Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryPhilosophy of Mind

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Servers at sunset, cloud technology concept. 3d rendering

Harvard U Press Computer Science Author Gives AI a Reality Check

Erik Larson told COSM 2021 about real limits in getting machines that don’t live in the real world to understand it

The speaker told the audience that although computers can do many impressive things, they will never achieve artificial intelligence. Who is “they” in the sentence you just read? The audience or computers? You immediately know the answer. It’s computers, because we know that researchers are struggling how to figure out how to endow computers with AI. It makes no sense to talk about an audience having artificial intelligence. You intuitively understanding the meaning of “they” in the sentence without even having to think about it. What if the sentence had read: The speaker told the audience that although computers can do many impressive things, they will be sorry if they bought one of this year’s models. Again, it is obvious…

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Girl in orange shirt standing near house robot

Silicon Valley Insider: Why Friendly Super-AI Won’t Happen

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel talks about the Great Filter hypothesis: Why should we assume a superior artificial intelligence would be friendly?

In a wide-ranging talk at the recent COSM 2021 conference (November 10–12), Peter Thiel (a PayPal and Facebook founder) expressed concern that people worry a great deal about artificial intelligence that thinks like people (AGI) but the real push now is for massive “dumb” surveillance AI peering into every detail of our lives, for the benefit of either government or the corporate world. He went on to say that he doubts that artificial general intelligence (AGI) — “superhuman software that can do everything that we can do” — would, in any event, be “friendly.” That is, that it “won’t kill us.” If it is intelligent enough to be independent, why should we assume so? “Friendly” is a human value, hard…

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illustration of balloon flying at the end of the sky, surreal minimal concept

3.Neuroscientist: Mind Is Not Just Brain? That’s Career Limiting!

Neuropsychologist Mark Solms and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor agreed that clinical experience supports a non-materialist view but that the establishment doesn’t

Recently, distinguished South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms discussed the real state of brain research with Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021) In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), began by asserting in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr. Egnor then responded that his clinical experience supports the view that the mind is not merely the brain. Now, Solms talks about the reality that discussing the fact that the mind is not merely the brain can be a career-limiting move. A partial transcript, notes, and links to date follow: Next, I…

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Happy beautiful twins girls point up isolated on blue background, two sisters showing something above their heads , advertisement, place for text, body language

