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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Yet More Rambling on Will (Beyond the Rules vs. Randomness Dichotomy)

A bit more on this nasty issue of will ... complementing rather than contradicting my previously-expressed ideas.

(A lot of these theory-of-mind blog posts are gonna ultimately get revised and make their way into The Web of Pattern, the sequel to The Hidden Pattern that I've been brewing in my mind for a while...)

What occurred to me recently was a way out of the old argument that "free will can't exist because the only possibilities are RULES versus RANDOMNESS."

In other words, the old argument goes: Either a given behavior is determined, or it's random. And in either case, where's the will? Granted, a random coin-toss (quantum or otherwise) may be considered "free" in a sense, but it's not willed -- it's just random.

What occurred to me is that this dichotomy is oversimplified because it fails to take two factors into account:

  1. A subjectively experienced moment occurs over a fuzzy span of time, not at a single physical moment
  2. "Random" always means "random with respect to some observer."

To clarify the latter point: "S is random to system X" just means "S contains no patterns that system X could identify."

System Y may be able to recognize some patterns in S, even though X can't.

And, X may later evolve into X1, which can recognize patterns in S.

Something that was random to me thirty years ago, or thirty seconds ago, may be patterned to me now.

Consider the perspective of the deliberative, rational component of my mind, when it needs to make a choice. It can determine something internally, or it can draw on an outside source, whose outcome may not be predictable to it (that is, it may make a "random" choice). Regarding outside sources, options include

  1. a random or pseudorandom number generator
  2. feedback from the external physical world, or from another mind in the vicinity
  3. feedback from the unconscious (or less conscious) non-deliberative part of the mind

Any one of these may introduce a "random" stimulus that is unpatterned from the point of view of the deliberative decision-maker.

But of course, options 2 and 3 have some different properties from option 1. This is because, in options 2 or 3, something that appears random at a certain moment, may appear non-random a little later, once the deliberative mind has learned a little more (and is thus able to recognize more or different patterns).

Specifically, in the case of option 3, it is possible for the deliberative mind to draw on the unconscious mind for a "random" choice, and then a half-moment later, import more information from the unconscious that allows it to see some of the patterns underlying the previously-random choice. We may call this process "internal patternization."

Similarly, in the case of option 2, it is possible for the deliberative mind to draw on another mind for a "random" choice, and then a half-moment later, import more information from the other mind that allows it to see some of the patterns underlying the previously random choice. We may call this process "social patternization."

There's also "physical patternization" where the random choice comes from an orderly (but initially random to the perceiving mind) process in the external world.

These possibilities are interesting to consider in the light of the non-instantaneity of the subjective moment. Because, the process of patternization may occur within a single experienced moment.

The subjective experience of will, I suggest, is closely tied to the process of internal patternization. When we have the feeling of making a willed decision, we are often making a "random" choice (random from the perspective of our deliberative component), and then immediately having the feeling of seeing some of the logic and motivations under that choice (as information passes from unconscious to conscious). But the information passed into the deliberative mind is of course never complete and there's always still some indeterminacy left, due to the limited capacity of deliberative mind as compared to unconscious mind.

So, what is there besides RULES plus RANDOMNESS?

There is the feeling of RANDOMNESS transforming into RULES (i.e. patterns), within a single subjective moment.

When this feeling involves patterns of the form "Willing X is causing {Willing X plus the occurrence of S}", then we have the "free will" experience. (This is the tie-in with my discourse on free will and hypersets, a few blog posts ago.)

That is, the deliberative content of recursive willing is automatized and made part of the unconscious, through repeated enaction. It then plays a role in unconscious action determination, which is perceived as random by the deliberative mind -- until, toward the tail end of a subjective moment, it becomes more patterned (from the view of the deliberative mind) due to receiving more attention.

Getting practical for a moment: None of this, as I see it, is stuff that you should program into an AGI system. Rather it is stuff that should emerge within the system as a part of its ongoing recognition of patterns in the world and itself, oriented toward achieving its goals. In this particular case the dynamics of attention allocation is key -- the process by which low-attention items (unconscious) can rapidly gain attention (become intensely deliberatively conscious) within a single subjective moment, but can also have a decisive causal impact prior to this increase in attention. The nonlinear dynamics of attention, in other words, is one of the underpinnings of the subjective experience of will.

What I'm trying to do here is connect phenomenology, cognitive science and AGI design. It seems to work, conceptually, in terms of according with my own subjective experience and also with known data on human brain/mind and my intuition/experience with AGI design.