Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Nautilus Offers a “Primer” on Panpsychism

Noting the growth in interest from science writers as well as neuroscientists and philosophers, the magazine offers four essays discussing current approaches

Recently, we’ve been discussing the way panpsychism is creating competition for naturalism in the sciences. Where naturalism sees cognition/consciousness as an illusion that happen to aid survival, panpsychism sees it as part of the substrate of nature, more obviously present in more complex entities like humans than in less complex ones. Neither view appeals to the supernatural in principle but to the panpsychist, information is as much a part of nature as matter or energy. Its effects are pervasive and real. And consciousness is not something to just be explained away. Such a view may change the way many see nature on topics ranging from the environment to evolution. In a 2020 special edition of Nautilus, “Panpsychism: This Changes Everything,”…

Light bulb with big hands in moment of insight on blue

Physicist: Science, by Nature, Can’t Have a Theory of Everything

Such a theory is a sort of religious quest that has united philosophers, theologians, and scientists, But is it possible?

With admirable clarity, astronomer and physicist Marcelo Gleiser explains what a Theory of Everything is and is not: It’s not about every detail of life that happens to us. It’s the search for a single, underlying force that unites the four fundamental forces of nature — gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force — into one single underlying force. Why haven’t we found it? Well, first, he says, “We do not see this unity because it is only manifest at extremely high energies, well beyond what we can perceive even with our most powerful machines.” But second — and more significantly — there is a real question, Gleiser contends, whether science is by nature suited to…

Bull's eyes and head close-up, black and white photo of a bull.

Be On the Lookout for More Sokal Hoaxes

If you spot a Sokal hoax, let us know by tagging @cnaintelligence on Twitter

In a previous article, we noted that a group of researchers have been testing the rigor of social science journals by submitting fake articles and data in order to demonstrate problems in these branches of academics. These hoaxes, known as Sokal hoaxes (named after the original hoaxer, Alan Sokal), have now begun their third round, with the first detected paper in the journal Higher Education Quarterly. The paper, “Donor money and the academy: Perceptions of undue donor pressure in political science, economics, and philosophy,” has now been retracted, but it looks like this is not quite the end of the matter. The Chronicle of Higher Education managed to get in contact with the Sokal hoaxers. While their identities are anonymous, they responded to emails sent to the…

AGLA is a magical name of God

Egnor and Solms: What Does It Mean To Say God Is a Person?

Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason

Last time out, as South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stonybrook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor continued to discuss the mind vs. the brain at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021), Solms said that he believed in Spinoza’s God — so did Albert Einstein, actually. Now he asks Egnor about the idea that God is a Person. Summary to date: 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 brain is not mind. Then Solms pointed to the…

Abstract Unique Young Woman Standing In the Middle Of A Galaxy Crack

Einstein Believed in Spinoza’s God. Who Is That God?

Neuropsychologist Mark Solms admits that life is “miraculous” and sees Spinoza’s God, embedded in nature, as the ultimate explanation

In the most recent portion of the discussion between South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms and Stony Brook neurosurgeon Michael Egnor at Theology Unleashed (October 22, 2021), talk turned to defining consciousness. Which led in turn to the remarkable (in Solms’s view, “miraculous”) difference between life and non-life — which is not merely a matter of religious opinion. If an accounting is required, it turns out that even Einstein believed in some sort of God and Solms follows his thinking, as we see below. Egnor offers a different view. Summary to date: 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…

Exploration of Mars the Red planet of the solar system in space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Will the Fossils We Find on Mars Be Fakes?

No, no, this is NOT a broadcast from Moonbat Central! False fossils are objects that look like fossils but aren’t

As we sift more and more of the surface of Mars, we’d love to find fossils. But then we may run into a problem that dogs paleontologists on Earth. From the University of Edinburgh: Rocks on Mars may contain numerous types of non-biological deposits that look similar to the kinds of fossils likely to be found if the planet ever supported life, a study says. Telling these false fossils apart from what could be evidence of ancient life on the surface of Mars — which was temporarily habitable four billion years ago — is key to the success of current and future missions, researchers say. University of Edinburgh, “Life on Mars search could be misled by false fossils, study says”…

black bull
Portrait of bull in profile

Are Sokal Hoaxes Really Helping Reform Science?

