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Philosophy & Science / Gravity: The Popper Problem
« on: March 30, 2020, 11:24:48 pm »
Gravity: The Popper Problem

David Merritt, Astrophysicist and professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology

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The universe is expanding, and Einstein’s theory of gravity makes a definite prediction about how the expansion rate should change over time: it should decrease, since the gravitational attraction between all the matter in the universe continually opposes the expansion.

The first time this prediction was observationally tested, around 1998, it was found to be spectacularly in error. The expansion of the universe is accelerating, not decelerating, and the acceleration has been going on for about six billion years.

How did cosmologists respond to this anomaly? If they adhered to the ideas of philosopher Karl Popper, they would have said: “Our theory of gravity has been conclusively disproved by the observations; therefore we will throw our theory out and start afresh.” In fact, they did something very different: they postulated the existence of a new, universe-filling substance which they called “dark energy”, and endowed dark energy with whatever properties were needed to reconcile the conflicting data with Einstein’s theory.

Philosophers of science are very familiar with this sort of thing (as was Popper himself). Dark energy is an example of what philosophers call an “auxiliary hypothesis”: something that is added to a theory in order to reconcile it with falsifying data. “Dark matter” is also an auxiliary hypothesis, invoked in order to explain the puzzling behavior of galaxy rotation curves.

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Philosophy & Science / Therapy that sticks
« on: March 29, 2020, 05:57:37 am »
Therapy that sticks

Linda Michaels

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Juxtaposed with this mental health crisis, news media and headlines tout the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), explicitly recommended as ‘evidence-based’ and said to work rapidly, especially when combined with drugs such as antidepressants or mood stabilisers. Varieties of CBT apply to a host of different diagnoses: dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) for personality disorder; cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); interpersonal therapy (IPT) for mood disorder. The list goes on: 50 per cent of therapists now define themselves as fitting in the cognitive-behavioural lane, compared with none 50 years ago. People seem to be absorbing these messages with more of us on medication than ever; antidepressant use alone went up 64 per cent from 1999 to 2014. The increase is so steep that an estimated 13 per cent of the US population now take the drugs.

What is wrong with this picture? Why do modern ‘evidence-based’ treatments fail to produce better outcomes? Indeed, why do things seem to be getting worse, with many forms of suffering, even suicide, on the rise?

My conclusion: the biomedical model (favoured by psychiatry) and the short-term, structured therapy model (favoured by psychology) don’t work as well as they should. These treatments seem easy to administer, but is a ‘quick fix’ really what’s called for when addressing complex problems in life? Is it possible that one type of therapy – CBT and its family of treatments – can work for nearly every person and every problem so successfully?

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Why materialists are wrong and the Jedi right, and how panpsychism might revolutionize science.

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In spite of all this, one of the great scientists of the twentieth century - Arthur Eddington - argued that a position remarkably similar to Jedi theology was not only perfectly consistent with modern science, but actually something we might have to reason to believe. Eddington is best known for being the first to offer observational confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In May 1919 he conducted a series of observations of a solar eclipse from the island of Principe off the West Coast of Africa. As the moon covered the sun, Eddington photographed stars visible around its covered edge. On the basis of this he was able to demonstrate that, precisely as Einstein’s theory had predicted, the light from these stars had been bent by the spacetime curvature caused by the mass of the sun.

