Last Sunday, when I was about to wrap up my Red Pills of the Week column, I received a Twitter notification that was both exciting & disturbing at the same time: The Turing test, that technological Rubicon dividing the line between mindless Roombas & German-accented Terminators, had finally been passed! The news read that a computer program designed by a team of Russians, had allegedly succeeded in convincing 33 percent of the judges in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London, that instead of a computer they were chatting with a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine named 'Eugene'.
"Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," said Vladimir Veselov, one of the creators of the programme. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality."
But just as I was in a hurry to order some high-powered LED flashlights & a copy of Robopocalypse the next Monday --the book explains why flashlights would be essential to combat our sylicon-based overlords; also check out this video-- all the online buzzing powered down faster than GlaDOS after taking a beating with a portal gun. The claim, it turns out, was no more real than the cake in Aperture laboratories.
Oh, well. There's always the Zombie Apocalypse, right?
Nevertheless, all this online commotion & the readiness many people showed in accepting the news got me thinking: Why is it that we're so obsessed with the Turing test? Why do we even think it would be a valid assessment of Artificial Intelligence?
It was in 1950 when British mathematician & computer scientist Alan Turing (1912-1954) published Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he posed the question: Can a machine think? Turing answered in the affirmative, but in doing so he pointed out to a bigger conundrum --if a computer could think, how could we tell? Here's where Turing proposed a solution: If a machine could establish a conversation with a person, and that person wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the machine & a human being, then from this person's point of view, the machine was capable of thinking.
We should also point out that there's been several iterations of Turing's test. The original version in fact, originated from the premise of a man & a woman sitting in different rooms, and a 3rd participant acting as the judge, whose job would involve determining the gender of the persons in the other rooms conversing with him through a computer; the trick in the test was that the woman would try to deceive the job in convincing him she was the man --and it doesn't take a computer genius to realize that Turing's concealed homosexuality, was quite likely the reason he chose deception as proof of intelligence.
I was considering these ideas this afternoon, while I was listening to the latest episode of the Skeptiko podcast, in which Alex Tsakiris interviewed Princeton neuroscientist Dr. Michael Graziano, author of the book Consciousness and the Social Brain. As you may probably suspect, Dr. Graziano is a hardcore materialist, and the theory he's trying to elaborate seeks views human consciousness strictly from a biological viewpoint.
Alex Tsakiris: [...]Okay, Dr. Graziano, tell us what’s necessary and sufficient to create consciousness. That would be like a first logic, rationalist kind of thing. What’s necessary and sufficient to create human consciousness?
Dr. Michael Graziano: Well one way to put it, and I have often used this example as it kind of nicely encapsulates our approach. And it is certainly totally different from the perspective that you outlined that I think a lot of people take. So here is an example – I had a friend who was a psychologist and he told me about a patient of his. And this patient had a delusion, he thought he had a squirrel in his head. And that’s a little odd, but people have odd delusions and it’s not that unusual. Anyway, he was certain of it and you could not convince him of it otherwise. He was fixed on this delusion and he knew it to be true. Now, you could tell him that’s illogical and he would say yeah, that’s okay, but there are things in the universe that transcend logic. You could not argue him out of it. So there were kind of two directions you could take in trying to explain this phenomenon. And would be to ask okay, how does his brain produce a squirrel? How did the neurons secrete the squirrel? Now, that would be a very unproductive approach. And another approach would be to say how does his brain construct that self-description? And how does it arrive at such certainty that the description is correct? And how does the brain not know that it’s a self-description? Now, those things you can get at from an objective point of view. You can answer those questions.
And in effect, I think you could replace the word ‘squirrel’ with the word ‘awareness’ and I think that the whole thing is exactly encapsulated. I think almost all approaches to consciousness take the first direction, how does the brain produce a squirrel – it doesn’t.
Herein lies the reason why modern Science has encumbered the Turing test: We should accept a deception from a computer as a sign of intelligence, because our own brains deceive us into thinking WE are conscious! I am a biological robot whose brain is tricking me to believe I'm Red Pill Junkie, and you are a biological robot tricked by your brain into believing a different identity. But it's ALL an illusion as far as modern Neuroscience is concerned, and since computer scientists also assume the brain is nothing but a data processing system, this is the model they're currently working on in order to achieve the Holy Grail of A.I.
