Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Piano tuning process. closeup of hand and tools of tuner working on grand piano. Detailed view of Upright Piano during a tuning

Ours Is a Finely Tuned — and No Free Lunch — Universe

Mathematician Ola Hössjer and biostatistician Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón explain to Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks why nature works so seamlessly

Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks had a chance, recently, to talk with Swedish mathematician Ola Hössjer and University of Miami biostatistician Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón on the many ways in which the universe is finely tuned for life. This is Part 1. Part 2 will shortly follow. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-Episode-150-Hossjer-Diaz-.mp3 This portion begins at 00:00 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Today on Mind Matters news on the podcast, we’re going to talk about fine-tuning of the universe for life. Scientists know that Earth is is finely tuned for life to come into existence. For example, pronounced atheist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001). Hoyle was a great astronomer, maybe known best for his coining the term, Big…

Mystical dark blue foggy forest with snowflakes.

If You Met Someone in a Dream Every Night… ? Sci-Fi Saturday

In a sci-fi short, a paramedic must confront a question about the nature of reality

“Time is a Place” (2017) by Tim Nackashi (uploaded at DUST November 24, 2018, 7:08 min) Two strangers, a woman and a man, are haunted by a recurring dream they seem to share night after night. Their illusory time together in the dream is more freeing than anything in waking life. She has not told him that in reality, she is a paramedic who discovered his unconscious body at the scene of an accident. Review: The film started out as a mess. It was unclear whether the characters are dead or alive — but, under the circumstances, that must matter. It remains unclear until the very end. But the basic idea is, in principle, intriguing: What if two people share…

Exoplanets with moon

Could “Rogue Planets” Hold the Key to Extraterrestrial Life?

A new paper asks us to think about the possibilities of planets that have been kicked out of a predictable orbit.

A new paper asks us to think about the possibilities of planets that have been kicked out of a predictable orbit: In a new paper, Alberto Fairén from the Center of Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and I look into the possibility that planets wandering through interstellar space could also host life. These “rogue” planets may have been ejected out of their original solar system during the early, chaotic phase of planetary formation. There are two general types of rogue planets: gas giants like Saturn and Neptune, and rocky Earthlike planets. While the chances for life on gas giants is extremely remote, rocky migrating planets could in principle host microbial life. To do that, they would need internal heat from the…

Full moon on desert mountain peaks at sand storm

When the Robot Discovers Nature — Sci-Fi Saturday

On a ruined planet, a dog robot get caught in a time warp

“Genesis” (2020) at DUST May 2, 2021 Constantin Kormann(4:00 min, animated) Our protagonist lands on a foreign planet, finds an alien artifact and travels back into a time, where the planet was covered by a lush forest. Review: The “protagonist” is actually a dog robot who finds itself trapped in a time warp. The big question would, of course, be — why go back to techno-civilization, especially if you are just a dog anyway? Cute. But what happens when the battery runs out? Curiously, we think we should make robots like the animals we know. Think of Boston Dynamics’s controversial police “dogs.” Nature seems to have thought of everything first — an argument, if you like, for intelligent design. Anyway,…

Oumuamua is a mildly active comet, and the first interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.

What Space Object ‘Oumuamua Says About How Science Works

The space object, thought by at least one famed astronomer to be an ET lightsail, prompts thoughts about how scientists decide what to believe

The subtitle of Matthew Bothwell’s wrap-up on ‘Oumuamua is most informative: An alien-made artefact or just interstellar debris? What ʻOumuamua says about how science works when data is scarce. At least one astronomer, Harvard’s Avi Loeb, insisted that ‘Oumuamua must be an “extraterrestrial light sail.” And few suggested that that couldn’t possibly be true. Right. What do we do when we are not sure? Bothwell, author of the forthcoming Invisible Universe, offers some thoughts. W all imagine ET in our own image: Victorians of the late 19th century, living in the era of ambitious engineering, looked at Mars and saw globe-spanning canals – evidence, they believed, of a grand industrial civilisation mirroring their own. In the Cold War 1960s, as…

Coins on a gray table

Why Is Randomness A Good Model, But Not A Good Explanation?

