Google glimpses into the mind of God using a Rubik’s cube

What do you get when you give a team of international Rubik’s cube nerds access to Google’s most powerful computers? The answer is 20… and it is a number that previously only God knew. Google’s computers prove that Rubik’s Cube puzzle can always be solved in 20 moves or less. Nerdy Rubik’s researchers claim, “One may suppose God would use a much more efficient algorithm, one that always uses the shortest sequence of moves; this is known as God’s Algorithm. The number of moves this algorithm would take in the worst case is called God’s Number. At long last, God’s Number has been shown to be 20.”

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” and now they have proven to have divine insight, but I am not sure the researchers interpretation of God’s nature is accurate. Knowing what we know about the nature of God, since when does God solve problems in the most efficient and elegant manner (the Great Flood notwithstanding), after all God is eternal and doesn’t need to be efficient. Natural selection, the driver underlying the theory of evolution, is a perfect example of the unbiased and patient approach that is more consistent with the nature of God. One wonders how many iterations it would take to arrive at 20 moves using a “natural selection-like” random move-and-learn approach. Using this approach all Rubik’s cube solutions should converge on 20 given enough iterations and memory of prior successful attempts.

Google Maps, then Google Earth …Now Google Brain?

The Whole Brain Catalog is a crowdsourcing project where scientists enter data from across the research spectrum, in a variety of forms, like MRI data, stained neurons and theoretical diagrams of brain circuitry and presents them in a way that scientists, doctors and 3-D animators can digest in a unified way. Those users then contribute back to the site, wiki-style, to produce an increasingly full model of the brain at every scale, down to the molecular level. Check out the article (Click picture)

The Gambling Brain: Near misses can be as addictive as wins

A new study reveals how casinos capitalize on a glitch in human decision-making to keep gamblers glued to their slot machines.

As anyone who has come oh-so close to winning a computer solitaire game and been unable to resist clicking “new game,” or who has found it harder to walk away from a slot machine after spinning two bells and a lemon (a near-miss) than after getting a bell, a lemon, and a three-bar (a total miss), knows, near-misses are like crack.  (Sharon Begley,

“We have no more free will than a bowl of sugar”

Harold Erickson summarizes a new paper out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that describes the biological basis of free will.

This fascinating paper is about free will. Dr Cashmore presents compelling arguments that free will does not exist, and that the behavior of every human is completely determined by their genetic make-up, environmental history, and stochasticism (which obscures the determinism). He raises the remarkable point that “relatively few biologists seriously question the concept of free will. This holds in spite of the fact that we live in an era when few biologists would question the idea that biological systems are totally based on the laws of physics and chemistry.” A belief in free will is really a continued belief in vitalism, which we thought disappeared 100 years ago.

Dr Cashmore discusses in some detail how consciousness plays a major role in giving us the illusion of free will, but he raises the anomaly (recognized by the ancient Greeks) that ‘will’ is thought to be a non-physical entity that can influence conscious thought yet ‘will’ itself lacks any causal component — a kind of magic. He summarizes arguments that the evolution of society has likely selected for the illusion of free will and ‘responsibility’. He concludes by discussing the implications for our criminal justice system. It would not actually change that much in practice, since it will still be necessary to incarcerate people to protect society and act as a deterrent. We should, however, eliminate psychiatrists from initial judicial proceedings — so gone is the insanity defense. A final summary point is “not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar.”

Change blindness and multitasking

A new study has been released that tests visual attention and focus amidst distractors and reports that humans cannot simultaneously multitask, but rather switch attention from one thing to another. This is a type of multiplexing (rapid switching back and forth between two channels) and it is very demanding on cognitive resources.

Another related study says humans are subject to “change blindness”, like when you fail to notice that your husband got his hair cut. Essentially this article posits that humans are poor at remembering information that doesn’t grab our attention. The prefrontal cortex is what prioritizes how the information is processed, so it decides what is important and directs attention. It is possible that individuals with Autism may actually be better at detecting change blindness because their prefrontal cortex has a more difficult time discerning the most important information amidst unimportant information. In my opinion, it is not in our interest to develop means to improve our change vision, because it will come as a result of being focus blind.