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Lisa Feldman Barrett on “how your brain decides without you”

CLBB faculty Lisa Feldman Barrett was quoted in the science magazine Nautilus’ issue on Illusions. In light of the classic duck-rabbit illusion, Barrett posited that the brain is an “inference generating organ” which, in real life, fills in the details of ambiguous sensory input to generate understandings about the world. From the article:

When I put the question of whether we were living in a kind of metaphorical duck-rabbit world to Lisa Feldman Barrett, who heads the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University, her answer was quick: “I don’t even think it’s necessarily metaphorical.” The structure of the brain, she notes, is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world. There would otherwise simple be too much sensory input to take in. “It’s not efficient,” she says. “The brain has to find other ways to work.” So it constantly predicts. When “the sensory information that comes in does not match your prediction,” she says, “you either change your prediction—or you change the sensory information that you receive.”

Read the full piece from Nautilus, “How your brain decides without you,” by Tom Vanderbilt, published November 6, 2014.