The evidence is mixed. The current prank on Higher Education Quarterly prompts some questions
It happened. Again. In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal submitted a mostly-nonsense paper to the journal Social Text. The purpose? To show that the social sciences, especially the critical theorists, were not intellectually rigorous. His paper, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was written so that anyone who was familiar with quantum gravity would know that it was a joke. Therefore, when it was accepted, it was obvious that no rigorous review process was in place. The journal apparently just accepted anything that sounded “intellectual-ish” and conformed to the editors’ idea of what scholarship looked like. It became known as the Sokal hoax. In 2017, a group of researchers began a similar hoax, later tagged as Sokal Squared. The goal, again, was to show that what the authors call “grievance studies” are undermining real scholarship by allowing nonsense to pass as scholarship. They managed to get several of their fake papers published, for example, Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon (May 22, 2018). In fact, for some of the papers that hadn’t been published by the time the experiment ended, the reviewers requested more outlandishness. That brings us to the present day. The education journal Higher Education Quarterly,” which is run by Wiley (a major academic publisher), published a new paper titled “Donor money and the academy: Perceptions of undue donor pressure in political science, economics, and philosophy.” If you take the alleged names of its authors, who cannot be traced to any institution of higher education, “Sage Owens” and “Kal Avers-Lynde III,” the initials spell out: S.O.K.A.L. III It is unclear at this writing what this third iteration of the Sokal Hoaxes is trying to prove. At Power Line, Steven Hayward suggests that the overall goal is to show that any paper can be published if it stokes the biases of leftist editors. If so, the hoaxers have pushed the right buttons: the Koch Brothers, the Federalist Society, right-wing interference… The problem? As search has demonstrated, the funders they study don’t actually fund the research they are studying and some of the organizations have been defunct through the entire period of study. One of them appears entirely fictitious. While we still don’t know who wrote “SOKAL III” or why, I think it is good to take a moment and reflect on academic hoaxes in general, and what they indicate. The goal of the hoaxers is to demonstrate that critical theory and “grievance studies” journals are only pseudo-academic. They want to show that obviously wrong papers get through as long as they conform to the style and expectations of the journal. So did these hoaxers succeed in their aim? To begin with, I should say that it is not the job of an editor or reviewer to catch falsified data. Journals assume that data associated with an article is legitimate and was legitimately obtained. Now, there are times when data is obviously wrong, and a worthwhile editor or reviewer should catch that. However, it is not the job of the reviewers to verify or repeat the experiment. They trust the reporting and merely make sure that the reasoning about the data is correct. Therefore, a proper hoax must illustrate more than just acceptance of falsified data. It has to illustrate acceptance of wrong reasoning about that data. Or, at minimum, the data must be so obviously wrong that any worthwhile reviewer would be able to spot it. However, there are other requirements of a proper experiment that the “Sokal squared” hoaxers seem to have left out. In order to show that the social science journals they targeted are more problematic than science journals, they would have needed a control group. Note that none of the Sokal hoaxers tried submitting nonsense to a science journal. Even other Darwinists often complain about “just-so” stories in evolutionary biology, and especially in evolutionary psychology. So why did the hoaxers not dream up an equivalently outrageous just-so biology story to see if it would pass peer review? Were they afraid to know the results? History says that, as long as you are proposing an evolutionary “just so” story, there is almost no idea that is too absurd to be published in even the topmost journals. The original Sokal hoax, too, had problems. The journal it was submitted to, Social Text, was not a peer-reviewed journal. In other words, the journal was not even claiming to have the same scholarship standards as science journals. In fact, they were relying on Sokal himself to provide the expertise on physics, which was the primary reason for including him. So, while I am in basic agreement with the hoaxers about the general quality of critical theory and “grievance studies” journals, I find it odd that the hoaxers, so certain of their proposition, seem to be unscientific in their approach to finding out the answers. In fact, we don’t even need to go into hoaxes to see that the same sort of implicit bias can infect ordinary science journals. As noted by Michael Crichton and followed up on here at Mind Matters News, science journals have been ready to publish whatever the latest trendy topic is for decades, no matter how bad the science content. Then, for topics that are less trendy, they will sometimes retract legitimate papers which have been properly reviewed simply because the topic is out of favor. If an idea is in favor, then, as we’ve seen, the requirements for rigor are relaxed significantly. So, while I appreciate the attempts of the Sokal hoaxers to demonstrate biases and poor scholarship in the social sciences, I fear that those in the harder sciences will use this as an excuse to ignore their own problems with bias and poor scholarship. Note: “SOKAL III” has now been retracted. You may also wish to read: Twenty years on, aliens still “cause global warming” Over the years, the Jurassic Park creator observed, science has drifted from its foundation as… Read More ›
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For Ants, Building a Bridge Is No “Simple” Task

