Prediction engine

Here is another answer from the Edge question contributers (here). Andy Clark, author of Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, writes about prediction.

The idea that the brain is basically an engine of prediction is one that will, I believe, turn out to be very valuable not just within its current home (computational cognitive neuroscience) but across the board: for the arts, for the humanities, and for our own personal understanding of what it is to be a human being in contact with the world.

We predict what our senses are going to deliver and the errors are used to correct the prediction process. Clark lists some implications of this process.

1. This means, in effect, that all perception is some form of ‘expert perception’, and that the idea of accessing some kind of unvarnished sensory truth is untenable.

2. models suggest that what emerges first is the general gist (including the general affective feel) of the scene, with the details becoming progressively filled in as the brain uses that larger context — time and task allowing — to generate finer and finer predictions of detail. There is a very real sense in which we properly perceive the forest before the trees.

3. the line between perception and cognition becomes blurred. What we perceive (or think we perceive) is heavily determined by what we know, and what we know (or think we know) is constantly conditioned on what we perceive (or think we perceive).

4. if we now consider that prediction errors can be suppressed not just by changing predictions but by changing the things predicted, we have a simple and powerful explanation for behavior and the way we manipulate and sample our environment.

It is hard to think of a better way to remain in sync, in tune, appropriate to a changing environment then a predictive loop continuously correcting errors between our expectations and what actually happens. It seems to me the conscious experience is that prediction made available to all the processes of the brain: action, perception, cognition, learning.

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