Why is our brain primed for patterns and relationships? What does focusing on those aspects and ignoring some of the nitty-gritty details of input have to add to our intelligence? Focusing on patterns and relationships allows us to make predictions. This is done continually by our brain, in the background. If a prediction is violated, then we notice…and our brain directs attention to the situation.
We often don’t notice the things around us, because our brain is quietly checking off boxes and leaving us to do whatever it is we like with our attention.
Walls white – check
Four chairs -check
All light bulbs working-check (unless one has been out a while, your brain will bring your attention to it less and less if you choose to ignore the change.
House smells like wet dog – check
It is really noisy in here – check
And if I walk into a quiet house that smells like roses? My attention is poised. I have to go find everyone and make sure they are ok, and then figure out if that delicious smell is just seeping out of my imagination or if…gasp…someone actually picked or bought me roses. (I mean, obviously, I am the mom, so they would have to be for me, right?)
Our brain is working on all these predictions at the same time, in parallel, and so will alert us quite quickly if something is amiss.
“Prediction is so pervasive that what we “perceive” -that is, how the world appears to us-does not come solely from our senses. What we perceive is a combination of what we sense and of our brains’ memory-derived predictions.” Jeff Hawkins
This is why my brain doesn’t notice if the house is a disaster on Thursday…because that is always “the state of Thursday”, but if it is still a mess on Saturday, my brain notices and my mouth starts reminding everyone to do their weekly chores. Because for years we have cleaned on Friday, so by Saturday it is both noticeable (because it is violating the prediction) and too uncomfortable to avoid any longer.
“”Prediction” means that the neurons involved in sensing your door become active in advance of them actually receiving sensory input. When the sensory input does arrive, it is compared with what was expected.” Jeff Hawkins
Hawkings goes on to argue that prediction is not just one of the many things the neocortex does in its spare time…but the primary function of the neocortex. That the whole amazing layer of our brain that separates us from the other animals is primarily concerned with prediction.
“The cortex is an organ of prediction.” Jeff Hawkins
Did you ever give one of your kids a raised eyebrow, or start to say something, and they immediately change their behavior? They are predicting exactly what you are going to say next, and probably also predicting the consequence that will soon be theirs if they do not act immediately. They are using hight intelligence.
Dogs are smart, but they don’t typically sit just because we open our mouth. However, if you have trained your dog to sit using treats, and you get out a treat, they may predict how to get that treat and sit down before they hear the voice command. Dogs can also participate in prediction, because they are a mammal and mammals all have a neocortex, unlike reptiles. However, the human neocortex is much larger an therefore capable of storing many more memories and making many more various predictions.
“The important point is that higher intelligence is not a different kind of process from perceptual intelligence. It rests fundamentally on the same neocortical memory and prediction algorithm. Jeff Hawkins
Intelligence tests use prediction.
Science uses prediction.
Product design uses prediction.
We are considered smart if we can remember a predict a lot of patterns; patterns of language, math, music, and machines.
“These predictions are our thoughts, and, when combined with sensory input, they are our perceptions. I call this view of the brain the memory-prediction framework of intelligence.” Jeff Hawkins
I am blogging through the ideas Jeff Hawkins presents in his book On Intelligence.
What does understanding prediction have to do with how we teach our kids?
I think it means a few things, one, if they are presented with the same patterns frequently, their brain will come to predict the correct response.
Also, if they are tuning us out, we need to do something unpredictable to recapture their attention. But it has to be pleasantly unpredictable if we want access to their higher brain, otherwise, we will turn on their fight or flight response and that is not a learning state of mind.
Do you have thoughts about what this means for teaching our kids? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.