Predictive Processing

I have recently have listened to two podcasts by Sam Harris with topics of special interest to me (quoting the descriptions from their respective web pages):

Constructing Self and World: Sam Harris speaks with Shamil Chandaria about how the brain constructs a vision of the self and the world. They discuss the brain from first principles; Bayesian inference; hierarchical predictive processing; the construction of vision; psychedelics and neuroplasticity; beliefs and prior probabilities; the interaction between psychedelics and meditation; the risks and benefits of psychedelics; Sam’s recent experience with MDMA; non-duality; love, gratitude, and bliss; the self model; the Buddhist concept of emptiness; human flourishing; effective altruism; and other topics.

Predicting Reality: Sam Harris speaks with Andy Clark about the predictive brain, embodied cognition, and the extended mind. They discuss the structure of perception, novelty, precision, pain, psychedelics, emotion, ways to hack our predictions, hypnosis, meditation, artificial intelligence, consciousness, and other topics.

Clark has a corresponding book about the predictive nature of our mind: The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality.

I have enjoyed Clark’s book very much. It’s clearly written, and gives a full tour of the topic, including how different types of neurodiversity and behaviours can be be explained, and possible treated. A must-read for anyone with some interest in how our mind most likely works – based on the latest insights and results of tested hypotheses, aka predictive processing.

The book is right up there with “Being You", by Anil Seth.

Apart from all there is to know about the mechanics of predictive processing, Clark underlines that he talks about the extended mind. That is, not only the brain, but also the body (no surprise there), and our physical environment. Obvious elements of the physical environment are smartphones and notebooks, but also where we place things, how we organise the workplace and home. All that. And of course the people around us, the social environment in general.

Just like the brain, the environment can, and will, influence our priors, and the precisions, for the Bayesian generative models, and thus our perception, and if we feel at ease in any moment. I guess this explains why I don’t work well, and am not relaxed, in a messy environment. And why I am a bit short-fused or seemingly grumpy – or both – at times. Apparent grumpiness as protective shield. Bayesian protection.

I have listened to Harris’ podcasts for many years. I don’t always agree with Harris’ points of view, but he is a very good interviewer, remarkably eloquent, asking the right questions, systematically drilling down and getting to the bottom of things, applying a scientific mindset. I have experienced how he has, starting from just a series of podcasts, built a little high quality media imperium, including a very good app. It stands out in today’s noisy world. I have learned a lot about non-dual meditation. The instructions are no-nonsense, with a scientific foundation, and free of the new age-y undertones found in many of this kind of apps.

Harris’ shows and contents are paywalled, with the advantage that there are no ads. However, if you send him an e-mail, he will give you a free membership. In the same vein, the links above should lead to the full interviews, which he allows to share (free versions of the conversations are abridged). Hence, his business model is fair, not least given the quality. As an early supporter, I am grandfathered in at a lower monthly fee.