But what if they are wrong? What if Alex & many of the researchers he's interviewed on his podcast, are right in pointing out that Consciousness is the ultimate test for materialistic Science, precisely because of its incapacity to adequately quantify & measure consciousness? Ironic, considering how every intellectual achievement, including Science, originates from Mind --the one thing we cannot put into a microscope.
Dr. Graziano & other skeptics might accuse me of being an uncredentialed woo-woo trying to defend a magical belief system, and argue that even though Neuroscience hasn't fully explained the emergence of consciousness in our brain, it doesn't mean it won't do so in the future. I would point those skeptics to the work of Jaron Lanier, a fellow who IMO knows a thing or two about computers --after all, he's the one who coined the term 'virtual reality'-- and who is not only VERY skeptic of the Turing test's efficacy to measure intelligence in an artificial system, but also shares my suspicions that human consciousness cannot be explained away purely from a mechanistic perspective:
But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?
Which is *precisely* what happened with the judges testing the Eugene program. You see, it may be that in our rush to increase our expectations about artificial intelligence, we might have inadvertently lowered our expectations for teenage intelligence --the machines are not getting smarter, 'tis the meatbags who are getting dumber!
So fear not, fellow Coppertops, for even if tomorrow, a year or ten from now, we finally get the news that some geek managed to program a computer that could pass the legendary Turing test, I hardly doubt it would mean Skynet is about to wake up & purge the world from the human infestation.
...But the keep the flashlights handy, just in case.
by Ryan Hurd
There’s new signs of life for the study of dream telepathy.
A compelling 2013 report published by Carlyle Smith, Lifetime Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, found statistically unlikely levels of targeted dream content in two related studies of college students.
These 2 new studies are a welcome addition to a field of inquiry that is often referred to the third rail of psychology. (That’s a choo-choo metaphor: touch it and you’ll die!)
The New Telepathic Dreaming Studies
Both of Smith’s experiments exposed students to a photo of an individual and asked them to try to dream about the problems of that person. So there are sender and receivers, as is traditional in dream telepathy studies. The identity of the senders were unknown, even to the experimenters themselves.
In Experiment 1, the focus was on health problems of the individual in the photo. The study compared 2 dreams that the students submitted before the “incubation” began with 2 dreams collected afterwards.
In Experiment 2, the focus was on life problems of the individual in the photograph. Like the first study, students submitted 2 dreams before they were informed about the aim of the study. Experiment 2 also used an additional control: about half of the students (56 people) looked at a photograph that was unbeknownst to them a computer simulated image–not a real person.
In both studies, the experimental post-incubation groups had many more “hits” than the controls, a hit being an image or concept in the dream that correlated to real problems of the individual in question.
More convincing for me, in experiment 2, the dream content of the control group (who looked at a fictional person’s image) did not change from before and after incubation, where as the experimental group had a large (statistically significant) change (see the graph below).
Carlyle Smith says this about the findings:
The data from these experiments suggests that normal undergraduates were able to have dreams with content that reflected the real-life problems and concerns of an unknown target individual. The content reported by each experimental individual varied somewhat and the focus varied from dreamer to dreamer, but overall, the scores on specified categories were quite significantly different for the target in experiment 2. Equally important was the lack of change in content for the Controls where the target was fictitious.
Parapsychologist Alexander Imich last week became the world's oldest living man (sadly, upon the passing of the previous holder of the title, Arturo Licata). Born in Poland 111 years ago, Imich fought the Bolsheviks in 1918 as a 15-year-old schoolboy, earned a PhD in zoology before then pursuing chemistry as a profession, studied mediums as a psychical researcher in the 1920s and 1930s, was detained in a Soviet labour camp during World War II after fleeing the Nazis, and upon his release (and finding out much of his family had been killed by the Nazi regime) moved to the U.S. in 1952.
Imich has written several journal papers on parapsychological topics and also edited the book Incredible Tales of the Paranormal, published in 1995 (back when he was a youthful 92 years old).
Imich has sadly recently been struggling both with his health, after a fall earlier this year, and also financially (not helped by his lack of close family). He currently lives alone in New York, although as that linked news story reports, he has been befriended by local Jewish people who have made a great effort to help him back on his feet, both literally and metaphorically.
On a sidenote: it's worth pointing out that while Imich now holds the title of world's oldest living man, he's well down the list of the oldest living humans: number 66 actually, with women taking the top 65 spots. Which should make any female parapsychologists feel optimistic about the future at least...
