Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagDaniel Dennett

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Concept Of Open Mind

New Theory of Mind Offers More Information, Less Materialism

First, let’s begin by noting a remarkable fact: Panpsychism seems to have triumphed in the area of theories of consciousness.

At Nautilus, evolutionary biologist Tam Hunt asks us to consider the “General Resonance Theory of Consciousness,” which he has been developing with psychologist Jonathan Schooler — “a framework with a panpsychist foundation. It may, he thinks, “at least in theory, provide more complete answers to the full array of questions the hard problem of consciousness poses.” Hunt’s quite clear about the panpsychism (the view that everything in the universe participates in consciousness): Since I came up in philosophy, rather than neuroscience or psychology, for me the easy part was deciding the philosophical orientation. Schooler and I duked it out over whether we should adopt a materialist, idealist, panpsychist, or some other position on our way to a complete answer. I…

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Empty old opera gala theater stage and red velvet curtains

How Philosopher John Locke Turned Reality Into Theatre

His “little theater in the mind” concept means that you can’t even know that nature exists. It may just be a movie that’s being played in front of your eyes

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In this segment, they discuss the way in which theories of perception that began in the early modern era (17thcentury on) led to doubt about our ability to perceive reality. Here is a partial transcript and notes for the forty-seven to fifty-seven minute mark: The Cartesian theater of the mind Arjuna Das: This is one of [the Vedic] arguments against the brain explaining consciousness. By the time it reaches the end stages of its processing, you have about 20 pixels worth of data. So the information that comes from your senses gives you reference points and then your sensors actually are…

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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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Science Journalist: No Hype. Consciousness Is a HARD Problem!

Michael Hanlon reflected on the many futile efforts to “solve” consciousness

British science journalist Michael Hanlon (1964–2016), co-author with Tracey Brown of In the Interests of Safety (2014), had some sobering things to say about the trivial pursuit of an easy theory of consciousness. Considering materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett and less materialist philosopher David Chalmers (who coined the term the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”), he reflects, Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Daniel Dennett wrote that: ‘Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery.’ A few years later, Chalmers added: ‘[It] may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.’ They were right then and, despite the tremendous scientific advances since, they are still right today. I do not think that the…

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Neurons electrical pulses. Interconnected neurons with electrical pulses.

How a Materialist Philosopher Argued His Way to Panpsychism

Galen Strawson starts with the one fact of which we are most certain — our own consciousness

In 2018, science writer Robert Wright interviewed physicalist philosopher Galen Strawson (pictured) who, in a long conversation, explained the logical steps by which he — a philosopher who holds that nature is all there is and that everything is physical — also came to believe that consciousness underlies everything. Wright published a long excerpt from the discussion in June 2020, in which Strawson explains his reasoning. Wright starts things off by noting that “In recent years more and more philosophers seem to have embraced panpsychism—the view that consciousness pervades the universe and so is present, in however simple a form, in every little speck of matter.” Indeed, even publications like Scientific American have run panpsychist opinion pieces in recent years.…

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3d rendered medically accurate illustration of the human cell anatomy

A New Theory Links Consciousness to Bioelectricity

Consciousness as a function of bioelectric fields? That’s a remarkable idea because it includes the notion that our individual cells are conscious

Bioelectricity is the electricity produced by living organisms as they go about the business of moving, breathing, digesting, etc. Bioelectric currents differ from electric currents that power machines because they consist of ions (molecules that carry an electric charge) rather than electrons. (Encyclopedia.com). But it is still electricity. So what’s the link with consciousness? Evolutionary biologist and lawyer Tam Hunt argues, Nature seems to have figured out that electric fields, similar to the role they play in human-created machines, can power a wide array of processes essential to life. Perhaps even consciousness itself. A veritable army of neuroscientists and electrophysiologists around the world are developing steadily deeper insights into the degree that electric and magnetic fields—“brainwaves” or “neural oscillations”—seem to…

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Futuristic design of an elevator cabin with mirrors with neon illumination and metal panels. Modern elevator design. Reflection to infinity.

The Infinity Mirror Trap: Part 2: The Thought Determinism Paradox

The infinity mirror experience shows that thought determinism cannot explain all human thoughts

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how the belief that “every human thought is an illusion” proves empty and powerless when trying to account for the infinity mirror experience. Part 2 here puts another view held widely by science-trained people, materialism, to the same mirror test. Materialism is the view that everything we observe results from the interplay of matter and energy. Under materialism, each human’s every thought is produced by electrochemical events in the brain. As Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence pioneer, wrote in Society of Mind (1988), “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws and a purely random set of accidents.” Philosopher…

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Spiral Profile

Toward a Serious Scientific Theory of Consciousness

Quantum physics arises from the fact that when we do not observe a particle, it can be in two different places at once, such that it interacts with itself

Consciousness is the ultimate hard problem of philosophy of science. As of today, there is absolutely no scientific solution to the problem. The nature of consciousness seems ineffable: first person experience appears to be a completely different category of existence than objective externaldescription. This dilemma has led philosophers such as Daniel Dennett to use the ultimate solution: deny the problem exists. Unfortunately, that solution never worked for me at school. The objective reality of bad grades is quite hard to deny. Yet, we need not resort to Daniel Dennett’s ultimate solution. There are concrete things we can say about consciousness if we use the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics and the computer science concept of Kolmogorov complexity. Quantum physics…

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Cell abstract concept. Microorganisms under microscope

Are Our Minds Just an Extension of the Minds of Our Cells?

A prominent philosopher and a well-known biologist make the case, offering an illustration

Naturalism, the idea that physical nature is all there is, can lead us down some strange paths. In the words of prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett and prominent biologist Michael Levin, both of Tufts University, the road to “biology’s next great horizon” is the attempt to “understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones).” They think that the principle of natural selection acting on random mutations can create everything, including minds: Thanks to Charles Darwin, biology doesn’t ever have to invoke an ‘intelligent designer’ who created all those mechanisms. Evolution by natural selection has done – and is still doing – all that refining and focusing and differentiating work. We’re all just physical mechanisms made of…

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Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens Family Cooking Animal Meat over Bonfire and then Eating it. Tribe of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers Wearing Animal Skins Eating in a Dark Scary Cave at Night

Did the Human Mind Originate in Telling Ourselves Stories?

A philosopher and writer tries to account for the jump from animal to human by wholly natural means
Philosopher Keith Frankish melds linguist Daniel Dor’s ideas with philosopher Daniel Dennett’s to come up with a revealingly circular theory. Read More ›
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Pinball chute

How Can Mere Products of Nature Have Free Will?

Materialists don’t like the outcome of their philosophy but twisting logic won’t change it

Although most compatibilists have a more or less materialist view of nature, they find it impossible to shake the conviction that free will is real.

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Hoodie with smoke in front of face

Has Science Shown That Consciousness Is Only an Illusion?

Using clever analogies, Philosopher Daniel Dennett argues that consciousness is all smoke and mirrors
British philosopher Papineau recommends taking Dennett’s theories “with a pinch of salt.” American essayist David Bentley Hart is less charitable: “Daniel Dennett’s latest book marks five decades of majestic failure to explain consciousness” Read More ›
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Can a Game Prove That Computers Could Really Think?

Philosopher Daniel Dennett thinks so. Let's apply Occam's Razor and see
While I agree with Dennett that Occam’s Razor shouldn’t be used overzealously, we shouldn’t be too reluctant to use it either. The reason why Dennett rejects Occam’s Razor in the Game of Life is that if he didn’t, then nothing in the Game of Life would be capable of possessing cognitive states. Read More ›