After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science

The previous article I wrote about randomness proved quite controversial. After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science. How can I say randomness is not a scientific explanation? Let me first make a distinction between a model and an explanation. A model shows us how some physical thing operates, but it does not explain the cause of the thing. An explanation, on the other hand, tries to explain the cause. But surely if we can effectively model something with randomness, then randomness must also be part of the causal explanation for the thing? Well, not so fast. Let’s look at how we model randomness with computers. Computers themselves are not random in the slightest.…

Concept of shame and ridicule

Non-Materialist Science Is Wanted — Dead or Alive

Exploring a non-materialist approach to the mind has included a death threat for neurosurgeon Michael Egnor

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In the previous segment, they discussed the way in which epilepsy provides a glimpse into the way the mind is not simply the brain but has powers in its own right. In this segment, Dr. Egnor talks about the problems of being a non-materialist physician in a materialist world — death threats and all. Here is a partial transcript and notes for the 1 hour 44 minute mark to the 1 hour 56 minute mark: Arjuna Das: You said how scientists, if they reject physicalism, it doesn’t help their career. They might get less opportunities or less prestige or whatever… I…

Picture of a young man having an asthma attack

How Much Can Will Power Do Against Nature? – Sci-fi Saturday

Despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang

“Outcast” (2020) at DUST by Royce Adkins (August 16, 2021, 12:29 min) A former super soldier with chronic asthma fights to prove his worth. Review: The film opens with a gritty scene in a hospital where a veteran medic (Rod Emelle) tells a veteran soldier (Aaron) that if he doesn’t start using his asthma meds right, they will kill him quicker than his respiratory problems. Not too many spoilers, one hopes, but despite his career-ending disability, Aaron — as an alternative to accepting life as a bystander — is trying to use his skills to take down a gunrunning gang. His friend Imara (Gail Bean) is wants to dissuade him from the role of lone wolf lawman. As the story…

Six worlds

New Class of “Hycean” Exoplanets May Feature Life

The new James Webb Telescope will enable much clearer resolution for the composition believed necessary for hosting life

A group of Cambridge astronomers, studying the more than 4000 confirmed exoplanets, think that hydrogen-rich planets may host life. These “Hycean” planets are more numerous than planets similar to Earth and are easier to observe, especially through the new James Webb telescope, to be launched later this year. They are thought to be completely covered by oceans and are termed “mini-Neptune water worlds”: Many of the prime Hycean candidates identified by the researchers are bigger and hotter than Earth, but still have the characteristics to host large oceans that could support microbial life similar to that found in some of Earth’s most extreme aquatic environments. These planets also allow for a far wider habitable zone, or ‘Goldilocks zone’, compared to…

Green sprouts on blurred city background, environmental concept

It’s 2075! Our Motto: “Ignorance is Bliss” — Sci-fi Saturday

This animated short asks us to consider a future world in which information is reduced to a sort of haze

“Kernel” at DUST by Olly Skillman-Wilson (August 25, 2021, 5:12 min, animated) The world has become a place where information is tightly filtered and controlled, expelled into the air like a thick smog. Leonard Paisley is an ageing neurobotanist, his life work to preserve the knowledge of the past in his biome. When some equipment malfunctions his commitment is tested. Review: It’s 2075 AD and freedom of the press is not even remembered. Against a background of futuristic skyscrapers, a billboard advises us, “Not Knowing Is a Virtue.” Another that “Ignorance Is Bliss.” And “‘Tis Folly To Be Wise” Well, at least they are not telling us to Love Big Brother Or Else. Except for the fact that the landscape…

Time is running out concept shows clock that is dissolving away into little particles. Black and white wall clock

A Cruel Experiment Plays With Three Lives: Sci-fi Saturday

Rational thought offers no contest, in this minimalist film, to the will to survive or at least get revenge in death