A decade later, Eddington wrote a book in which, as well as explaining relativity and other developments in recent physics, he defended panpsychism: the view that all matter is infused with consciousness. Like the Jedi knights, Eddington was convinced that there was a spiritual force underlying the workings of the physical universe. In words we can imagine Luke – or Obi Wan before him – using in his Jedi training classes, Eddington put it as follows:

"…our minds are not apart from the world; and the feelings that we have of gladness and melancholy and our yet deeper feelings are not of ourselves alone, but are glimpses of a reality transcending the narrow limits of our particular consciousness…the harmony and beauty of the face of Nature is at root one with the gladness that transfigures the face of man…"

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If physics does not tell us what the nature of physical properties is, then what else gives us this information? Eddington believed that physics is a tool for prediction. Even if we don’t know what “mass” and “force” really are, we are able to recognise them in the world. They show up as readings on our instruments, or otherwise impact on our senses. And by using the equations of physics, such as Newton’s law of gravity, we can predict what’s going to happen with great precision. It is this predictive capacity that has enabled us to manipulate the natural world in extraordinary ways, leading to the technological revolution that has transformed our planet. But it is simply not the job of physics to tell us what the stuff of the universe essentially is. As Stephen Hawking put it, physics doesn’t tell us what “breathes fire into the equations”.

Given that physics tell us nothing of the nature of physical reality, is there anything we do know about it? Are there any clues as to what is going on “under the bonnet” of the engine of the universe? Eddington argued that the only thing we really know about the nature of matter is that some of it has consciousness; we know this because we are directly aware of the consciousness of our own brains:

"We are acquainted with an external world because its fibres run into our own consciousness; it is only our own fibres that we actually know; from these ends we more or less successfully reconstruct the rest, as a palaeontologist reconstructs an extinct monster from its footprint."

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We have no direct access to the nature of matter outside of brains. But the most reasonable speculation, according to Eddington, is that the nature of matter outside of brains is continuous with the nature of matter inside of brains. Given that we have no direct insight into the intrinsic nature of field and particles, it is rather “silly”, argued Eddington, to declare that they have a nature entirely removed from mentality and then to wonder where mentality comes from. On this basis, Eddington concluded that the most simple and parsimonious view consistent with our direct and observational knowledge is some form of panpsychism, according to which the underlying nature the stuff of the physical world is, as Eddington put it, mind stuff.

These ideas of Russell and Eddington from the 1920s have recently been rediscovered in academic philosophy and are causing a great deal of excitement. For decades philosophers and scientists have struggled to understand how physical matter produces consciousness: the subjective inner world of feelings, sensations and experiences. Many are now persuaded that, in broad brushstrokes, Russell and Eddington had the answer. In Eddington’s version, physical science describes matter “from the outside”, providing mathematical models that allow us to predict its behaviour, but in its underlying nature matter is constituted of consciousness. It is consciousness that breathes fire into the equations. The attraction of this view is its capacity to reconcile the reality of consciousness with our scientific understanding of the universe.

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Philosophy & Science / The Illusion of Now: Is time static or fluid?
« on: March 27, 2020, 06:55:23 pm »
The Illusion of Now: Is time static or fluid?

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Past and future are worlds we can never inhabit. We live of necessity in the present. But physicists and philosophers with very different outlooks, from Einstein to Derrida, claim that the present is an illusion. Is time not a river at all, but instead a static dimension? Are we deluded by experience into imagining the present is real? Or are Einstein's spacetime universe, and Derrida's attack on the metaphysics of presence, fundamental errors?

The Panel

Philosopher of science Tim Maudlin joins author of The End of Time Julian Barbour and philosopher and historian of science Emily Thomas to go in search of lost time. Joanna Kavenna hosts.

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Philosophy & Science / Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance
« on: March 23, 2020, 06:54:41 am »
Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

Tomas Pueyo


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Put in another way: the mitigation strategy not only assumes millions of deaths for a country like the US or the UK. It also gambles on the fact that the virus won’t mutate too much — which we know it does. And it will give it the opportunity to mutate. So once we’re done with a few million deaths, we could be ready for a few million more — every year. This corona virus could become a recurring fact of life, like the flu, but many times deadlier.



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  • With a few more weeks, we could get our testing situation in order, and start testing everybody. With that information, we would finally know the true extent of the problem, where we need to be more aggressive, and what communities are safe to be released from a lockdown.
  • New testing methods could speed up testing and drive costs down substantially.

