Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Mind

I think, therefore I make mistakes and change my mind

Daniel Ward writes: Suppose that error could be abolished. What would someone who never makes a mistake be like? There are two very different responses to this question. One is to think of a superhuman, god-like being. The poet Alexander Pope’s line – ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’ – is based on that thought. God might pardon but He cannot Himself make mistakes. Infallibility would seem to go

The illusion of reason

Robert A Burton writes: In wondering what can be done to steer civilization away from the abyss, I confess to being increasingly puzzled by the central enigma of contemporary cognitive psychology: To what degree are we consciously capable of changing our minds? I don’t mean changing our minds as to who is the best NFL quarterback, but changing our convictions about major personal and social issues that should unite but

Feminists never bought the idea of the computational mind set free from its body. Cognitive science is finally catching up

Sally Davies writes: We are shackled to the pangs and shocks of life, wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves (1931), ‘as bodies to wild horses’. Or are we? Serge Faguet, a Russian-born tech entrepreneur and self-declared ‘extreme biohacker’, believes otherwise. He wants to tame the bucking steed of his own biochemistry via an elixir of drugs, implants, medical monitoring and behavioural ‘hacks’ that optimise his own biochemistry. In his personal

If reason exists without deliberation, it cannot be uniquely human

By Justin E H Smith Philosophers and cognitive scientists today generally comprehend the domain of reason as a certain power of making inferences, confined to the thoughts and actions of human beings alone. Like echolocation in bats or photosynthesis in plants, reason is an evolved power, but unlike these, the prevailing theory goes, it emerged exactly once in the history of evolution (porpoises and shrews also echolocate, cyanobacteria photosynthesise). Reason is

Theory of predictive brain as important as evolution — an interview with Lars Muckli

Our brains make sense of the world by predicting what we will see and then updating these predictions as the situation demands, according to Lars Muckli, professor of neuroscience at the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Glasgow, Scotland. He says that this predictive processing framework theory is as important to brain science as evolution is to biology. Horizon magazine: You have used advanced brain imaging techniques to come up with

Nabokov’s experiments with time

Michael Wood writes: Language has many forms of quiet kindness, refusals of stark alternatives. “Never” can mean “not always,” and “impossible” may mean “not now.” Insomnia may mean a shortage of sleep rather than its entire absence, and when Gennady Barabtarlo writes that “Nabokov typically remembered having his dreams at dawn, right before awakening after a sleepless night,” or indeed calls his own book Insomniac Dreams, we are looking not

We develop the capacity to reason before we can speak

The Verge reports: One-year-old babies may not be able to speak, but they are able to think logically, according to new research that shows the earliest known foundation of our ability to reason. Legendary psychologist Jean Piaget believed that we didn’t have logical reasoning abilities until we were seven, but scientists scanned the eyes of 48 babies and found that they’re able to reason through the process of elimination. The

Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?

Frans de Waal asks: are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? Just as attitudes of superiority within segments of human culture are often expressions of ignorance, humans collectively — especially when subject to the dislocating effects of technological dependence — tend to underestimate the levels of awareness and cognitive skills of creatures who live mostly outside our sight. This tendency translates into presuppositions that need to be

Plants, people, and decision-making

Laura Ruggles writes: Plants are not simply organic, passive automata. We now know that they can sense and integrate information about dozens of different environmental variables, and that they use this knowledge to guide flexible, adaptive behaviour. For example, plants can recognise whether nearby plants are kin or unrelated, and adjust their foraging strategies accordingly. The flower Impatiens pallida, also known as pale jewelweed, is one of several species that