“2-Bullet Solution” at DUST by Matt Mullins and Chris Naylor (July 26, 2021, 3:32 min) 3 Test Subjects, 2 Bullets, 1 Solution Review: It’s a philosophical dilemma of sorts. Three people, two men and a woman, are experimentally trapped in a chamber slowly filling with a fatal gas. They have two minutes, three guns and two bullets. The survivor will be released. This cast list (presumably in order of appearance) gives a sense of utter minimalism, in that they don’t really have names: Stretch – Caitlin HutsonBeard – Andrew DiBartolomeoEdge – Kosey BaskinVoice – Christina RoseHandler – Matt Baxter Discouragingly, no one discusses options like using the bullets to break a lock. The fight scene (over the bullets) seems unrealistic;…

Venus against the background of the sun. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Carl Sagan Institute: Who Can See Us From Outer Space?

Most exoplanets are spotted when they dim a star’s light while crossing it. Earth does the same thing

We’ve all heard of astronomer Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot (Earth from a billion miles away, 1990). But Jaimie Green reminds us at Slate that Sagan (1934–1996) also published a paper in 1993 that looked at Earth from that distance as if it were an exoplanet. What signals would prompt them to suspect life here? That approach is still followed by astronomer and director Lisa Kaltenegger at Cornell University’s Carl Sagan Institute. One question is, where would an intelligent, technologically advanced civilization need to be to see us? Kaltenegger and her collaborators used new data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to figure out which stars have, have had, or will in the next 5,000 years have the right…

Wildfire under transmission power lines

Eminent Historian Niall Ferguson To Speak at COSM 2021

Ferguson’s new book, “Doom: The politics of catastrophe” is considered timely reading in the COVID-19 era

Historian Niall Ferguson, will be speaking at COSM 2021 in Seattle on Doom: The politics of catastrophe (November 11, 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm.) His talk will be based on his new book, Doom (Penguin, 2021), which offers a disturbing but timely thesis: “Disasters are inherently hard to predict. Pandemics, like earthquakes, wildfires, financial crises. and wars, are not normally distributed; there is no cycle of history to help us anticipate the next catastrophe. But when disaster strikes, we ought to be better prepared than the Romans were when Vesuvius erupted, or medieval Italians when the Black Death struck. We have science on our side, after all.” (from the Publisher) But we are not better prepared. Any thoughtful person who…

photocopy button
Bussiness man Hand press button on panel of printer, printer scanner laser office copy machine supplies start concept.

Science Sleuths Catch Authors Using AI Tool for Plagiarism

Odd phrases like “counterfeit consciousness” instead of “artificial intelligence” began appearing in computer science journals, triggering an investigation

The expression “tortured phrases” likely reminds teachers of student essays. Paradoxically, it takes time to develop a “natural” style. But last April, when that sort of language started appearing in computer science journals, some alert researchers suspected that something more serious than mere awkwardness was at work: The researchers could not understand why researchers would use the terms ‘counterfeit consciousness’, ‘profound neural organization’ and ‘colossal information’ in place of the more widely recognized terms ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘deep neural network’ and ‘big data’. Holly Else, “‘Tortured phrases’ give away fabricated research papers” at Nature But they figured it out. Many computer science papers, especially from China, were partly constructed using automated translation and software that may disguise plagiarism. But the software…

escheresque city
Skyscrapers and City. 3d illustration

Quantum Physicist Shows How Consciousness Can Create Reality

In his argument against physicalism (physical nature is all there is), Andersen draws from the 19th-century philosopher Schopenhauer the concept of Will as the basis of all reality

Tim Andersen, principal research scientist at Georgia Tech in general relativity and quantum field theory and author of The Infinite Universe: A First Principles Guide (2020), offers a riff on the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). He argues, with Schopenhauer, that Will is the basis of reality: The key to understanding Will is in examining our own sense of consciousness. We have, in a sense, two levels of consciousness. The first is of experience. We experience a flower’s color and smell. Therefore, we are conscious of it. The second is that we are aware of our consciousness of it. That is a meta-consciousness which we sometimes call reflection. I reflect on my awareness of the flower. It is this second level…

walk into fog
Man with his back walking through the fog street

Is a Science Writer’s “Agnosticism” a Futile Pursuit?

