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The World Behind the World: Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science

I've enjoyed Erik's other writing for a while — he often presents ideas in thoughtful and interesting ways that I'm drawn to. The World Behind the World is Erik's exploration into consciousness, including the history of conscious understanding, emergence, scientific hierarchies of complexity, and free will.

The first half is interesting. The historical inside-out vs outside-in view gave me a lot to think about, and resonated with many of my complaints with the state of modern neuroscience: it's focused on the outside-in, and not about what it's like to be a being experiencing consciousness. It focuses on the material structure, rather than the inner phenomenology.

The rest felt fairly muddy for me. IIT and Global workspace theory explanations were less clear than others that I've read, and the overall arguments missed for me. So much, in fact, that I'm trying to organize time with friends who have also read it to flesh out my own take. For example, his arguments for free will seemed quite incomplete: assuming too much, leaving holes, and proving too much.

For now, it was an interesting read in some respects, but I wouldn't recommend specifically. I'm open to learning where I missed something subtle!


These are entirely subjective, and roughly try to capture my personal enjoyment and usefulness, and how likely I'd recommend it to others. Don't read too much into this unless you love my judgement. Rough guidelines:

A: Top quartile. Changed the way I think about something.

B: Worthwhile. I took away something useful.

C: Didn't hit, wouldn't directly recommend. Likely won't revisit.

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