(via David Luke)
Thinking Allowed was an independent TV series hosted by Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, in which he interviewed some of the most radical thinkers in fields on the borders of mainstream science, ranging from Eastern mysticism to UFO abductions. IMO it represents a trailblazing example of what great television can be.
I was first introduced to it by my friend Mike Clelland; as many of you know, Mike has devoted his blog Hidden Experience to explore subjects like the UFO phenomenon, its involvement with a few selected individuals --for reasons we have yet to elucidate-- & psychic channeling as an occasional outcome of such interactions. Adequately enough, the latest clip provided by the Thinking Allowed Youtube channel, deals with the latter subject; it's a segment of an interview with professor Arthur Hastings, who provides a very sobering & cautionary point of view about channeling, and why we should not take the word of incorporeal entities for granted --if that's what we're dealing with-- just because they happen to be communicating to us from 'the other side':
Stay on your guard, & watch out for the Trolliens ;)
A mind-bendingly beautiful piece of visual poetry for you all on this fine spring/autumn day...
Can we sense the future before it happens? That question was at the heart of a set of nine experiments that sparked widespread controversy and debate when Professor Daryl Bem published his results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011. The reason: Bem's results were positive, suggesting that we can in some way do the seemingly impossible, and somehow 'know' (precognition) or 'feel' (presentiment) things before they even occur. The controversy grew even further, however, with widespread coverage in science media outlets of attempted replications from others that failed to find the same astonishing results. A number of scientists and 'skeptics' poured scorn on Bem's experiments, and prominent skeptic James Randi was even moved to award his infamous 'Pigasus Award' to Bem "for his shoddy research that has been discredited on many accounts by prominent critics".
In a previous post I pointed out that this focus on replications with negative results had glossed over the fact that there had also been a number of positive replications, suggesting that there might just be something to Bem's original results. And now, a meta-analysis of 90 experiments which replicated Bem's research, performed in 33 different laboratories (in 14 different countries and involving 12,406 participants), has offered significant support for the theory that humans can indeed sense the future:
The primary question addressed by the meta-analysis is whether the database provides overall evidence for the anomalous anticipation of random future events... the answer is yes: The overall effect size (Hedges’ g) is 0.09, combined z = 6.33, p = 1.2 × 10-10. The Bayesian BF value is 1.2 × 109, greatly exceeding the criterion value of 100 that is considered to constitute “decisive evidence” for the experimental hypothesis.
A subsidiary question is whether independent investigators can successfully replicate Bem’s (2011) original experiments...the answer is again yes: When Bem’s experiments are excluded, the effect size for the replications is 0.07, combined z = 4.25, p = 1.1 × 10-5, and the BF value is 757, which again greatly exceeds the criterion value of 100 for “decisive evidence.”
The meta-analysis paper, co-authored by Daryl Bem, Patrizio E. Tressoldi, Thomas Rabeyron and Michael Duggan, began with a search for all potential replications of Bem's method between the year 2000 and September of 2013. The experiments were then categorized according to the type of effect tested for, the number of participants involved, the statistical techniques needed to measure the effect, whether the study was published through peer-review, and the type of replication (exact, modified, or independently-designed). They found that 51 of the 90 experiments (56.6%) had been published in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings.
But could the positive results have been an outcome of the 'file drawer effect', where mostly positive results were published but negative replications were not - put in the file drawer, so to speak, due to no interesting findings? The authors of the paper did the math, and found that the number of 'missing' experiments needed to reduce the overall effect size to a trivial value was (conservatively) 520. This seems unlikely.
Another possible criticism addressed by the authors is the effect size. While the meta-analysis offered highly significant results, statistically, the actual 'precognitive' effect was very small. But, the authors note, "even very small effects can have both theoretical importance and practical utility":
One frequently cited example is the medical study that sought to determine whether a daily dose of aspirin can prevent heart attacks. The study was discontinued after six years because it was already clear that the aspirin treatment was effective (p < .00001), and it was considered unethical to keep the control group on placebo medication. Even though the study was considered a major medical breakthrough, the size of the aspirin effect is actually quite small (d ≈.07), about one third the size of the presentiment experiments and Bem’s (2011) original experiments and about one half the size of the exact replications in our database.
