The Hard Problem of Life

Life and consciousness are problems allegedly so hard that no amount of scientific progress can ever solve them.

Are People Naturally Scientific?

Some social and developmental psychologists have claimed that people—even children—naturally think like scientists. I find this claim implausible because: people are naturally religious rather than scientific; everyday thinking frequently deviates from scientific reasoning; and science is a relatively recent cultural development.

Should People Fear Artificial Intelligence?

Once superintelligence comes about because computers acquire and surpass human-level intelligence, it may turn out to have interests and actions that run counter to those of humans, to our detriment and possibly even our demise. But despite advances in AI, computers are still very limited compared to humans.

Explaining Social Change

A new approach to explaining social change needs to combine recent theories about the brain processes responsible for cognition and emotion with understanding of social communication that is both verbal and non-verbal.

Consciousness Is a Brain Process

Debate continues on whether consciousness operates in brains, in non-material souls, or in anything capable of integrating information. Rapid progress is being made on the neural mechanisms responsible for consciousness.

Is Human Thinking Optimal?

Philosophy and psychology should abandon assumptions that human minds are at all optimal or rational, and instead concentrate on identifying the neural mechanisms that make us good at but far from perfect for remembering, forming beliefs, making decisions, using language, and pursuing happiness.

How to Analyze Concepts: What Is Intelligence?

Complex concepts like intelligence are rarely amenable to strict definitions. But they can be informatively characterized by specifying exemplars (standard examples), typical features, and explanations.

Hard Decisions

Understanding decision making as a psychological process of emotional coherence provides a better explanation of why people often get so paralyzed by crucial decisions, which is mysterious on the economic model of maximizing expected utility.

Believing What Scares You

Fear-driven inference occurs when people acquire beliefs with little evidence because the beliefs scare them. David Nussbaum and I propose that the mechanism underlying fear-driven inference is gut overreaction, which involves an ongoing feedback loop between judgment and emotional response.

What Is the Self?

Your self is not an immortal soul or a mere fiction, but a system of social, psychological, neural, and molecular mechanisms.

This Is Your Brain on Empathy

Empathic understanding of other people's emotions can result from an automatic mode based on mirror neurons and emotional contagion by facial and bodily mimicry, and also from a deliberate mode based on verbal descriptions and analogical reasoning.

What Is Free Will?

Human actions that result from complex neural processes of intention, emotion, and consciousness are at least freeish, even if they are not produced by the traditional kind of free will.

How Accurate Are People’s Beliefs About Psychology?

Because people are largely ignorant about how their minds work, psychology and philosophy of mind need to go beyond introspection, intuitions, thought experiments, and surveys.

Can a Thermostat Have Beliefs?

New thermostats are capable of sophisticated forms of inference, so it is worth considering whether they have beliefs.

Is Consciousness a Property of Everything in the Universe?

Panpsychism claims that consciousness belongs to everything, not just people, but it is implausible for many reasons. Consciousness is an emergent property of brains resulting from several neural mechanisms.

Why Good Intentions Often Fail

Why is there often a gap between the intentions of people like Rob Ford and their actions? My radical view, based on a new model of how intentions in the brain lead to action, is that there is no free will because there is no will.

How to Write Productively

Tips for writing productively include: conform to your body rhythms, have a daily quota, produce outlines, expect multiple drafts, read just in time, know your audience, revise well, and backup your work.

The Origins of Morality

The origins of morality lie in a combination of brain and social processes that support caring, understanding, and social learning.

The Extended Breath

The extended mind hypothesis claims that it is a mistake to identify thinking with brain processes. Analogously, we argue that breathing should not be identified with lung processes.

Emergence in Social Groups and in Brains

A system such as the current U. S. Congress is demergent rather than emergent in that the interactions of parts prevent the whole from having valuable properties.

What is Time?

In response to students’ questions about whether time is real and time travel is possible, I’ve been reading what physicists and biologists have to say. My conclusions are that time (as a system of relations among events) is real, and that time travel is implausible.

Better Than Resilient – Prosilient

Resilience is important in many spheres of life, from personal psychology to ecology and economics. It’s important to be resilient and bounce back from life’s difficulties, but it’s even better to bounce forward and be “prosilient”.

Karma—What Goes Around Comes Around?

The idea of karma is used to mean that good deeds will be rewarded with good results, with the opposite for bad deeds. But like fate and destiny, the idea of karma is not based on any good evidence.

The New Synthesis in Cognitive Science

Chris Eliasmith's amazing book, How to Build a Brain, provides a new way of thinking about how brains make minds and synthesizes the major approaches to cognitive science.

Irregular Emotions

Bertrand Russell devised a word game he called “irregular verbs” with examples like: I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pigheaded fool. These constructions provide excellent illustrations of the varying emotional associations of words.

What are Values?

Values in science and technology are mind-brain processes that combine cognition and emotion, and they can be objective if they reflect human needs.

What Is Evidence?

Medicine, psychology, and even philosophy should be based on evidence that is reliable, intersubjective, repeatable, robust, and causally correlated with the world.

Why Memes Are a Bad Idea

Memes are bad ideas because of the substantial differences between biological and cultural evolution. The lumping of all cultural entities together as memes neglects the variety and complexity of mental representations. The processes by which mental representations are generated and selected are very different from the ones that operate in biological evolution.

Motivated Ignorance

People succumb to motivated ignorance when their goals lead them to avoid learning potentially valuable information. Such avoidance of knowledge naturally happens with respect to important personal topics such as relationships and health. It is also common at the social and political level with respect to issues such as climate change.

Eleven Dogmas of Analytic Philosophy

Philosophy attempts to answer fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge, reality, and morals. In contrast to the dominant approach that uses the study of language and logic to analyze existing concepts, I prefer an approach that is closely tied to scientific investigations and aims to improve concepts.