Nature is so predictable. Or is it? On Monday, August 21, 2017, thousands will travel to see the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979. Peering back into the minds of our ancestors, we often recount ancient eclipse memories as omens of chaos.Continue reading
The Matrix made all of us ask the same disturbing questions: How do I know that the world I see, hear, and touch is real? Can I prove that I’m not actually in a pod created by machines bent on harvesting my bioelectricity?Continue reading
Is consciousness everywhere? Is it a basic feature of the Universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea – panpsychism as it is known – might sound like New Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it’s now a hot topic in philosophy of mind.
Common sense tells us that only living things have an inner life. Rabbits and tigers and mice have feelings, sensations and experiences; tables and rocks and molecules do not. Panpsychists deny this datum of common sense. According to panpsychism, the smallest bits of matter – things such as electrons and quarks – have very basic kinds of experience; an electron has an inner life.Continue reading
In Part II of this series, we considered artificial intelligent in the context of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel and Stanley Kubrik’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In Space Odyssey, intelligence is arguably seen as an end in-and-of itself, rather than a means to an end. Flowers for Algernon, a short story later turned into a novel by author Daniel Keyes, questions that assumption while considering the ethical implications of artificially manipulating a person’s intelligence.
The protagonist of Flowers for Algernon is Charlie Gordon, a janitor who begins the story with intellectual disability, or mental retardation as it was referred to at the time when Keyes wrote the story. Gordon’s intellectual disability is a result of phenylketonuria, a real life metabolic disorder resulting from mutations of the gene encoding phenylalanine hydroxylase, an enzyme that breaks down the amino acid phenylalanine. An inability to metabolize this amino acid causes its toxic build up in the brain, often resulting in a low IQ and other problems, such as mental disorders.
In our previous post, we considered the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in the context of a thought experiment: a thinking tool used by scientists and philosophers to reframe an unintuitive problem in a new, more familiar context.
Another great thought experiment of the 1960s is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Developed in parallel as both a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and a film by Stanley Kubrick, Space Odyssey is a story about the evolution of humanity and intelligence. Beginning with the invention of tool use in Africa, the story asks how intelligence might continue to evolve after humans develop sophisticated technology. Both the novel and the film follow astronaut Dave Bowman on his journey to the Outer Solar System guided by HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the spaceship and is responsible for the well being of the crew.
Let’s imagine something crazy.
What if each person in China was ordered to simulate a neuron in a brain, making an enormous “China brain?” Every participant in this grand experiment would be given a two-way radio to communicate with other people, similar to how neurons talk to each other. Some people play the role of “effector neurons,” which control parts of a giant robot, just as motor neurons in our nervous system control bodily movements.
Basically, imagine that the entire nation of China became a giant robot’s brain. What might happen?
Would you trust a memory if it felt as real as all your others? And other people confirmed they remember it, too? What if the memory turned out to be false?Continue reading
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. Professor Freeman is enjoying the Southern California weather on Professor Domino’s patio.
Domino: Will it be Coke or Pepsi, Dr. Freeman?
Freeman: That’s an easy choice, Dr. Domino.Continue reading
Last month, astronomers announced the prediction of a new giant planet in our solar system dubbed Planet IX, a genuine ninth planet with ten times the mass of Earth. The announcement lead to some confusion on the Internet as to the whether the planet had actually been discovered. In fact, no direct observation of this planet has been made. Rather, the planet has been predicted by a model, a simplified description of a system which often incorporates hypothetical elements to explain the variance in data. Because many models use equations to describe a system, a model can often be thought of as a theory with a mathematical backbone.Continue reading
“A barber (who is a man) shaves all and only those men who do not shave themselves. Does he shave himself?”
If you can’t solve the above riddle, don’t worry — nobody can. Continue reading
Some questions cannot be addressed by science. Like parallel universes, the consciousness of others is not something that can be directly observed, measured, or experienced. Rene Descartes famously said,
“I think, therefore I am.“
a declaration that only knowledge of one’s own consciousness is absolute. You assume that friends and neighbors have subjective, internal experiences similar to your own. And yet, you will never know that these individuals are not mindless automatons, behaving in a manner similar to yourself yet lacking conscious experience.Continue reading