Review: Week of September 10

I’m trying to understand Friston’s free energy, and the predictive processing theory of neuroscience more generally. Very loosely, predictive processing states that instead of the usual model of “brain collects information from senses, analyzes it, and decides on actions” instead the brain constantly simulations, which it updates based on errors that arise when it predicts sensory data. Free energy serves as an objective function for this updating. Minimizing free energy punishes a) prediction inaccuracy and b) deviation from priors, providing an approximate solution to Bayesian learning. Although framed as learning, Friston also claims to explain allostatic behaviors as falling out of the predictions. I’m a little hazy on how that works but it seems to essentially include homeostasis in the prior. The theory explains important data from many domains of neuroscience, including why there are so many reverse connections in the brain. Reading materials:

Why both countercultures failed by Matt Arnold, part of David Chapman’s Meaningness project. I hadn’t realized how much the evangelical movement of the 1980s and 90s owed to the hippie movement and is arguably another offshoot. Arnold describes them here, basically claiming (along meaningness lines) that the hippies were monists and the evangelicals were dualists. In brief: “Identity is not community, although the countercultures often confused the two.” These countercultures gave way to the subcultural mode. John’s take, as of 2023 it sort of seems like there are again two major countercultures, “movement progressivism” (pejoratively called “wokeness”) and “MAGA.” Again they are mostly identitarian with community tacked on haphazardly. Movement progressivism seems a bit more coherent. My expectation is these won’t last forever but, like their predecessors, will be highly influential.

I’ve been doing Jenny Turbell’s Monday night series on the four immeasurables (also known as the brahmaviharas) at the Berkeley Alembic. Doing these practices makes me feel very warm and fuzzy inside, strongly recommended.

Currently Reading