  • We could also set up a tracing operation like the ones they have in China or other East Asia countries, where they can identify all the people that every sick person met, and can put them in quarantine. This would give us a ton of intelligence to release later on our social distancing measures: if we know where the virus is, we can target these places only. This is not rocket science: it’s the basics of how East Asia Countries have been able to control this outbreak without the kind of draconian social distancing that is increasingly essential in other countries.



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If you’re a politician and you see that one option is to let hundreds of thousands or millions of people die with a mitigation strategy and the other is to stop the economy for five months before going through the same peak of cases and deaths, these don’t sound like compelling options.

But this doesn’t need to be so. This paper, driving policy today, has been brutally criticized for core flaws:

They ignore contact tracing (at the core of policies in South Korea, China or Singapore among others) or travel restrictions (critical in China), ignore the impact of big crowds…

The time needed for the Hammer is weeks, not months.

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The three implausible presuppositions of the hard problem

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I deny that the question of the hard problem is sensible, as the presuppositions on which the question rests are not plausible by themselves. I here identify three such implausible presuppositions: first, that consciousness is determined by contents, second that it is cognitive, and third that it can be located in the mind, cognition, brain, body, or world.

If these presuppositions can be replaced by more plausible ones, as I will demonstrate, the question and thus the hard problem itself can be dissolved. In other words, the hard problem is no longer relevant.

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Consciousness, especially as defined by philosophers, is often conceived as the pinnacle of our cognitive abilities. This conception has continued in neuroscience, where consciousness is determined by specific cognitive functions ranging from prediction, access and meta-cognition.

However, we experience ourselves and the world even when we shut down all our cognitive functions. For example, consider meditation, where we detach ourselves from our cognitions, perceptions, and ultimately even our body.

Throughout all of the various layers of detachment, one feature remains consistent: the experience of one’s inner time and space relative to the outer time and space in the world. Consciousness can still persist even if devoid of the contents associated with perception and cognition.

In contrast, if one’s inner time and space can no longer relate to the world’s outer time and space, consciousness will cease to exist. This is the case in anaesthesia, deep sleep (except during dreams), and coma. I therefore conclude that consciousness is temporo-spatial, rather than cognitive.

Isn't this panpsychism or idealism?

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Now to the final presupposition of the hard problem of consciousness. There is a long tradition persisting until now of locating consciousness in the mind, brain, body, or even the whole world. Something can be located in something else, only if it can be isolated as an entity that is distinct from others and thus special.

Taken in this sense, consciousness is supposed to be a special entity that can be isolated and located. Various suggestions have been made in this regard in both philosophy and neuroscience. Consciousness is supposed to be a special mental or physical property, a special neuronal process like integration, access, or globalisation. In the most extreme view, consciousness is supposed to be a special property that permeates the whole world as assumed in panpsychism.

However, any such isolation and location stands counter to the nature of consciousness. We experience the whole world and its various external events in our consciousness which by itself is part of that very same world. Moreover, we experience our own internal thoughts and their contents as part of that wider world. Given such an ecological nature, consciousness cannot be located and isolated at a specific point in time and space in either the brain, body, or world. Instead, it constitutes a relation between all three. Hence, consciousness is relational, rather than isolated and it is ecological, rather than locational: It is based on a world-brain relation, rather than on properties in the mind, brain, body, or world (Northoff 2016, 2018).

...Huh?

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Philosophy & Science / Objects, not brain states, are the answer
« on: March 14, 2020, 10:29:31 pm »
Objects, not brain states, are the answer

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Why does your experience of red feel to you the way it does? Why doesn’t it feel the way your experience of blue does or your experience of anger or a tickle? What explains its subjective character. This is the first dimension of the hard problem: why does your experience subjectively feel this way rather than that?

There is a further question: why are you undergoing a subjective experience at all? Why do the neural events underlying your experience of red have any raw ‘feel’ to them? This is the second dimension of the hard problem.