Why Physicalism Is Failing as the Accepted Approach to Science

The argument that everything in nature can be reduced to physics was killed by the philosophical Zombie, as Prudence Louise explains
At Medium, Prudence Louise, a writer on philosophy and religion, explains that in 1994 philosopher David Chalmers killed the Zombie in cold blood, igniting “a zombie apocalypse.” Sounds like an unusual role for a philosopher. And the Zombie?: “The philosophical notion of a “zombie” basically refers to conceivable creatures which are physically indistinguishable from us but lack consciousness entirely (Chalmers 1996)” — Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Louise asks us to picture that: Imagine you meet your doppelganger. Someone physically identical to you, atom for atom. The only difference is the doppelganger has no inner consciousness. They look happy or sad, they even tell you of their hopes and dreams. But there is nothing more than physical processes moving in response to physical causes. Their lips move and sounds which are meaningful to you come out, but they experience nothing at all. From the outside you are identical. But from the inside the zombie is a hollow imitation. That is a philosophical zombie. The physical structure, functions and behavior are identical, but there is no consciousness. What exactly is the missing ingredient? Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) The zombie could, in principle, exist. At the same time, we all know we are not zombies in the sense that we know we are conscious more certainly than we know anything else. And if consciousness is an illusion, well, whose illusion is it? As Louise goes on to show, for a physicalist (a person who believes that everything is physical), the zombie is an “explanatory nightmare.” It forces us to sense that there is something besides the physical. Although we can explain more and more about the human body in terms of structure and function, there is no good science-based theory of consciousness on the horizon. And if we can explain everything about a human being except consciousness, well, we haven’t explained, say, the difference between Jane and Zombie-Jane, which humans generally agree is important. As Louise explains in her short article, “The stakes are high. If there can’t be a scientific explanation of conscious experience, this shows physicalism is false.” One problem is that science explains third-person phenomena but consciousness is a first-person phenomenon. She then goes into much more careful logical and philosophical detail but here’s the gist: When you move your body to the fridge in response to a desire for a snack, or take medication in response to pain, or lock the doors due to a fear of burglars, there is no causal connection between those conscious states and the physical effects of your body moving. This view isn’t fatal to the physicalist theory, but it puts it on critical life support. Our mental states cause actions which move matter constantly, giving us a lot of evidence it’s true. Any arguments those powers are illusory will need to be stronger than our confidence our conscious states cause our bodies to move. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Physicalism took root in a mechanistic view of the universe, pioneered by Isaac Newton. And before the Zombie even showed up, that view was already being challenged by quantum mechanics, in which the conscious observer plays a key role in what happens. But, for scientists, physicalism is not the only game in town: Alternative metaphysics, like idealism, substance dualism or panpsychism all avoid the hard problem by denying causal closure. They accept the observation that consciousness is non-physical, and it’s causally effective, which means causal closure must be false. Unlike the observations of consciousness and its causal powers, causal closure isn’t based on observations of the world. It’s a metaphysical commitment. Physicalism is confronting a problem created by its philosophical commitments being in conflict with our observations of the world. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Of the three alternatives Louise lists, panpsychism seems to the one many scientists are gravitating to. Instead of “nothing is conscious,” many now think everything is conscious. Just recently, prominent biochemist James Shapiro titled a paper “All living cells are cognitive.” And prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio offered that viruses have some type of intelligence. Other well-known science achievers argue that electrons have a rudimentary mind. In response to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, philosopher Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not in conflict with physics. It offers a simpler view of physics than dualism, with fewer gaps than materialism (including physicalism). Essentially, panpsychism offers a way for scientists to address human consciousness, as currently understood, without explaining it away as an illusion. It would allow them to say that if Zombie-Jane existed, she would be missing something critical that Jane has (and so does everything else, to at least some extent). Whether that benefit makes panpsychism a better explanation of reality than idealism or dualism is a separate question. Each of these points of view has its own issues but the Zombie isn’t one of them. You may also wish to read: Theoretical physicist slams panpsychism Electrons cannot be conscious Sabine Hossenfelder’s view because they cannot change their behavior. Hossenfelder’s impatience is understandable but she underestimates the seriousness of the problem serious thinkers about consciousness confront. There is a reason that some scientists believe that the universe is conscious: It would be more logically coherent to say that you think the universe is conscious than to say that your own consciousness is an illusion. With the first idea, you may be wrong. With the second idea, you are not anything. Read More ›
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Creative background, the human brain on a blue background, the hemisphere is responsible for logic, and responsible for creativity. of different hemispheres of the brain, 3D illustration, 3D render

2. Neurosurgeon and Neuropsychologist Agree: Brain Is Not Mind

Michael Egnor tells Mark Solms: Neuroscience didn’t help him understand people; quite the reverse, he had to understand people, and minds, to make sense of neuroscience

Recently, distinguished South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms discussed the real state of brain research with Stony brook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021). In the first portion, Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021), proposed in his opening statement that “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as is almost universally assumed. Dr. Egnor now responds that his clinical experience supports that view — and also the view that the mind is not simply “what the brain does” as some popular neuroscientists claim: A partial transcript, notes, and links to date follow: Arjuna [host]: And now, Michael, could you give a brief explanation of your views?…

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Man and woman playing game using virtual reality headset and gamepads in the dark room of the playing club