Skeptics also often raise the lack of an explanatory theory as a problem when it comes to psi results. The authors of the meta-analysis argue, however, "that this is still not a legitimate rationale for rejecting all proffered evidence a priori. Historically, the discovery and scientific exploration of most phenomena have preceded explanatory theories, often by decades or even centuries (e.g., the analgesic effect of aspirin; the antidepressant effect of electroconvulsive therapy; and Maxwell’s field equations of electricity and magnetism, which were formulated centuries after the phenomena were first explored)".
The meta-analysis also revealed possible refinements for future testing. 'Fast-thinking experiments', where the speed of the test reduced conscious cognition, produced more positive results than 'slow-thinking experiments': "every fast-thinking protocol individually achieved a statistically significant effect, with an overall effect size of 0.11 and a combined z greater than 7 sigma. In contrast, the slow-thinking experiments achieved an overall effect size of only 0.03, failing even to achieve a conventional level of statistical significance (p = .20)". According to the authors, "fast-thinking protocols are more likely to produce evidence for psi because they prevent conscious cognitive strategies from interfering with the automatic, unconscious, and implicit nature of psi functioning".
Another discovery (which might well dominate some news reports on this paper) was that the experiments which tested for precognitive detection of erotic stimuli achieved "a larger effect size (0.14), a larger combined z (4.22), and a more statistically significant result (p = 1.2 × 10-5) than any other protocol". The experiments were also the most reliable in producing substantial effect sizes, with 10 of the 11 achieving effect sizes between 0.12 and 0.52 (perhaps notably, the one replication failure in the erotic stimuli group was a study which used a set of erotic photographs "that were much less sexually explicit than those used by Bem and other investigators").
This latest meta-analysis adds to previous data collections which suggest that precognition/presentiment is a natural (if very weak) human ability. Just last month I reported on a meta-analysis of results from seven independent laboratories testing physiological responses to stimuli, that concluded the human body "can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1-10 seconds in the future". And a 1989 meta-analysis of all forced-choice precognition experiments appearing in English-language journals between 1935 and 1977 - 309 experiments conducted by 62 different investigators involving more than 50,000 participants - also found a small but highly significant hit rate (p = 1.1 × 10-9). Both of those meta-analyses also reported that the file-drawer effect was an unlikely explanation, given the number of experiments that would be needed to overturn the positive result.
Other scientists - and skeptics - will no doubt have their say on this paper in due course, which will hopefully bring some clarification to the validity and overall importance of this meta-analysis. From the data presented in it though, it appears that the debate over human precognition and presentiment is a long way from settled. If only we could look into the future to see how this all plays out...
Until then, follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter to keep up with the latest news from the fringes of science and history.
You might also like:
- Scientific Research Suggests We Unconsciously React to Events Up to 10 Seconds Before They Happen
- Retrocausality: Physicists Ponder Whether the Future Can Influence the Past
- Is Precognition Real? Positive Replications of Daryl Bem's Controversial Findings
- Feeling the Future
- Not Feeling the Future: New Bem Replication Fails to Find Evidence of Psi
- Precognition Debate
During the summer of 2012, film-maker Carla MacKinnon would frequently wake to find herself unable to move, deeply afraid and convinced there was someone or something in the room with her. On occasions she would see or hear people around her bed, and one night even woke up to find a giant spider hovering over her.
MacKinnon was suffering from 'sleep paralysis', a term used to describe the experience of waking to find your body paralysed, a crushing pressure on your chest, a feeling of fear or dread, and sometimes also hallucinations (both auditory and visual) of people or even monstrous creatures beside, or on, your bed. It crops up in the history and folklore of many cultures - the modern word 'nightmare' actually has its origins in this experience, with the Old English 'mære' denoting "an evil spirit or goblin in Germanic folklore which rides on people's chests while they sleep".
Inspired by her experience, MacKinnon created Devil in the Room - an "experimental docu-horror" film supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and made as part of an MA in Animation at Royal College of Art:
For more on the folkloric aspects of sleep paralysis, take a look at David J. Hufford's seminal book The Terror That Comes in the Night, and for online information (including a list of resources) check out The Sleep Paralysis Project, which MacKinnon's film is a part of.
