What Is It
You’re standing at the top of a mountain, surveying the vast landscape below. The information your senses take in flows to your brain, which processes it to create a representation of the scene. Or does it? Some thinkers claim that instead of directly perceiving the world around us, the brain is more like a prediction machine that hallucinates a picture of the world? If it turns out prediction is a significant aspect of perception, can we still rely on the so-called “evidence of our senses”? Could changing our expectations help us avoid unpleasant sensory experiences, like hunger or pain? How can we harness the power of the predictive brain? Josh and and Ray predict a fascinating conversation with Andy Clark from the University of Sussex, author of The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality.
Thursday, March 9, 2023 -- 12:49 PMPrediction is an essential
Prediction is an essential and dangerous mode of cognitive behavior that doesn’t hallucinate pictures of the world as much as construct models. Hallucination and pictures are the wrong terms here, and this comes with the caveat that no one knows the experience of others, even when they relate their experience without apparent filters. So, for me, I don’t see pictures when I predict the location of my alarm without opening my eyes in the morning or waking minutes before the alarm goes off. There are several examples of picture-less but model-happy constructions without which our brains and bodies couldn’t survive or would not have evolved.
We should not rely on predictions but use them as we must, with or without thought. Prediction is a part of our biology. The primary reasons we shouldn’t rely on prediction are the potential for bias and the appreciation of new phenomena or insights. Both are limited when our predictions fence our perceptions (so yeah… natural language predictors, like Chat GPT and Bard, are only so helpful.)
Changing expectations is not easy, nor is avoiding unpleasantness, hunger, pain, or dissonance. The focus should be on understanding the interplay between expectation, attention, and sensory processing in shaping our experiences. That isn’t easy. The science of perception, like that, put forward in the episode on smell, and the others, like the philosophy of color, can all help.
We can best harness the power of prediction by placing its process in the brain, the brain in the body, and the body in a social context. There are ideas and experiences outside our own that I cannot predict, and those black swans are the ones that prediction can overlook.
Andy Clark is one of the better communicators of cognitive science, and I look forward to his much more nuanced take on detail and probably push-back here. He's using hallucination here for a reason, I'm just not sure why. Specifically, I would ask him to outline the subtlety between perception and prediction, and the contribution prediction makes toward understanding, and the role from which cultural context influences our cognitive flow.
Harold G. Neuman
Saturday, March 18, 2023 -- 10:03 AMI wonder, opinions and
I wonder, opinions and positions aside for a few minutes. Is our brain the predictor or, is it more practical to claim prediction is seated in an accumulation of past experience? Certainly, experience and concomitant memory are storage areas in the brain, and, we experience and remember things everyday, cognition permitting. I suppose I am splitting hairs here, insofar as these experiences and memories are like grain in a silo. The brain is a big one, for its' size. Right now, I am trying to wrap mine around something called moral fluidity. See the Oxford University blog, if you are interested.
Sunday, March 19, 2023 -- 3:06 AMHarold,
Prediction could be premised on instinct or bias neither of which necessarily are premised on experience. These are good insights I hadn't really considered until you suggested this as the vast majority of prediction, I was considering, would be based on bayesian priors. Hopefully this will be discussed in the show. Practically I'm not sure it matters, and that makes me a bit uneasy.
Harold G. Neuman
Monday, March 20, 2023 -- 6:19 AMHi, Tim. Good to read from
Hi, Tim. Good to read from you! I have been elsewhere, blogwise but upon reading the introduction to this, wanted to add a couple of pennies. Brain as prediction machine jogged something. I am not sure why, except to say the human brain may well be thought of as such, but its' predictive power, if it has any, falls upon experience and memory of experience: if this, then that. Or,causation linked with previous occurrences. I don't think much of some of the claims and assertions now floating around AI. But now, I sorta understand why they are floating. And why people get agitated over transhumanism. Russell did not think much of causation, as I understand it. But he was more mathematician than philosopher and if I recall, neuroscience was not part of philosophy in 1950. Of course, neither was I. Times are changing as is/are our treatment(s) of reality. I may even read Chalmers' book.