There is nothing “simple” about designing neural systems and the computer systems to receive and interpret neural sensory inputs

Researching for my previous Mind Matters article about bird and bee biological software, I came across a short piece at Quanta Magazine entitled “The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges.” Really, a “simple” insect algorithm? Intriguing. Eric Cassell’s book, Animal Algorithms (2021), reveals the complex and intricate hardware-software systems enabling bird and insect procedures for migration, building nests and structures, social cooperation, and navigation. Grounded in engineering training and experience, Cassell shows that animal algorithms must be designed top-down starting with a goal, fashioning the data input sensors, developing the necessary procedures, and implementing them in software to direct hardware. Yet the Quanta Magazine piece reported that Panamanian army ants’ procedures for building bridges of living ants is accomplished using a “simple algorithm.” The problem the army…

Girls eye with paint and earth

Why Panpsychism Is Starting To Push Out Naturalism

A key goal of naturalism/materialism has been to explain human consciousness away as “nothing but a pack of neurons.” That can’t work

Naturalism, often called “materialism,” posits that nature is all there is. Panpsychism doesn’t dispute that. But the panpsychist also thinks that consciousness is real — present in all nature (or all living nature) but especially developed in humans. Last Monday, writing about a classical atheist naturalist who was attacking panpsychism, I reflected on the difficulties the trend to panpsychism presents him. The naturalist is hostile to the panpsychist because he assumes that human consciousness will, in due course, be explained away. It is either an illusion, or an aid to survival that evolved among early humans. Or perhaps it is a spandrel (in evolution theory, a useless accompaniment of useful traits). In short, what we thought was our means of…

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…

Confident Businessman Crossing Arms on Front

Fake It ’til You Make It – The Power Pose Parable Part II

Where does p-hacking and the replication crisis leave the state of scientific studies?

Last time, we explored the findings of a 2010 psychological study, which concluded that assuming a “power pose” for two minutes increases testosterone (confidence) and decreases cortisol (stress). But it turned out that p-hacking affected the results of the initial study, and that subsequent studies debunked the “power pose” findings. Dana Carney, the lead author of the original paper, acknowledged the faults of the original study and updated her views “to reflect the evidence.” Today, we explore the implications: Carney’s willingness to acknowledge the p-hacks and to support efforts to redo the power-pose tests is convincing evidence that the p-hacks were well-intentioned. This was how a lot of research was done at the time. Joseph Simmons, Leif Nelson, and Uri…

He is big boss and has power

Fake It ‘til You Make It — The Power Pose Parable

Why a study "proving" a unique way to boost confidence and reduce stress turned out to be wrong

A 2010 paper published in a top-tier psychology journal advised that “a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful.” The researchers had 42 people assume two positions for one minute each — either high-power poses (sitting in a chair with their feet on a desk and standing with their hands spread on a desk) or low-power poses (sitting in a chair with hands clasped between their legs and standing with their arms and legs crossed). Saliva samples were used to measure the dominance hormone testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol. Risk-taking was gauged by a willingness to take a bet with a 50 percent chance of winning $2 and a 50 percent chance of losing…

Supermassive extraterrestrial life form in outer space, dark red planet in twisted galaxy

Astronomer: Hunt for ET Can Unify Science and Religion

Avi Loeb told The Hill that the Galileo Project, which looks for physical evidence of extraterrestrials, could answer religious questions as well as science ones

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, spoke at a recent Ignatius Forum on his differences with “the scientific mainstream” about the evidence for extraterrestrial life. Perhaps in part because the venue was the Washington National Cathedral, Loeb felt motivated to reflect on the religious as well as the science implications of a search for extraterrestrial life. As a member of Harvard University’s Galileo Project which seeks to “bring the search for extraterrestrial technological signatures of Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations (ETCs) from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends into the mainstream of transparent, validated and systematic scientific research,” he shared his thoughts with The Hill, which covers the U.S. Congress: In finding advanced extraterrestrial intelligence, religion might simply reflect advanced science with a twist.…

multiverse conceptual illustration

Multiverse Cosmology Is Not a Good Argument Against God

Or against fine tuning of our universe. God could have created countless universes on various principles for a variety of reasons

