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The New Phrenology?

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An article by Kate Murphy in the New York Times discusses a recent controversy in the field of fMRI over statistics. Although Murphy correctly observes that flawed methods of data analysis are a problem in neuroimaging, she falsely implies that our 2009 study of the neural correlates of belief employed the methods in question. Here is the letter that Mark S. Cohen, the senior author on that paper, sent to the Times.—SH

 

Surviving the Cosmos Podcast Transcript

(Photo via NASA) (Photo via NASA)

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris talks to physicist David Deutsch about the reach and power of human knowledge, the future of artificial intelligence, and the survival of civilization.

David Deutsch is best known as the founding father of the quantum theory of computation, and for his work on Everettian (multiverse) quantum theory. He is a Visiting Professor of Physics at Oxford University, where he works on “anything fundamental.” At present, that mainly means his proposed constructor theory. He has written two books – The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity – aimed at the general reader.

 

Guided Meditations for Children

(Photo via Stefan Thiesen) (Photo via Stefan Thiesen)

My wife, Annaka Harris, has created several guided meditations designed for children (ages 6-10). Enjoy! —SH

 

Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse? A Response to the 2015 Edge Question

(Photo via  Armand Turpel) (Photo via Armand Turpel)

It seems increasingly likely that we will one day build machines that possess superhuman intelligence. We need only continue to produce better computers—which we will, unless we destroy ourselves or meet our end some other way. We already know that it is possible for mere matter to acquire “general intelligence”—the ability to learn new concepts and employ them in unfamiliar contexts—because the 1,200 cc of salty porridge inside our heads has managed it. There is no reason to believe that a suitably advanced digital computer couldn’t do the same.

It is often said that the near-term goal is to build a machine that possesses “human level” intelligence. But unless we specifically emulate a human brain—with all its limitations—this is a false goal. The computer on which I am writing these words already possesses superhuman powers of memory and calculation. It also has potential access to most of the world’s information. Unless we take extraordinary steps to hobble it, any future artificial general intelligence (AGI) will exceed human performance on every task for which it is considered a source of “intelligence” in the first place. Whether such a machine would necessarily be conscious is an open question. But conscious or not, an AGI might very well develop goals incompatible with our own. Just how sudden and lethal this parting of the ways might be is now the subject of much colorful speculation.

 

The Very Bad Wizards Interview #1 Sam Harris, David Pizarro, and Tamler Sommers talk (and then talk some more)

0:00-47:00—Intro and costs and benefits of religion

47:00-1:17:00—Drugs, the self, free will

1:17:30-end—Blame, guilt, vengeance, moral responsibility

David Pizarro is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His primary research interest is in how and why humans make moral judgments, such as what makes us think certain actions are wrong, and that some people deserve blame. In addition, he studies how emotions influence a wide variety of judgments. These two areas of interest come together in the topic of much of his recent work, which has focused on the emotion of disgust and the role it plays in shaping moral, social, and political judgments.

Tamler Sommers is an associate professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Houston with a joint appointment in the Honors College.  He is director of the Honors minor Phronesis: A Program in Politics and Ethics.  His research focuses on issues relating to moral responsibility, criminal justice, honor, and revenge.  Sommers is the author of two books: Relative Justice: Cultural Diversity, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility (Princeton, 2012) and A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain (McSweeney’s, 2009).  He received his PhD in Philosophy from Duke University in 2005.

 
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