The list

by Zane Scheepers1 min read11th Dec 201746 comments


Personal Blog

What is the list? The list is what makes humans nothing more than biological computers. It's what makes all human actions deterministic in nature, but we can't see the list.

The list is seated in, and compiled by our subconscious. It's a list of all our desires and preferences, in order of importance, for every situation. Our senses input data, which is interpreted by our subconscious. This data is then cross referenced with the list and the appropriate response is determined. The list is self adapting. Updated, as we sleep, by new experiences. Some values are fixed, for example, sexual orientation, while other values are maliable. So a liking of a person or thing can be converted into a disliking through an experience, thus altering the list. At any given moment though, the list is static.

This is a new idea. There is no conventional philosophy which accurately matches this description. Not that I'm aware of anyway. Arguments both for and against will be gladly accepted.

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" It's a list of all our desires and preferences, in order of importance, for every situation ."

This is basically an assertion that we actually have a utility function. This is false. There might be a list of pairings between "situations you might be in" and "things you would do," but it does not correspond to any coherent set of preferences. It corresponds to someone sometimes preferring A to B, and sometimes B to A, without a coherent reason for this.

Asserting that there is such a coherent list would be like asserting that you have a list of probabilities for all statements that are based on a coherent prior and were coherently updated in their current state using Bayesian updating. This is nonsense: there is no such thing as "the actual probability that you really truly assign to the claim that you are about to change your name to Thomas John Walterson and move to Australia." You never thought of that claim before, and although you think it very unlikely when you think of it, this is not intrinsically numerical in any way. We assign probabilities by making them up, not by discovering something pre-existent.

In exactly the same way, coherent sets of preferences are made up, not discovered.

How often have you had to change your name to Thomas John Walterson and move to Australia? More importantly, If you thereafter had to change your name to Thomas John Pieterson and move to New Zealand, does I make sense to draw up a compel new list of or and cons, or to just alter the preexisting list? I never said the list covers all possible scenarios. I'm talk in about a list of basics which when applied, determine your action. For example, do you like hot or cold weather? Apply to scenario. By applying the basic list, you can resolve even unimagined scenarios. You don't make up a preference for tea or coffee each time you are offered tea or coffee. The preference is already determined.

You don't have any such basic list.

So you say. Do you prefer summer to winter? Tea or coffee? Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? What determines those preferences?

In his book, "The illusion of conscious will " Wegner asks, "Does the fact that thoughts usually proceed actions actually prove that thoughts are the cause of actions? ". You assume they do.

I don't know why you think I am assuming this. Regardless of the causes of your opinions, one thing which is not the cause is a coherent set of probabilities. In the same way, regardless of the causes of your actions, one thing which is not the cause is a coherent set of preferences.

This is necessarily true since you are built out of physical things which do not have sets of preferences about the world, and you follow physical laws which do not have sets of preferences about the world. They have something similar to this, e.g. you could metaphorically speak as if gravity has a preference for things being lower down or closer together. But you cannot compare any two arbitrary states of the world and say "Gravity would prefer this state to that one." Gravity simply has no such preferences. In a similar way, since your actions result from principles which are preference-like but not preferences, your actions are also somewhat preference-like, but they do not express a coherent set of preferences.

All that said, you are close to a truth, which is that since the incoherence of people's lives bothers them (both in thoughts and in actions), it is good for people to try to make those both more coherent. In general you could make incoherent thoughts and actions more coherent in two different directions, namely "more consistent with themselves but less consistent with the world" and "more consistent with themselves and also more consistent with the world". The second choice is better.

Does an electron prefer a lower orbital? Is this a physical thing which has a preference about the world? Indirectly it shows that matter prefers to have less energy. You could say the universe prefers entropy. Consciousness is simply awareness of our preferences.

I don't think you understood the argument. Let's agree that an electron prefers what it is going to do, over what it is not going to do. But does an electron in China prefer that I write this comment, or a different one?

Obviously, it has no preference at all about that. So even if it has some local preferences, it does not have a coherent preference over all possible things. The same thing is true for human beings, for exactly the same reasons.