New Scientist’s executive editor Richard Webb, a “recovering particle physicist,” offers a look at the current state of the idea that there might be an infinity of universes out there. Why believe it? Mainly, it turns out, to avoid believing something else: Gods and their intelligent designs are less in the mainstream of scientific thought now, yet similar ideas about an optimal universe still trickle through cosmology. That is principally down to some mysterious numbers that determine its workings. Tot them all up in the standard models of particle physics and cosmology, and you end up with about 30 constants of nature – numbers like the strengths of the fundamental forces and the masses of elementary particles that our theories…

Spaceship leaving Earth for interstellar deep space travel

Interstellar Travel: The Four Top Technologies for Getting There

Astrophysicist Adam Frank looks at the technologies we meet in science fiction and identifies the challenges that hold them back

University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank looks at the possibilities of interstellar travel, given the “insane scale” of the distances between stars and galaxies, in relation to space exploration, whether by ourselves or by intelligent extraterrestrials. Science fiction usually starts with the assumption that the distance problem is somehow already solved. What real-world proposals are out there now for solving it? At Big Think, Frank offers four: Cryosleep, solar sails (or light sails), wormholes, and warp drives. Cautioning that they may all be pipe dreams, he offers some thoughts. Possibly the most intriguing is cryosleep: Cryosleep technology would basically “freeze” the body’s metabolism (or at least slow it down) for the duration of the journey. Despite being a staple of…

Science and research of the universe, spiral galaxy and physical formulas, concept of knowledge and education

What If ET Has Morphed Into What We Now Call the Laws of Nature?

Astrophysicist Caleb Scarf has asked us to consider a daring hypothesis for conundrums around dark matter and dark energy

Columbia astrophysicist Caleb A. Scharf, has proposed that, if advanced technology might look like magic to less technologically advanced viewers, very advanced technology might look like the laws of nature: Toward the end of Carl Sagan’s 1985 science-fiction novel Contact, the protagonist follows the suggestion of an extraterrestrial to study transcendental numbers. After computing to 1020th places, she finds a clearly artificial message embedded in the digits of this fundamental number. In other words, part of the fabric of the universe is a product of intelligence or is perhaps even life itself. It’s a great mind-bending twist for a book. Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be…

Billiard balls colorful background, 3D rendering

Can the “Physical World” Be Wholly Physical? Physical at All?

Nothing ever physically touches anything else in the physical world, yet the effects of objects on each other are a constant occurrence

Sounds like the answer should be “Of course!” But the question may not be as simple as it appears. Let’s wind the clock back to the first century BC, when a Roman poet and philosopher named Lucretius wrote the poem On the Nature of Things.” In this poem, Lucretius outlines a philosophy known as Epicureanism in order to demonstrate the world can be explained without reference to a deity. In the Epicurean philosophy, only three things exist: atoms, the void, and the universe. Consequently, everything we see in the physical world can be reduced to atoms bumping into each other. You may notice that Epicurean philosophy sounds similar to modern day physics. This is not an accident. Through the influence…

Colorful numbers background

How Even Random Numbers Show Evidence of Design

Random number generators are actually pseudo-random number generators because they depend on designed algorithms

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? And human intervention make any difference? Many questions arose during the discussion. Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? Does human intervention make a measurable difference? That’s specified complexity. Putting the idea of specified complexity to work, how do we measure meaningful information? How…


Can Wholly Random Processes Produce Information?

Can information result, without intention, from a series of accidents? Some have tried it with computers…

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? And human intervention make any difference? Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? Does human intervention make a measurable difference? That’s specified complexity. Putting the idea of specified complexity to work, how do we measure meaningful information? How do we know Lincoln contained more…

The Earth from space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Astronomer: We Can’t Just Assume Countless Earths Out There

He points out that the Principle of Mediocrity is based on faulty logical reasoning

Dartmouth physicist and astronomer Marcelo Gleiser wrote recently that the Copernican Principle has been misused to imply that Earth is somehow insignificant. That, he says, is a philosophical attitude, unrelated to the science. We don’t know where Earth stands in relation to other planets because we do not yet have telescopes capable of getting much detail about planets outside our solar system. Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014), has also tackled the Mediocrity Principle (because Earth is nothing special, there must be countless intelligent civilizations out there). According to Britannica, “Widely believed by astronomers since the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, this principle states that the properties and evolution of the solar system are not unusual in any important…