Representationalism – the view of consciousness I advocate – has a simple, and to my mind compelling, answer to the first question. Your experience of red feels the way it does because it represents the color red. What it is for the experience to feel the way it does just is for it to be an experience representing red. Your experience of blue feels different because it represents a different color. The experience of red could not feel the way the experience of blue feels because if it did, it wouldn’t be the experience of red at all but rather the experience of blue.

This is the view introspection seems to support. Turn your attention inwards as you experience red. What do you find? Obvious answer: the color red. That is what makes your experience feel as it does.  Nothing more (and nothing less).

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How does the experience of red represent red? Answer: by itself being a brain state with the natural function of indicating the presence of the color red. Compare: the heart has as its natural function to pump blood and certain neuronal cells (known as edge detector cells) have as their natural function to indicate the presence of an edge in the visual field. On this view, you can’t really discover the ways our experiences feel by peering among the neurons. That’s the wrong place to look. You have to look rather at what the neural states represent.

As for the second dimension to the hard problem, that is not answered by the reflections above. Which is not to say that there is no answer, I discuss this more complicated issue in in my forthcoming Oxford University Press book, Vagueness and the Evolution of Consciousness: Through the Looking Glass.

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Philosophy & Science / There's more to matter than what it does
« on: March 14, 2020, 10:27:38 pm »
There's more to matter than what it does

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Panpsychists run the explanation in the other direction. Rather than trying to explain experiences in terms of brain states, they explain brain states in terms of experiences. According to panpsychism, all that really exists are forms of consciousness: simple forms of consciousness at the micro-level, more complex forms of consciousness in human and animal brains. The view is not that these forms of consciousness exist alongside physical properties, but rather that physical properties just are forms of consciousness. The micro-level properties studied by physics are very simple forms of consciousness; the complex brain states studied by neuroscience are complex forms of consciousness.

How can we make sense of this idea? The properties studied by physics – mass, spin, charge, etc. – don’t seem to be forms of consciousness, and people studying physics are not aware that they’re learning about forms of consciousness. The central insight that has inspired the recent resurgence of interest in panpsychism is that physical science isn’t really in the business of telling us what physical properties are, only what they do. For example, physics tells us what electrical charge does – opposite charges attract, like charges repel – but not what it is. Neuroscience characterises brain states in terms of their chemical components, which chemistry characterises in terms of their physical components, which physics ultimately characterises in terms of behaviour. Taken as a whole, physical science gives us no clue as to what physical properties really are, which allows for the possibility that they might turn out to be forms of consciousness.

Isn't this Idealism?

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The hard problem doesn't exist; it's just a silly internal contradiction of metaphysical materialism

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Where does this idea of using quantities to define the world come from? It’s not difficult to see: quantities are very useful to describe the relative differences of the contents of perception. For instance, the relative difference between red and blue can be compactly described by frequency values: blue has a higher frequency than red, so we can quantify the visual difference between the two colours by subtracting one frequency from the other. But frequency numbers cannot absolutely describe a colour: if you tell a congenitally blind person that red is an electromagnetic field vibration of about 430 THz, the person will still have no idea of what it feels like to see red. Quantities are useful in describing relative differences between qualities already known experientially, but they completely miss the qualities themselves.

And here is where materialism incurs its first fatal error: it replaces the qualitative world of colours, tones and flavours—the only external world we are directly acquainted with—with a purely quantitative description that structurally fails to capture any quality whatsoever. It mistakes the usefulness of quantities in determining relative differences between qualities for—absurdly—something that can replace the qualities themselves.