For a survey of the experience in lecture format, see also Professor Chris French's presentation "Something Wicked This Way Comes: Causes and Interpretations of Sleep Paralysis":
Do you, or have you, suffered from sleep paralysis? Rodney Ascher, director of the cult documentary Room 237 (about perceived meanings in Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining), is currently making a film about the phenomenon and is looking to talk to people about it:
I've been obsessed with it ever since it used to happen with me (in my case, I saw sort of a living, 3D shadow looming over in me in judgement)... The film is going to be largely built on interviews with people who've had vivid, first-person experiences with it (and have given some serious thought to what's really happening to them) - if anyone wants to share their stories, the easiest way is to contact us via the film's Facebook page.
Plenty of attention being given to a new study with a subject who can apparently have out-of-body experiences (OBEs) on demand:
After a class on out-of-body experiences, a psychology graduate student at the University of Ottawa came forward to researchers to say that she could have these voluntarily, usually before sleep. "She appeared surprised that not everyone could experience this," wrote the scientists in a study describing the case, published in February in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
...The 24-year-old "continued to perform this experience as she grew up assuming, as mentioned, that 'everyone could do it.'" This is how she described her out-of-body experiences: "She was able to see herself rotating in the air above her body, lying flat, and rolling along with the horizontal plane. She reported sometimes watching herself move from above but remained aware of her unmoving “real” body. The participant reported no particular emotions linked to the experience."
An unusual find, wrote the scientists, University of Ottawa researchers Andra M. Smith and Claude Messier - this is the first person to be studied able to have this type of experience on demand, and without any brain abnormalities. Instead of an "out-of-body" experience, however, the researchers termed it a "extra-corporeal experience" (ECE), in part because it lacks the strong emotions that often go hand-in-hand (such as shock & awe, for example).
To better understand what was going on, the researchers conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of her brain. They found that it surprisingly involved a "strong deactivation of the visual cortex." Instead, the experience "activated the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery," such as mental representations of bodily movement.
I'd love to see researchers employing subjects such as this young woman in tests of so-called 'veridical OBEs' - out-of-body experiences in which the OBEr reports accurate details of their surroundings (see for example number one on this list). There have been a number of NDE reports that have included an OBE component during which the 'dead' person 'saw' accurate details that they should not have been able to - such as the one reported by pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Lloyd Rudy. So many in fact that a project has been initiated in which hidden 'targets' have been placed in cardiac rooms in hospitals to see if NDErs can 'see' them - the 'AWARE' study.
Using a conscious, healthy OBEr would have advantages over the AWARE study, not least that the OBE could be produced, on-demand, in a controlled environment (see my book Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife, paperback version here, for discussion of the difficulties involved in the AWARE study). On demand OBEs in a controlled environment - with a healthy person - would also allow for the placing of a more noticeable target (or alternately a number of targets).
On the downside, some might say that an OBE in a healthy person might not be the same thing as an OBE that occurs as the body shuts down, so any negative results would instantly be dismissed (perhaps fairly). But if a positive result was obtained - that is, if a target was identified by the OBEr, as apparently occurred in the 1968 test of 'Miss Z' by Professor Charles Tart - the ramifications for our understanding of human consciousness would be paradigm-shattering.
Multi-step puzzles can be difficult for humans, but what if I told you there was a bird that could solve them on its own?
In this BBC special, Dr. Alex Taylor has set up an eight-step puzzle to try and stump one of the smartest crows he's seen in captivity. They describe the puzzle as "one of the most complex tests of the animal mind ever."...
...This bird, dubbed "007" for its crafty mind, flies into the caged puzzle and spends only seconds analyzing the puzzle before getting down to business. Despite the puzzle's difficulty, the bird only seems to be stumped momentarily. At the end of the puzzle is a food reward, but how he gets there is what will really blow your mind.
Bob Milne is one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, but his talents go further than that - right into the land of amazing. Bob's brain works a little differently to the rest of us, as he can compartmentalise various functions, which allows him to play complex piano pieces while carrying on a conversation. But when Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Betterman decided to investigate Bob's incredible ability, she discovered something even more amazing: he can 'play back' four different symphonies at the same time in his head, and what's more, he says he 'sees' these symphonies being played in his head in three dimensions, and can fly around within this audio-visual space and listen to the music change from different perspectives. Here's an NPR Radiolab feature on Bob Milne and Kerstin Betterman from a couple of years ago that tells the story:
Sometimes you really do wonder what sort of latent abilities we all hold that we might one day all be able to harness.
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