Neuroscience and Free Will Are Rethinking Their Divorce

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And like their counterparts in Germany, these neuroscientists say the new picture is much more in keeping with our intuitive sense of our free will. When we form a vague intention to move, they explain, this mind-set feeds into the background ebb and flow of neural activity, but the specific decision to act only occurs when the neural activity passes a key threshold — and our all-important subjective feeling of deciding happens at this point or a brief instant afterward. “All this leaves our common sense picture largely intact,” they write.

Source: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/a-neuroscience-finding-on-free-will.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=oupphilosophy&utm_campaign=oupphilosophy

Neanderthals and humans interbred ‘100,000 years ago’

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Neanderthals and modern humans were interbreeding much earlier than was previously thought, scientists say.

Traces of human DNA found in a Neanderthal genome suggest that we started mixing with our now-extinct relatives 100,000 years ago.

Previously it had been thought that the two species first encountered each other when modern humans left Africa, about 60,000 years ago.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35595661

Ancient Babylonians ‘first to use geometry’

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Sophisticated geometry – the branch of mathematics that deals with shapes – was being used at least 1,400 years earlier than previously thought, a study suggests.

Research shows that the Ancient Babylonians were using geometrical calculations to track Jupiter across the night sky.

It had been thought that complex geometry was first used by scholars in Oxford and Paris in medieval times.

They used curves to trace the position and velocity of moving objects.

But now scientists believe the Babylonians developed this technique around 350 BC.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35431974

A Short History of Probability

Source: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2015/10/short-history-probability/

There’s nothing odd about odds today. From tomorrow’s 50 percent chance of rain, to Effie Trinket’s “may the odds be ever in your favor,” to artificial intelligence—yes, AI—probabilities reign in everyday life. But it wasn’t always that way, and just because we’re surrounded by them nowadays, do we understand them?

That’s one of the topics explored in the WSF15 program Wizards of Odds, which opened with this video about probability’s improbable history and the 18th century theologian-cum-mathematician Thomas Bayes—a true wizard of odds—whose mathematical dives into probability changed the world … and eventually the face of AI.

Source: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2015/08/time-is-of-the-essence-or-is-it/

What is time? Isaac Newton described it as absolute, but Einstein proved that time is relative, and, shockingly, that time and space are intricately interwoven. Now recent work in string theory and quantum gravity suggests that space and time may not be fundamental. If this is true, what new picture of reality will emerge? These questions and more were explored in the 2015 World Science Festival program “Time Is of the Essence … or Is It?” moderated by author Jim Holt and featuring physicist and philosopher David Z. Albert, theoretical physicist Vijay Balasubramanian, theoretical physicist and cofounder of the loop approach to quantum gravity Carlo Rovelli, and theoretical physicist and founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics Lee Smolin.

Blindsight: the strangest form of consciousness

Source: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150925-blindsight-the-strangest-form-of-consciousness

Some people who have lost their vision find a “second sight” taking over their eyes – an uncanny, subconscious sense that sheds light into the hidden depths of the human mind.

Daniel was adamant that he could not see a thing, yet somehow his unconscious mind was guiding him correctly”

The non-conscious mind acts as the puppet master, pulling the strings without their knowledge.

Some philosophers have gone as far as to claim that we could be little more than “zombies” acting on mostly unconscious impulses.

This, in turn, begins to cast doubt on some long-held assumptions about the very nature, and purpose, of consciousness. After all, it is by no means certain that other animals have a rich inner life like us, so it must have emerged for some reason. Previously, psychologists had proposed that we have a kind of “spotlight of attention” that sweeps over our vision, and when it lands on an object, the object pops into consciousness. In this way, our heightened awareness helps highlight the most important parts of a scene, giving us the chance to respond.

Except Robert Kentridge at the University of Durham has evidence to suggest this too may be wrong. His insight came when he was talking to a blindsight subject in between some of the basic visual tests, in which he flashed different images at different parts of the blind spot. The subject had said that he thought he would do better if we were told where, in the blind spot, the image would appear. “It seemed very strange,” says Kentridge – since they have no awareness of what is in their blind spots, they shouldn’t be able to focus their attention there. “It’s as if you were trying to direct attention around the back of head – you shouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.