Next, materialism attempts to deduce the contents of consciousness from the matter in our brain. In other words, it tries to recover the qualities of experience from mere quantities that, by deliberate definition, leave out everything that has anything to do with qualities in the first place. The self-defeating nature of this manoeuvre is glaringly obvious once one actually understands the magic mainstream materialism is trying to perform. This is precisely why the hard problem isn’t just hard, but impossible by construction. Yet, instead of realising this, we get lost in conceptual confusion and hope to, one day, heroically prevail against the hard problem. It would be an inspiring story of human resolve if it weren’t so embarrassingly silly.

In summary, from within their consciousness materialists fantasise about a world of matter putatively outside consciousness. This imagined world is, by deliberate definition, incommensurable with the qualities of conscious experience to begin with. Then, in a majestic feat of conceptual masochism, materialists set out to reduce the contents of consciousness to such abstract… well, content of consciousness. This is the tragicomic background story of the hard problem; a problem that need not be solved as much as seen through in all its gloriously self-defeating contradictoriness.

“But what is the alternative?” I hear you ask. If matter is a self-defeating concept, how can we explain the fact that we all seem to inhabit a common external world, whose dynamisms are clearly independent of our own conscious inner life?

First of all, let us immediately acknowledge the empirically obvious: there is a world beyond and independent of our individual consciousness; a world that we all inhabit. And, alas, we clearly can’t change how this world works by a mere act of individual conscious volition. But to acknowledge this does not require the bankrupt notion of matter outside consciousness. It only requires a transpersonal consciousness within which our individual consciousnesses are immersed....

Transpersonal Consciousness sounds a lot like Physicalism or Theism...

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Philosophy & Science / Why Hasn't Evolution Invented the Wheel?
« on: March 13, 2020, 09:55:06 pm »
How Biological Design Differs from Human Design

Carlos Perez

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    Dave Ackley (Well known for Boltzmann machines) proposes “Robust first computing” as a solution to this brittleness. Ackley challenges the underlying assumptions of conventional design which he calls “the iron grip of correctness”. He argues for a very different architecture that is not based on strict correctness but rather is inspired by the messy designs found in biology. Strict correctness maximizes the consequences of failure. Ackley argues for an alternative architecture that favors “strict indefinite scalability” where you have to give up on global hardware determinism. He calls this “living computation”, where best effort computation is favored over correctness. Correctness becomes more like an ‘ility’ than a requirement. His architecture flips the design goals such that systems must be as robust as possible, followed by correctness and then efficient as necessary.

What is desperately needed is technology that supports organic intelligence. Fortunately, we are seeing the primordial emergence of such technology. This technology is known as Deep Learning. Deep Learning captures the robustness of biological evolution and combines it with the creativeness of virtual design exploration."

This seems overly optimistic to me...

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What Would Happen If Everyone Truly Believed Everything Is One?

"Research suggests a belief in oneness has broad implications for psychological functioning and compassion for those outside of our immediate circle."

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Despite the prevalence of this belief, there has been a lack of a well validated measure in psychology that captures this belief. While certain measures of spirituality do exist, the belief in oneness questions are typically combined with other questions that assess other aspects of spirituality, such as meaning, purpose, sacredness, or having a relationship with God. What happens when we secularize the belief in oneness?

In a series of studies, Kate Diebels and Mark Leary set out to find out. In their first study, they found that only 20.3% of participants had thought about the oneness of all things "often" or "many times", while 25.9% of people "seldom" thought about the oneness of all things, and 12.5% of people "never" had thought about it.

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It might be beneficial for people all across the political spectrum to recognize and hold in mind a belief in oneness even as they are asserting their values and political beliefs. Only having "compassion" for those who are in your in-group, and vilifying or even becoming violent toward those who you perceive as the out-group, is not only antithetical to world peace more broadly, but is also counter-productive to political progress that advances the greater good of all humans on this planet.

I also think these findings have important implications for education. Even if some adults may be hopeless when it comes to changing their beliefs, most children are not. Other beliefs-- such as a belief that intelligence can learn and grow ("growth mindset")-- are extraordinarily popular in education these days. However, I wonder what the implications would be if all students were also explicitly trained to believe that we are all part of the same fundamental humanity, actively showing students through group discussions and activities how we all have insecurities and imperfections, and how underneath the superficial differences in opinions and political beliefs, we all have the same fundamental needs for connection, purpose, and to matter in this vast universe.

