The centrality of fear in nature

Wolves eating a deer

Anyone who's ever interacted with a wild animal knows how skittish they are compared to any domestic animal. I think of the squirrels on my university's campus. In general, people leave the squirrel population alone there, so they tend not to be afraid of humans. Although there are still occasional predators, such as cats, dogs, … Continue reading The centrality of fear in nature

The necessary attributes of a responsible agent

Dominoes falling in a sequence

George Ellis has an article at Aeon on free will that is garnering some attention.  Ellis' case is a fairly classic one.  Brain are complex systems whose operations, due to chaotic and stochastic dynamics, cannot be predicted.  Furthermore, minds constrain the detailed physical reactions, a case of downward causation.  And if that weren't enough, there's … Continue reading The necessary attributes of a responsible agent

Viruses and the definition of “life”

One of the things we often debate here is the definition of "consciousness," but consciousness is far from the only concept that is difficult to define.  Others include religion, democracy, free will, and biological life. Life has a number of definitions, many of which are suitable for particular purposes.  If I recall correctly, NASA, for … Continue reading Viruses and the definition of “life”

Synthetic DNA and the necessity of biological mechanisms

Scientists have created synthetic DNA with four extra "letters": A couple billion years ago, four molecules danced into the elegant double-helix structure of DNA, which provides the codes for life on our planet. But were these four players really fundamental to the appearance of life — or could others have also given rise to our genetic code? … Continue reading Synthetic DNA and the necessity of biological mechanisms

The range of conscious systems and the hard problem

This is the fifth and final post in a series inspired by Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt's new book, 'The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience'.  The previous posts were: What counts as consciousness? Predators and the rise of sensory consciousness Types of sensory consciousness The neural mechanics of sensory consciousness In the … Continue reading The range of conscious systems and the hard problem

Predators and the rise of sensory consciousness

This is the second post in a series inspired by Todd Feinberg and Jon Mallatt's new book, 'The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience'. The first post in the series was: What counts as consciousness? Life appears to have gotten started fairly early in Earth's history.  The oldest known fossils are now … Continue reading Predators and the rise of sensory consciousness

Methane-Based Life Possible On Titan

ratamacue0 sent me this interesting Slashdot post: Methane-Based Life Possible On Titan - Slashdot. Randym writes: With the simultaneous announcement of a possible nitrogen-based, cell-like structure allowing life outside the "liquid water zone" (but within a methane atmosphere) announced by researchers at Cornell (academic paper) and the mystery of fluctuating methane levels on Marsraising the possibility of methane-respiring … Continue reading Methane-Based Life Possible On Titan