John Horgan, a creative thinker and able writer, is agnostic about quantum mechanics, consciousness, and God. But let’s look at the bases for that.

If science writer John Horgan had merely said that agnosticism is the only sensible stance regarding God, there would be little surprise. That view is over-represented in popular science writing. But he says the same thing about quantum mechanics and consciousness too. Some brief snippets from his article (with brief responses): He’s not happy that quantum mechanics, a well-established branch of science (our computers would not work if it were not real) cannot eliminate the role of the conscious observer: Quantum mechanics Introducing consciousness into physics undermines its claim to objectivity. Moreover, as far as we know, consciousness arises only in certain organisms that have existed for a brief period here on Earth. So how can quantum mechanics, if it’s…

Smart car (HUD) , Autonomous self-driving mode vehicle on metro city road iot concept with graphic sensor radar signal system and internet sensor connect.

Machine World at Its Most Nihilist — Sci-fi Saturday

This very short animated cyberpunk thriller portrays a world of autonomous vehicles where faces are very rare

“Autonomous” (2020) uploaded at DUST by Joe Sill (June 24, 2021, 4:38 min) Animated. An animated cyberpunk thriller centered around a motorcycle gang of traffickers in a world of autonomous vehicles.Yuri and her brother Nyx face off against the Metro Task Force as they transport an important package to a client. Review: This animated (very) shortfilm sketches drug dealing in Detroit in a world of autonomous vehicles. It’s a mad rush on motorcycles to a pier amid sealed robocars, pursued by cops who are not clearly human. It’s certainly a scary and inhuman world. The story ends, as so many real-life ones do, with a tragic waste of life. But there seems no point to it really. “Autonomous” seems to…

The Andromeda Galaxy

Veteran Science Writer Says We Won’t Meet Intelligent Aliens

Not because they are not there but because vast interstellar distances make them unreachable

“It does not matter if intelligent life exists elsewhere. We will never find each other,” says veteran science writer Alex Berezow. He’s not saying they are not out there. He is throwing cold water on our chances of contacting them. Some things, he admits, have changed: Thanks to advances in astrophysics, we now know that there are billions of exoplanets in the Milky Way alone, leading most of the scientific community to conclude that life probably does exist elsewhere in the universe. Those who do not believe so are now considered the kooks. And while alien abductions are still not in the mainstream, UFOs are — so much so that the U.S. intelligence community just issued a report on them. Alex Berezow, “We are…

Crashed Satellite Flying Toward The Earth

A Space Mission to Infinity — Sci-fi Saturday

After the space station module crash, the astronaut finds himself befriended by a friendly but mysterious neighbor. Who is he really?

“Flotando” (2018), uploaded at DUST by director Frankie De Leonardis (August 20, 2021, 7:55): A Russian astronaut awakes on a space station module after a crash. Space debris has left the module severely damaged and isolated. As the astronaut tries to reconnect to the base strange noises turn his attention to the outside. The knocks become closer until a strange character emerges. He’s come to welcome the astronaut. Puzzled, scared, and believing everything to be a hallucination the astronaut tries to focus on his communication efforts, but the character decides to open the hatch and let himself in. The story is about realizing and accepting with a sci-fi tone and a surreal twist. Review: The film is a touch surreal.…

Eextraterrestrial aliens spaceship fly above surreal terrain

Data Analyst Offers 15 Reasons Extraterrestrials Aren’t Seen

He estimates that there should be 100,000 civilizations in our galaxy

Data analyst Yung Lin Ma offers fifteen reasons, including some new to us. He begins by observing, There are about 1 billion stars that can produce an environment similar to the Earth. The environment of the earth does not necessarily have life, and this ratio is lower than 1 in 10,000. The reasoning is that at least in our galaxy, there should be 100,000 civilizations. Then why haven’t we seen even any single one civilization? Yung Lin Ma, “15 Reasons Why We Can’t See Aliens” at Medium (July 14, 2020) So, it’s an active question. Of his fifteen reasons, here are three: 3. Extraterrestrial life does exist, and has visited the earth. It was just a long time ago. Later,…