Perhaps now, more than ever in the course of human history, we would benefit more from a oneness mindset.

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What is the Historical Study of Science and Magic Good for?

Andreas Sommer

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Even though I was explicitly writing as a historian, I was perhaps a little light on actual history, at least concerning the periods we typically look at here on Forbidden Histories. In fact, I only gave a couple of examples to illustrate typical Enlightenment responses to reported ‘spirit-seership’ and briefly mentioned studies of hallucinations and apparitions of the dead in non-pathological populations by William James and English colleagues in the outgoing nineteenth century.

The remainder of the short piece is mainly concerned with relatively recent medical findings concerning constructive functions of certain hallucinations and ‘mystical’ experiences. Whereas previous generations of medics have regarded hallucinations, apparitions of the dead and similar experiences as inherently pathological and undesirable, these views began to be drastically modified in the early 1970s with new research on so-called ‘hallucinations of widowhood’.

From then on, it seemed like friendly ghosts and otherworldly visions were gradually making an entry into the mainstream medical literature not only in the shape of comforting visitations from the departed in widowhood, but also in often profoundly moving end-of-life experiences in palliative and hospice care. At around the same time, mystical experiences sometimes occurring during close brushes with death began to be recognized by mainstream medicine as often having constructively transformative effects. Not least, similar but psychedelically induced (rather than spontaneously occurring) experiences have been shown to be effective in the treatment of severe conditions including treatment-resistant depressions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Following a summary of these clinical revisions, I touched a point that’s not usually raised: Questions of the ultimate reality of spirits and ‘magic’ aside, if otherworldly experiences can have constructive and even therapeutic functions at least for a part of humanity, could it be harmful to follow blindly the outdated historical standard narrative of Western modernity...

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How Brain Scientists Forgot That Brains Have Owners

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John Krakaeur, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has been asked to BRAIN Initiative meetings before, and describes it like “Maleficent being invited to Sleeping Beauty’s birthday.” That’s because he and four like-minded friends have become increasingly disenchanted by their colleagues’ obsession with their toys. And in a 2017 paper that’s part philosophical treatise and part shot across the bow, they argue that this technological fetish is leading the field astray. “People think technology + big data + machine learning = science,” says Krakauer. “And it’s not.”

He and his fellow curmudgeons argue that brains are special because of the behavior they create—everything from a predator’s pounce to a baby’s cry. But the study of such behavior is being de-prioritized, or studied “almost as an afterthought.” Instead, neuroscientists have been focusing on using their new tools to study individual neurons, or networks of neurons. According to Krakauer, the unspoken assumption is that if we collect enough data about the parts, the workings of the whole will become clear. If we fully understand the molecules that dance across a synapse, or the electrical pulses that zoom along a neuron, or the web of connections formed by many neurons, we will eventually solve the mysteries of learning, memory, emotion, and more. “The fallacy is that more of the same kind of work in the infinitely postponed future will transform into knowing why that mother’s crying or why I’m feeling this way,” says Krakauer. And, as he and his colleagues argue, it will not.

That’s because behavior is an emergent property—it arises from large groups of neurons working together, and isn’t apparent from studying any single one. You can draw parallels with the flocking of birds. Biologists have long wondered how they manage to wheel about the skies in perfect coordination, as if they were a single entity. In the 1980s, computer scientists showed that this can happen if each bird obeys a few simple rules, which dictate their distance and alignment relative to their peers. From these simple individual rules, collective complexity emerges.

But you would never have been able to predict the latter from the former....

