Prediction engines

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One of the big ideas from David Eagleman’s book, Incognito, that has really got my mind whirring in the past week or two is the idea that the brain, to a greater extent, is nothing more than a prediction engine.

In fact, it could be argued that what we perceive as ‘now’ is for the most part what our brain thinks now should be. It uses our experience and knowledge to build up an image in our head of what is going on, promoting sounds, sensations and visuals that are a bit out of the ordinary and may require our attention.

For the most part, your brain ignores the vast majority of what is going on around you, because it can fairly accurately guess what comes next.

This is, for me at least, quite a shift from how I assumed the brain works, and possibly explains quite a few strange things – why time seems to pass more quickly as you get older, for one.

When we are young we lack experience, so we are more present and take in more detail as we assess things. As we get older, the brain takes a lot of that processing and deals with it subconsciously, it’s done it so many times. So you plod through the day in a bit of a daze, and time apparently seems to zip by.

It may also possibly explain that horrible thing that seems to become ever present in your life after the age of forty; forgetting what you were doing.

You think, ah, I’ll make a cup of tea, and go through the whole process on auto-pilot, you’ve done it so many times. But if something interrupts the flow of the activity, and you become aware of what you’re doing, it all gets messed up because you can’t immediately access the actions your subconscious has just had you do. “What was I doing?” you say to yourself, feeling a right plum.

I’m no expert, but taken to it’s logical conclusion, maybe some kinds of dementia are not so much the brain mis-firing, as being too effective.

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