Re: free will and consciousness

From: Owen O'Brien (
Date: Mon Feb 23 2004 - 14:55:39 MST

Hi, I’ve been a lurker on this list for a couple of
months now, and this is my first real post. By way of
introduction, I’m a recent graduate of the University
of Texas with a BA in English and minors in Philosophy
of Mind and Psychology. I’ve been very impressed with
the quality of posts on this list, and I don’t wish to
pollute, so I’ll probably continue to keep fairly

Ben, I agree with many of the ideas in these essays,
however I do have a few questions, comments, and
nitpicks, for what they’re worth. I hope they don’t
result from misunderstanding on my part.

First, a question about the following passage from
“Virtual Multiverse,.,”:

"Libet (2000) has done experiments showing that, in
many cases, the “decision” to carry out an action
occurs after the neural signals directly triggering
the action have already occurred. This observation
fits in perfectly with the virtual multiverse theory.
Note that this time interval is sufficiently short
that the action and the decision occur within the same
subjectively experienced moment. In fact, Libet’s
results, though often presented as counterintuitive,
are explained naturally by the current theory – it’s
the opposite result, that
perceived-virtual-multiverse-collapses occurred
*after* the corresponding actions, that would be more
problematic for the current theory."

To me, it seems as though the "opposite result" would
be perceived-virtual-multiverse-collapses occuring
*before* the corresponding actions. Is this a typo or
am I reading it incorrectly?

Great work here, by the way. Your virtual multiverse
theory makes a lot of sense to me. Hopefully, new
imaging techniques such as second-harmonic generation
will soon allow researchers to test abstract theories
such as this one.

My current intuition is that while the conscious
experience of freewill is probably inextricably linked
to virtual multiverse modeling, as you suggest,
something like virtual multiverse modeling probably
takes place in many different areas of the brain at
once, many of which do not correspond to
"consciousness." For example, when one is playing a
sport and is "in the zone," virtual multiverse
modeling seems to play an important part in
decision-making, yet the decision-making process is
subjectively unconscious.

I also like your basic approach to the hard problem of
consciousness. I agree with the statement: “When a
new (pattern,ground) pair appears in the universe,
a quale is associated with it.” However, I’m
skeptical about your further assertion that “patterns
providing massive simplification of the most complex
(non-simple) grounds are associated with the most
intense qualia.” While I think this is a good
intuition, and that a strong correlation between a
pattern’s degree of simplification and a quale’s
degree of intensity probably does exist, it seems to
me that this correlation probably results from neural
feedback mechanisms rather than being essential to the
nature of patterns and qualia as you seem to suggest.
Evolutionarily, it makes sense that the recognition of
relatively powerful patterns should correspond to
intense experiences. And indeed “epiphanies” (isn’t
this what we generally call the recognition of a
powerful new pattern?) do seem to be among the most
powerful of all human experiences.

However, you seem to ignore in this essay the
possibility that factors other than degree of pattern
simplification may also mediate quale intensity. For

Trial 1: Person X takes a sip of Coca Cola
(corresponding to physical occurence P1) while sober
and experiences taste sensation S1, which corresponds
to neural pattern N1
Trial 2: Person X takes a sip of Coca Cola
(corresponding to physical occurrence P2) under the
influence of MDMA and experiences taste sensation S2,
which corresponds to neural pattern N2

Presumably, intensity of S2 > intensity of S1

Which, according to your theory, would mean

Degree of simplification of N2 > degree of
simplification of N1

Yet, it is not clear to me that this is the case.

Rather, it seems that factors such as sheer number of
neurons and duration of firing involved in N1 and N2
account for the difference in intensity of S1 and S2.

Note that I assume the functional equivalence of P1
and P2

To me, one of the more interesting questions regarding
consciousness remains: "what factors determine whether
a neural process is experienced consciously?" Likely
answers seem to include: duration, intensity (or
number of neurons involved), and location...

Any neuroscience experts care to weigh in on this

- Owen

P.s. Ben, I think your definition of pattern is
unnecessarily confusing. Wouldn’t it make more sense
to replace “simplicity” with “complexity” in the

A pattern in some entity X is a function f that
computes X from some data D, with the property that
simplicity(f) + simplicity(D) < simplicity(X)

As it’s written here, it looks as though you’re saying
that the system itself is more simple than the

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