Being You

4 min read

Man’s experience rises from a physical basis, but man has no good explanation of why and how it arises. Why should man get rich inner life?

I read this but didn’t highlight any of it, so most of my notes come from Book Review: Being You by Anil Seth on LessWrong.


Measuring consciousness

  • We now have technology that lets us point sensors at people’s heads and tell whether they are conscious even if they have full locked-in syndrome.
  • One cool example of this was asking someone unresponsive to “imagine navigating around your home” and “imagine playing tennis” which can be detected using brain scanning technology. If they follow the instruction, then they are conscious to a degree.

Integrated Information Theory

  • A theory of consciousness that aims to redefine consciousness like “mean kinetic energy” redefined temperature, as a mathematical measure.
  • Uses the quantity $\Phi$.
  • Poorly defined, and seemingly very wrong. This example (from LessWrong) points out why:

According to IIT, a large grid of XOR gates and error-correcting codes are conscious. When Aaronson pointed this out to Tonini, Tononi “didn’t only bite the bullet, he devoured it.” Tononi’s response to Aaronson was something like: “Yes, a large grid of XOR gates and error-correcting codes are conscious, and your intuition about consciousness is wrong and needs to change.” Tononi is retrofitting consciousness to his theory instead of providing a good explanation of consciousness. This is the equivalent of a theory of temperature according to which lava doesn’t burn, and when you point this out, you get told: “Your intuition about what burning feels like is wrong.”

Predictive Processing and the Free Energy Principle

  • A view of how the brain works in which the brain is constantly trying to predict its sensory data.
  • In this view, life is a “controlled hallucination”.
  • We see our own construction of reality, not “true reality”.
  • Has some elegant explanations, like how action and perception become the same thing if the best way to minimise prediction error about a particular outcome being true is to actually take actions to achieve that action.
  • Brings in something very cool called the Good Regulator Theorem, which states “every good regulator of a system must be a model of the that system”.
  • The Good Regulator Theorem explains the need for mental models. If you’re a complex heating system, to work effectively you’re going to need to have a strong internal model of how the heating system works so that you can make optimal choices.
  • The Free Energy Principle is over my head but allows you to say that predictive processing is a consequence of an organism trying to minimise a quantity called “variational free energy” (??).


A very cool section about technology that allows you to “swap bodies” in the same way that the rubber hand illusion makes you feel like something that isn’t your hand actually is. Basically, two people wearing cameras and VR headsets would hug and because all the sensations match up it would lead to a strong feeling of embodiment.


What is physicalism??

The idea that conciousness, like everything, comes from physical stuff.

What is materialism??

The idea that conciousness, like everything, comes from physical stuff.

What is idealism??

The idea that matter, like everything, comes from conciousness.

What is the complete, extreme opposite to physicalism??


What is dualism??

The idea that conciousness and matter are separate modes of existence.

What is functionalism??

The idea that conciousness doesn’t depend on how a system is made but only how it’s inputs and outputs.

What is panpsychism??

The idea that conciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, like charge and mass.

What is mysterianism??

The idea that there is a complete physical explanation of consciousness, but humans aren’t smart enough to figure it out and so we should give up.

What is the Good Regulator Theorem??

Every good regulator of a system must be a model of that system.

date: 2021-11-10 07:00
finished: true
rating: 7.5
- '@?notes'
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title: Being You