I thought I would have a crack at seeing into the future. No not from a Doc Brown perspective, more from the next exciting and interesting stage of human understanding – predictive processing. Now this is by no means academic at any level however, it may go above some readers heads. This is just my musings of what I have understood so far.
Predictive coding or processing (depending on your terminological stance) is an area of science I have been fascinated with over the last year. It offers the idea that the brain has the ability to make predictions from sensory information outside of the body (exteroceptive), that comes from within the body (interoceptive) and information around movement, balance and position (proprioceptive). Of course we can’t forget our thoughts or cognitions in all of this. As we age and develop we start to mould ideas and opinions and judgements based upon our interactions and the context of the outside world or outside our body. Revisiting similar environments and situations help us to interact appropriately. These four components make up our perception.
A good friend and colleague of mine shared the concept of humans thriving and surviving throughout their lifetime (see video). We face situations everyday where we need to thrive in order to survive and survive in order to thrive. Dependent on the context of the situation will also determine the importance of thriving to survive and vice versa.
Here’s an attempt at a model of the workings of how I have understood this entire process:
Another way to describe this would be an external monitoring system (exteroceptive) or what you make of the outside world, what you hear, see, taste, touch, environmental and social perceptions. An internal monitoring system (interoceptive) such as pain, hunger, thirst, itches (I’m conflicted about whether taste would be intero and exteroceptive). Then there’s a highly sophisticated navigation system (proprioceptive), your ability to be able to move, jump, overcome physical obstacles such as stairs. This information could be termed as bottom up (information that comes from your body) Cognitions are constructs of what you may already know about the interactions, your judgements and opinions. This could be termed as top down. So information coming up and information going down build your perception of the thing you are interacting with. It’s like a group of business people coming together, shaking hands and agreeing on a business deal. It’s important to acknowledge that these systems are not working independently that they work in a reciprocal way to allow us (humans and animals) to interact with our world.
The organised hierarchy
Looking at the way that the hierarchy works is dependent on how things change throughout the course of our lifetimes, which of course means that things are constantly changing within us too.
Schema is the pattern of thought or behaviour towards the relationship we have with varying levels of information (interoceptive, exteroceptive, proprioceptive +/- cognition).
You may be asking the question what has this got to do with predictive coding?
Well when we repeat the same process over and over the idea of predictive coding would suggest that we have billions of algorithms for specific types of information, integrations and interactions. This makes us all the more efficient.
The Iceberg metaphor
The iceberg metaphor attempts to explain the division between the conscious and subconscious brain identifying that there are many processes that occur below our conscious control. This of course is a highly necessary and sophisticated system because you don’t want to consciously be thinking about having to initiate all your bodily systems, that wouldn’t make you a very efficient being! The interaction of your body systems and the subconscious takes care of all of that. So let’ go back to predictive coding. As we develop we become more familiar with our world around us and so for efficiency our nervous system makes predictions for how we interact in that world. It has been suggested that a prediction is made up to 6 seconds before we actually perform a task or judgement for example. Now some people are concerned about this idea suggesting that the brain is in control of you. Yet, to me that is just part of the very efficient system.
So based upon what I have already discussed let’s take two examples:
Example 1. If I’m faced with a ferocious lion that has escaped from the zoo, I don’t want to have to think about the situation, analyse it, consciously instruct my body to do something, I instinctively want to get the hell out of harms way, climb a tree (cause lions can’t climb trees, apparently) and wait till the gamekeeper catches the lion. The interaction between the four systems that make up perception and the process of thrive and survive within the context I am in allows me to make a split second decision. High risk of me dying and not surviving therefore not thriving, I act automatically. Get up the tree better chance of me surviving, game keeper comes along even better chance, I come down the tree and continue thriving.
Example 2. I go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, I’m faced with a familiar environment. Lots of exteroceptive (environment, place of the kettle, where the cups, milk and tea bags are) information. I’m fulfilling a morning ritual (a mix of cognitive and interoceptive information such as, need caffeine, have to function, hormones and neurotransmitter release) and proprioceptive (navigating my way around the kitchen, know where things are). The question is do I need tea to survive? Perhaps I need it on a minuscule level in order to help me get through my day in order to thrive. As this daily ritual is repeated again and again the algorithms are accessed more readily. I suspect this is why sometimes we are not fully aware of making tea except for when we are pouring the boiling hot water in order to avoid scalding ourselves.
As we age to adulthood we go through experiences that helps to build a predictive system such as potty training or using cutlery or learning to ride a bike. Those experiences can be moulded in many different ways depending on our interactions, experiences and understandings and can continue to be moulded through adulthood. The idea of predictive coding works on an organised hierarchy of information and as such makes us the adaptable and efficient beings we are. How clever!
Hopefully I have not frazzled your brains too much with this blog and thanks for reading this far. I will attempt to bring this more into a movement perspective at a later date.
Thanks for having a read. As always I’m keen to hear your thoughts.
If you want to read other opinions go to Todd Hargroves bettermovement.org page. He shares some wonderful insights into predictive coding.
Some of my readings:
Clark, A. (2016). Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action and the Embodied Mind. Oxford Scholarship Online. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190217013.001.0001
Friston, K., & Frith, C. (2015). A Duet for one. Consciousness and Cognition. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2014.12.003
Kanai, R., Komura, Y., Shipp, S., Friston, K., Komura, Y., Shipp, S., & Friston, K. (2015). Cerebral hierarchies : predictive processing , precision and the pulvinar. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 370, 20140169. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2014.0169
Rauss, K., & Pourtois, G. (2013). What is bottom-up and what is top-down in predictive coding. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(MAY), 1–8. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00276
Seth, A. K., & Friston, K. J. (2016). Active interoceptive inference and the emotional brain. Philosophical Transactions Bulletin, 371. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0007
Spratling, M. W. (2016). Brain and Cognition A review of predictive coding algorithms. BRAIN AND COGNITION. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2015.11.003