In a Futurist Game, Inmost Thoughts Are Real — Sci-fi Saturday

When a family plays the game, long-simmering hostilities surface as acts

“My House” (2020) at DUST by Alexander Edep (Oct 25, 2021, 9:53 min) A family game night turns ugly when a protective mother, desperate to keep her turn in the game a secret, is forced to commit a heinous act that holds a troubling, family-shattering secret. Review: Don’t watch this one to relax. It features a futurist game played by members of a family (a couple with a teenage boy and girl). In it, just about any family circumstance can be simulated — and is. The telling touch is that the event that is simulated is just what one could see happening, apart from law, religion, civilization, and, inevitably — what the neighbors would think? The game feels like unconscious…

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3d illustration human body brain

Consciousness: Is It in the Cerebral Cortex — or the Brain Stem?

In a recent discussion/debate with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, neuropsychologist Mark Solms offers an unconventional but evidence-based view, favoring the brain stem

In September, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor debated atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty at Theology Unleashed, on the existence of God. This time out (October 22, 2021), he is teamed with distinguished South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms, author of The Hidden Spring (2021) — who begins by declaring, in his opening statement, “the source of consciousness in the brain is in fact in the brain stem,” not the cerebral cortex, as almost universally assumed. He explains his reasoning with evidence. Egnor doesn’t dispute that statement; in fact, in his own opening statement later, he reinforces it with observations from his own practice. To learn more, read on. A partial transcript, notes, and links to date follow the video link: Arjuna [host]: Hello, and…

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Female humpback whale with calf

Can AI Help Us Talk to Whales? Maybe. But Then What?

In the real world, if we succeed in communicating with whales, it will be much like communicating successfully with dogs, cats, and horses. None of them are furry people.

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine holds out the hope that AI can help enable us to talk with whales: The clicks of sperm whales are ideal candidates for attempting to decode their meanings—not just because, unlike continuous sounds that other whale species produce, they are easy to translate into ones and zeros. The animals dive down into the deepest ocean depths and communicate over great distances, so they cannot use body language and facial expressions, which are important means of communication for other animals. “It is realistic to assume that whale communication is primarily acoustic,” says Bronstein. Sperm whales have the largest brains in the animal kingdom, six times the size of ours. When two of these animals…

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Green Bacteria Colony

Neuroscientist: Nervous Systems Alone Do Not Cause Consciousness

Antonio Damasio, author of Feeling & Knowing (2021), points to the whole body as involved in consciousness

Prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, considered “a leader in understanding the biological origin of consciousness,” wrote in The Scientist yesterday that “The idea that minds and consciousness might be generated by the nervous system alone is false. In his view, the whole body is involved in consciousness: Attempts to understand consciousness exclusively in terms of neural activity have failed and are, in good part, responsible for the belief held by some scientists and educated laypeople that consciousness is an inexplicable mystery. It is likely true that consciousness only emerges in organisms endowed with nervous systems, but it is just as true that consciousness also requires abundant interactions between those systems and many non-nervous parts of the organism Antonio Damasio, “Opinion: Being,…

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The universe within. Silhouette of a man inside the universe, physical and mathematical formulas.. The concept on scientific and philosophical topics.  Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Philosopher: Panpsychism Is Not in Conflict With Physics at All

Responding to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not a dualist perspective

At IAI.tv, University of Durham philosophy prof Philip Goff tells us that “The world of academic philosophy has been rocked by the conversion of one of the most influential materialists of the last thirty years, Michael Tye, to a form of panpsychism (panprotopsychism) in his latest book. And the main annual UK philosophy conference held a plenary panel on panpsychism this year for the first time in its history.” That’s part of a pattern in which philosophy and science are warming to panpsychism, the belief that either all entities or all living entities participate in consciousness. Dr. Goff, author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, offers some thoughts on what panpsychism is and isn’t: Panpsychism is the…

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new life, 2d echo

How a Theory of the Soul Drives Abortion Activism

Descartes’ theory that the soul and the body are utterly distinct, while mostly rejected in philosophy, is still part of popular culture

