Take The "Free Energy Principle" Pill
The most important theory since natural selection
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Welcome to all the folks who joined this in the past week! 👋
If you listen to one podcast this year, listen to this one.
I chat with Karl Friston, a theoretical neuroscientist who is one of the most cited researchers of all time.
For four decades, Karl has been searching for the simplest explanation for “how it all works”—a unified theory that explains biology, chemistry, physics, and sociotechnical systems.
I think he’s found it. He calls it the Free Energy Principle (FEP).
Let’s understand FEP using the brain as an example.
Can you tell what these images are?
Probably not. It just looks like a bunch of black and white sensory data.
But then I tell you that it's a dalmatian and a cow. Boom! You can see them now. I’ve given you a model to understand the world.
This is how our brains work. They predict what will happen with “top-down models” and then fit “bottom-up sensory data” into those models.
Friston would say our brains are “minimizing free energy” or “minimizing surprise”. Our brains minimize the amount of surprise between their models and the incoming data. Once we have a model (dalmatian, cow), we fit the data into it.
Another way we can minimize free energy is to do “active inference”: to change the world to match our models. Animals do this by moving! If my model is that the world is a sunny place, I’ll move to LA to make that happen. I’m not changing my model. I’m changing the world. But I’m still minimizing surprise.
But our brains aren’t the only things that minimize surprise. Everything does it. For example, a fish minimizes free energy by:
Having a model of the world (I like to live in water)
Then if it washes on shore, it “experiences surprise”, so wants to go back into the water to minimize surprise
Any entity (brains, fish, etc.) must abide by the Free Energy Principle. It has a model of the world—a steady-state that it likes to orbit around, like a fish in water. Then it’ll do anything to stay in that orbit.
In the podcast, we apply this to five different fields:
How celestial bodies like the sun “exist” by finding a stable gravitational orbit
How life began as initial bits of RNA fitting their model by finding energy near deep-sea vents. How evolution is Survival of the Fittest Model.
How our brains are a competition for Survival of the Fittest Meme. Based on our brain architecture the fittest memes are “good explanations for your sensed world.”
How societies strive to minimize surprise with mutual intelligibility through shared language and shared identities (religions, nations, politics). It is our nature to divide into groups.
How Friston thinks AI will shift away from Big Data and towards active AI agents, curious for data. Like a domesticated robot.
It is a pretty mind-blowing conversation. Spend 60min to take the “Free Energy Principle” pill. You won’t regret it. 🙂
Thanks and very curious for your thoughts!
Hope you have a great week!
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