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The lure of ‘cool’ brain research is stifling psychotherapy

Allen Frances

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The more we learn about genetics and the brain, the more impossibly complicated both reveal themselves to be. We have picked no low-hanging fruit after three decades and $50 billion because there simply is no low-hanging fruit to pick. The human brain has around 86 billion neurons, each communicating with thousands of others via hundreds of chemical modulators, leading to trillions of potential connections. No wonder it reveals its secrets only very gradually and in piecemeal fashion.

Genetics offers the same baffling complexity. For instance, variation in more than 100 genes contributes to vulnerability to schizophrenia, with each gene contributing just the tiniest bit, and interacting in the most impossibly complicated ways with other genes, and also with the physical and social environment. Even more discouraging, the same genes are often implicated in vulnerability to multiple mental disorders – defeating any effort to establish specificity. The almost endless permutations will defeat any easy genetic answers, no matter how many decades and billions we invest.

The NIMH has boxed itself into a badly unbalanced research portfolio. Playing with ‘cool’ brain and gene research toys trumps the much harder and less intellectually rewarding task of helping real people.

Contrast this current NIMH failure with a great success story from NIMH’s distant past...

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Philosophy & Science / Semantic Apocalypse in Space?
« on: March 03, 2020, 02:16:39 am »
Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space

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In one article in Futures, which was inspired by political scientist Daniel Deudney’s forthcoming book Dark Skies, I decided to take a closer look at this question. My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall.

Consider what is likely to happen as humanity hops from Earth to Mars, and from Mars to relatively nearby, potentially habitable exoplanets like Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. Each of these planets has its own unique environments that will drive Darwinian evolution, resulting in the emergence of novel species over time, just as species that migrate to a new island will evolve different traits than their parent species. The same applies to the artificial environments of spacecraft like “O’Neill Cylinders,” which are large cylindrical structures that rotate to produce artificial gravity. Insofar as future beings satisfy the basic conditions of evolution by natural selection—such as differential reproduction, heritability, and variation of traits across the population—then evolutionary pressures will yield new forms of life.

But the process of “cyborgization”—that is, of using technology to modify and enhance our bodies and brains—is much more likely to influence the evolutionary trajectories of future populations living on exoplanets or in spacecraft. The result could be beings with completely novel cognitive architectures (or mental abilities), emotional repertoires, physical capabilities, lifespans, and so on.

In other words, natural selection and cyborgization as humanity spreads throughout the cosmos will result in species diversification. At the same time, expanding across space will also result in ideological diversification. Space-hopping populations will create their own cultures, languages, governments, political institutions, religions, technologies, rituals, norms, worldviews, and so on. As a result, different species will find it increasingly difficult over time to understand each other’s motivations, intentions, behaviors, decisions, and so on. It could even make communication between species with alien languages almost impossible. Furthermore, some species might begin to wonder whether the proverbial “Other” is conscious. This matters because if a species Y cannot consciously experience pain, then another species X might not feel morally obligated to care about Y. After all, we don’t worry about kicking stones down the street because we don’t believe that rocks can feel pain. Thus, as I write in the paper, phylogenetic and ideological diversification will engender a situation in which many species will be “not merely aliens to each other but, more significantly, alienated from each other.”

But this yields some problems. First, extreme differences like those just listed will undercut trust between species. If you don’t trust that your neighbor isn’t going to steal from, harm, or kill you, then you’re going to be suspicious of your neighbor. And if you’re suspicious of your neighbor, you might want an effective defense strategy to stop an attack—just in case one were to happen. But your neighbor might reason the same way: she’s not entirely sure that you won’t kill her, so she establishes a defense as well. The problem is that, since you don’t fully trust her, you wonder whether her defense is actually part of an attack plan. So you start carrying a knife around with you, which she interprets as a threat to her, thus leading her to buy a gun, and so on. Within the field of international relations, this is called the “security dilemma,” and it results in a spiral of militarization that can significantly increase the probability of conflict, even in cases where all actors have genuinely peaceful intentions.

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