Every now and then, it’s useful to look at the philosophical underpinnings of current thought and what implications they have for engineering ethics. In a recent post on the website of the journal First Things, professor of biblical and religious studies Carl Trueman noted that Cartesian dualism — a way of looking at the human person promulgated by René Descartes (1596-1650) — is enjoying a comeback in the popular mind, although modern philosophy has long since discarded it as an inadequate model. (This article by Karl D. Stephan originally appeared at Engineering Ethics Blog (October 11, 2021) under the title “Against Cartesian Dualism,” and is reprinted with permission.) If you know anything about Descartes, you will probably recall his most famous saying: “I think,…

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Small brain between fingers

Researchers Still Puzzled: Why Did Human Brains Shrink?

Human brain volumes decreased by 10% in the last 40,000 years, coinciding with spectacular intellectual achievements

We conventionally associate big brains with intelligence. But the evidence from the present day and from history is uncertain: It’s something of a well-known secret among anthropologists: Based on measurements of skulls, the average brain volume of Homo sapiens has reportedly decreased by roughly 10 percent in the past 40,000 years. This reduction is a reversal of the trend of cranial expansion, which had been occurring in human evolution for millions of years prior… For instance, a 1988 Human Biology paper analyzed more than 12,000 Homo sapiens crania from Europe and North African. It showed cranial capacity decreased in the past 10,000 years by about 10 percent (157 mL) in males and 17 percent (261 mL) in females. A similar…

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Illustration of spiral arrangement in nature.  Golden Ratio concept

New film: C.S. Lewis as a staunch defender of the mind’s reality

Lewis started out thinking that “the findings of science have concluded that human reason” resulted merely from “natural selection with random mutations… to confer upon humans a reproductive advantage.”

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to spend an evening with famed writer C. S. Lewis, now’s your chance. On November 3, theaters around the United States and Canada will premiere a film titled The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis, and it may be the next best thing to meeting the real Lewis, who died in 1963. Adapted from a one-man stage show by New York actor Max McLean, The Most Reluctant Convert portrays Lewis’s intellectual journey from scientific materialism to idealism to theism to Christianity. It’s a cerebral and “talky” film, but that doesn’t mean it’s slow or boring. Clocking in at just 73 minutes, the film moves briskly and includes plenty of emotion and humor.  (This…

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Compassion and Religion: Darwin’s Unscratchable Itches

If one’s research is in a hole as deep as evolutionary psychology is when accounting for compassion, why not stop digging?

Last Sunday, I pointed to a chapter I wrote in The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (2021) on evolutionary psychology, best understood as the psychology we have derived from our not-quite-human ancestors. “Not-quite-human ancestors”? Well, if you believe in conventional evolution theory at all, you must suppose that we have not-quite-human ancestors. Thus, to understand the origin of traits like giving to the Heart & Stroke Fund or subscribing to popular science magazines, we must get back to a point before any such institutions could have existed but there was some sort of dim potential. But we can’t really do that because, as noted last Sunday, there is no such…

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double moon above Crater Landscape on alien Planet.

Would ET Intelligences Understand the 1974 Arecibo Message?

Probably not, says astrobiologist Dirke Schulz-Makuch, who raises the question of whether we could ever really communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences

In early, easily-mocked sci fi, a little green man points his raygun at an unsuspecting passerby and barks “Take me to your leader.” Fast forward: If the little green man didn’t have the technology to figure out who the leader was before landing, he certainly wouldn’t have the technology to get here. In any real-world scenario, we must assume that extraterrestrial intelligences are doing common sense logical things that we would do: Check Earth’s inhabitants out first by monitoring our communications. Some analysts have pointed out that there are places they could even hide technology in our solar system (Lagrange points, for example) with much less chance of being noticed. But then the question is, what to say to them?…

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Businessman in blue shirt is holding a magnifying

Top Venture Capitalist on Tackling the Big, Corrupt Universities

Peter Thiel: Online education is great for learning, but unfortunately, learning has almost nothing to do with the so-called educational system

