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.

New Comment
46 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:17 PM

" 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?

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

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.

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!

http://humancond.org/analysis/mind/userinterface 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.

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.

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 ).

Just a comment. I'm used to being down voted by people who don't understand my views. I'm even used to people down voting my answers because they disagree, but without actual proof that I'm wrong. I'm used to this happening on OTHER sites. I expected better on LW. It's not that votes mean anything to me directly but it's an indication of the mentality, openmindedness and intelligence of the people on the site. This site is highly regarded in the intellectual community. It falls way short of its reputation.

Possibly because at first glance your writing comes across as remarkably similar to poetic profundities without substance. Perhaps, try being more straightforward with your definitions, assertions, and claims.

I made no claims. I simply had an idea I wished to share. I've since discovered that someone else already had this idea.

In debates, you don't get points if someone already agrees with you prior to the debate. You get points if someone changes your opinions. Allocating points to common beliefs simply reinforces the belief, true or not. If 99 out of a hundred people agree that we can't see light, they would never delve deeper into why we can't.

Are you talking about Wegner's book when you say that someone else had the same idea?

That, combined with maslows hierarchy of needs as the operating procedure of the subconscious.

Ok, I will tell you my thought process so that maybe it can be of help in understanding why people have been downvoting you. Obviously, this is just my perspective and I am direcly sharing my thoughts without the usual niceties filter in the hope that I can be of help.

So, firstly this is the only post I have read of yours. I expressed in my first comment why I think is not developed. During our brief exchange we kind of changed the subject of discussion to the idea of conscious will. I suggested a book. You jumped on the book (and Maslows hierarchy) as if it is supporting your argument. But I just suggested the book so I would assume you haven't read it yet. In addition the arguments in the book (which I have read twice), though fascinating, seem to have absolutely no relation to your idea of a 'list' that this thread is about. Same goes for Maslows pyramid.

So my personal judgement is that you are at the stage that you need to study existing knowledge and also the art of developing coherent ideas. Of course play around with new ideas but in the same way you can not create a musical piece before you understand the foundations of music, you can not generate coherent hypothesis before you understand in depth the rules of logic and the current state of your subject matter. Practice humility. Assume you don't really understand anything about human nature yet and concentrate on learning from others. Although the downvotes seem to be out of spite I don't believe many people in the LW community tend to do that. I think they are down voting your argument itself as well as your approach to ideas in general because it does not meet the community standards. Think of it as honest feedback.

I hope this was helpful and not perceived as patronising.

Far from it. I appreciate your honesty. I know I my mind is untrained. I don't explain myself properly. I can't get the concepts i have in my head accross to other people. I will try harder. Thanks.

How about providing some proof that you are right?

I never claimed to be right. I'm just asking if there's evidence I'm wrong.

With the magic of probability theory, you can convert one into the other. By the way, you yourself should search for evidence that you're wrong, as any honest intellectual would do.

Oh, I am. But is there anything wrong with asking for help from people who might already know the answer?

How many not-wrong theories are there? How much probability mass does each one get?

Billions. But all it takes is one shred of evidence to make it a wrong theory. So far all anyone has offered I unsubstantiated opinions. Do you get my point. One simple, "Its impossible because of X " can save me wasting my time pursuing the idea.