (numeracy). Numeracy is the beginning of mathematics, the most abstract of all human pursuits. It isn’t possible to get very far in mathematics without some ability to abstract. Ball cites as an example the difference between 152 and 153. Many life forms, competing for a pile of food items, can distinguish between 2 and 3. But distinguishing between 152 and 153 clearly requires abstraction. It’s the same principle as the chiliagon, a geometric figure like a triangle except that it has 1000 sides. A triangle can be envisioned concretely. A chiliagon can…

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Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Will We Soon Be Able to Test Theories of Consciousness?

Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field

Science journalist and author Anil Ananthaswamy has written a thoughtful piece at New Scientist on the leading models of consciousness and their relationship to quantum mechanics (quantum physics). Are we reaching the point where we can test at least one of them? Ananthaswamy is well qualified to assess the arguments. He is the author of both Through Two Doors at Once (2018) on quantum physics and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) on the nature of the self. Models of consciousness that assume that “consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains” (materialist or naturalist theories) fall into three general classes, as he explains. Analysts like Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett and Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano argue that consciousness…

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Red and green men meet for a treaty. Candidates Political Debate. civilized resolution of conflicts and disputes, search for compromise. Networking in business. Negotiation platform.

Will Florida’s Law for Diversity of Thought at Universities Work?

In an internet-linked global society, protecting diversity of thought becomes even more important

A new Florida law, which took effect July 1, asks universities to survey “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” annually on their campuses, to find out how free students, faculty, and staff feel “to express their beliefs and viewpoints.” Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Gerber explains, The problem DeSantis has identified is not unique to Florida — Indiana’s Republican governor signed a similar bill last month — and it traces directly to the political biases of the processes by which faculty are hired. Many of the same colleges and universities that tout tenure as a way to encourage free thought censor it by not allowing conservative and libertarian faculty candidates who think freely to get in the door. I once…

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Live lobster in the aquarium. Product in the supermarket. Close up photo of big lobsters in water tank for sale

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…

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Warning, cancel culture spreading fast

Black American Conservatives Lead Fight Against Cancel Culture

They “trigger” bullies when they say what they think needs to be said, not what the Cancel mob insists on hearing

British writer Douglas Murray dissects social media’s Cancel Culture, in a typically unsparing fashion: All ages have their orthodoxies. And if writers, artists, thinkers and comedians do not occasionally tread on them, then they are not doing their jobs. Meanwhile human nature remains what it is. And just as some children will always pull the wings off flies and fry small ants with their toy magnifying glasses, so a certain number of adult inadequates will find meaning in their lives by sniffing around the seats in the public square until they find an aroma they can claim offends them. Douglas Murray, “How to fight back against ‘cancel culture’” at Spectator (January 24, 2020) Black American conservatives “trigger” Cancel Culture when…

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Books: The First Step in Fighting Cancel Culture

Malicious envy was always out there but before social media it could rarely assemble so large a mob
Many writers and artists are beginning to speak out and take action, recognizing that sharing the cost of speaking up reduces its burden. Read More ›
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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…

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Octopus

Octopuses Get Emotional About Pain, Research Suggests

The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence

The octopus is becoming a popular creature among neuroscientists. It is a very smart invertebrate with an unusually complex nervous system, organized in a fundamentally different way from that of, for example, mammals. Recently, a researcher has found the first strong evidence that octopuses feel pain, as opposed to merely reacting to it. There are two parts to pain: The natural physical reaction, like a sophisticated alarm system, sets off a chain of involuntary responses. But that chain of responses, by itself, doesn’t prove that any “self” is feeling anything. The alarm system would work just the same in an empty building as in a populated one. The second component can be called “emotional.” The life form experiences the pain…

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Nairobi, Kenya : Ranger feeding orphaned baby elephant in David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust conservation center

There Is No Escape From Human Exceptionalism

Author Melanie Challenger thinks we should embrace our true animal nature. But that’s impossible

Melanie Challenger, author of How to Be Animal (2021) thinks we would be less messed up if we could just accept our animal nature. She writes at Aeon, “Human exceptionalism is dead: for the sake of our own happiness and the planet we should embrace our true animal nature.” Further, Today, our thinking has shifted along with scientific evidence, incorporating the genetic insights of the past century. We now know we’re animals, related to all other life on our planet. We’ve also learned much about cognition, including the uneasy separation between instinct and intention, and the investment of the whole body in thought and action. As such, we might expect attitudes to have changed. But that isn’t the case. We…