In this third episode — on Peter Thiel’s Third Contrarian Idea — philosopher of technology George Gilder revisits world class tech venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s live streamed talk at COSM 2019 in “ The failures and self-hatred of Big Tech.” In the first episode, Thiel noted that the way Big Tech operates today has more in common with a communist state than with a democracy. So his First Contrarian Idea, set out there, is that decentralization is coming. In the second episode, he talked about his Second Contrarian Idea: If you look at the big picture over the past few years, Big Tech’s progress is slowing. That’s not the hype we hear but then Thiel didn’t make nearly $4 billion…

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The Altamira Caves. Spanish rock art. It is the highest representation of cave painting in Spain

There Is No Such Thing as a Fossil Mind

A chapter on evolutionary psychology in Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith (2021) looks at the curious discipline of evolutionary psychology

This month, the The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (Harvest House 2021) appeared. The basic theme of the handbook, as described by editors design theorist William Dembski and Joseph Holden is “Science and Christianity are often presented as opposites, when in fact the order of the universe and the complexity of life powerfully testify to intelligent design.” I wrote one of the chapters, “What is evolutionary psychology?”. It concerns the effort to understand human psychology by appealing to a prehuman (“evolutionary”) past. As such, it explains a large variety of human behaviours as the unconscious enactment of a Darwinian survival scenario among not-quite humans that is wired into modules in…

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Human brain

GWT: A Leading Consciousness Theory Depends on Information Theory

Not mechanism. If Global Workspace Theory (GWT) is a good approach to consciousness, there is no “consciousness spot” in the brain.

Recently, we have looked at the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of human consciousness, as set out by well-known Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch. Another leading contender (and rival) is Global Workspace Theory (GWT) — it pictures the brain as an orchestra with many conductors. IIT is panpsychist in orientation (the universe participates in consciousness; human consciousness is the most highly developed instance) whereas GWT uses information theory to capture an image of consciousness via observations of the brain at work. A recent essay in Psyche by two GWT proponents, Morten L. Kringelbach and Gustav Deco, introduces us to GWT: … given the distributed nature of the brain hierarchy, there is unlikely to be just a single ‘conductor’. Instead, in 1988…

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Two piles of coins

Are Our Neurons Really Wired for Numbers?

Some neuroscientists say they have shown hardwiring in studies of crows and macaques but others say no, these life forms differ too much

University College London cognitive neuroscientist Brian Butterworth, author of a forthcoming book, Can fish count? (Basic Books, 2022), reckons that, one way or another, in a modern urban society, we process about 16,000 numbers in an average day. Numbers create conceptual relationships between vastly different things. From the publisher’s introduction to his book, we learn, “The philosopher Bertrand Russell once observed that realizing that a pair of apples and the passage of two days could somehow both be represented by the concept we call “two” was one of the most astonishing discoveries anyone had ever made.” At The Scientist, Catherine Offord, discussing his work, offers a critical distinction between estimations of quantity and actual counting: “Our perception of quantity, separate…

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Tomb of bare-knuckle fighter Tom Sayer on Highgate Cemetery

A Philosopher Simply Invents Animals’ Concept of Death

She demands that we accept her invention so we can “rethink” human exceptionalism, and the “disrespect for the natural world that comes with it”

Last week I talked about the question of whether primate mothers who carry dead infants around understand the concept of death. The scientists conducting the research sounded commendably cautious in the conclusions they drew. Not everyone follows their lead in this. Susana Monsóis, professor of philosophy at UNED (Madrid) and author of La zarigüeya de Schrödinger (Schrödinger’s Possum), “ a book on how animals experience and understand death,” dispenses with all that. Her subtitle is “Having a concept of death, far from being a uniquely human feat, is a fairly common trait in the animal kingdom.” Yet she falls far short of demonstrating that. Her essay is a classic on what happens when we seek simply to amass support for…