You don't Need a preference for every possible scenario. You only need a basic set that covers every possible scenario. For example, let's say you don't like spicy food. You don't have to try chicken curry, beef curry, mutton curry, fish curry, from every curry shop in every city, in every country in the world, to know you won't like it. A basic set of preferences can cover all situations.

I appreciate your opinion. If you could justify your opinion with supporting evidence I would greatly appreciate it.

Some, hopefully, constructive criticism. I don't feel you have developed your idea to the point where it can be argued for or against. You are talking about the nature of the human mind and not of an implementation for A.I so even your assumption that the brain uses data structures akin to the ones found in computers is unfounded. If you are using it more as a metaphor then I am not sure it is a useful one. Why is there a static list and not an action generated anew at the moment of decision? It is more likely (and more in line with current neuroscientific evidence) that the mind is akin to an always online system that can generate internal and external responses on the fly.

Basically because processing information is slow. Generating a list when a situation arrises means the ball hits your head before you can figure out you'd rather not experience the pain. Most of our actions are subconscious, like walking and don't rely on conscious effort.

I think you are confusing high and low level processes. The brain is comprised of many subsystems developed through the evolutionary proccess. The circuits that allow us, for instance, to avoid sudden motions are much lower (brain stem, amygdala etc.) than the neocortex which is the sit of higher level proccesses such as rational assesment. These circuits are activated before the signal is proccessed by the higher levels but not because they have a list. They are just optimised for certain very general situations.

No, I'm not confusing the two. Certain actions are performed by the reptilian brain and others by higher functions. Observing professional sportsmen and women it's obvious that even these reflex actions can altered. My point is, if muscle memory can allow us to operate on autopilot, how far does the ability of the subconscious extend? Is it possible the subconscious controls all actions and the conscious only becomes aware post facto.

Sure, but I am not sure how that relates to the 'list' idea. In any case, I believe it is quite evident that conscious and subconscious levels are constantly interacting with each other so it is not a case of all or nothing. If you are interested in the (not yet resolved) question of their interaction and the source of action in general the book "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel Wegner examines whta you refered to as the 'post facto' perspective in depth (providing experimental data). A fascinating book! analogy

Wow! That's exactually what i was thinking. The list is just my idea of how our actions are determined, without the involvement of the conscious mind.

In a vein similar to Erfeyah's comment, I think that your model needs to be developed much more. For example, what predictions does it make that are notably different from other psychological models? It's just an explanation that feels too "overfitted".

The conscious mind can be excluded from thought processes. Only becoming aware, post facto, of the reason an action was performed. I agree it needs work, but is it a line of thought worth pursuing?

This is a standard prediction since the unconscious was theorized more than a century ago, so unfortunately it's not good evidence that the model is correct. Unfortunately, if what you've written is the only things that the list has to say, then I would say that no, this is not worth pursuing.

Some values are fixed, for example, sexual orientation,

This is false, at least if you are making that statement for everyone. I am not aware if it's true for the vast majority of people.

If you're straight, you can't choose to be gay. If you're bi, you're attracted to both sexes. Your orientation is fixed.

I disagree that this is true for everyone.

Homosexuality being influenced by genes does not mean one cannot choose to change their sexuality.

What you are describing, as far as I can understand, is that we are adaptation executers. The List is everything we want, whether hardcoded into our biology, or expressed by our minds. Yes, it updates.

I'd also appreciate, as other commenters pointed out, what kind of predictions can your model make on human behavior.

The factors are far too complex to predict human behaviour. The list is not perceived consciously. Even if we had the complete list of a person, the situation includes not just external phenomena, but internal variables such as gut bacteria, hormones, etc which combined determines a situation. So a situation which appears the same outwardly could be dramatically different internally.

I agree with your points. To restate my question, what extra insights does your model provide, compared to (for example), an ever-updating Maslow's hierarchy of needs?

Now that's what I was looking for. Thanks.

My model simplifies all human actions into 2 categories. Wants and needs. Needs are what a species requires for survival. Food, shelter, procreation , etc. What do we all want? We want happiness. All human actions are about satisfying our wants and needs. Sometimes, both, but never neither. The list is things which satisfy our wants and needs, in order of priority, and preference (makes us the most happy ).

I guess my qualia are on a different list...

Qualia fall under input data. The list is preferences like tea or coffee, shower or bathe, black or red, Tec.