Predictable Identities: 2 – Active Inference

This entry is part 2 of 27 in the series Predictable Identities

One sentence recap of Part I: our brains are constantly trying to make true predictions about the world. We do it in two ways:

  1. Assembling good models that make accurate predictions.
  2. Changing the world to match our predictions.

When Apple released a buggy version of Maps, The Onion joked that “Apple is fixing glitches in Maps by rearranging Earth’s geography”. That’s exactly what our brains do.

Actions are driven by predictions propagating across different levels. We shoot a basketball by forecasting the flight of the ball, which leads to predicting that we will lift the ball and push it, culminating in precise anticipations of the required tension in the arm muscles. We are satisfied when the ball flies according to our projection and upset when it doesn’t

That’s why predicting well is so important to our evolved brains – when we predict well we know how to act to achieve our goals. A predictable environment is an exploitable environment.

Of course, basketballs are not a big component of our milieu, and our ability to predict them isn’t crucial. What is vital for us to model above all else are people, from faraway strangers to neighbors and friends. Also ourselves: prediction happens at different parts of the brain simultaneously, and each module has to predict what the others would do, now and in the future.

Predictive processing expert Sun Tzu observed:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

We observe other minds, interrogate them, and push them to conform to our models of them as best we can – all to maximize our predictive power and capacity to act effectively. This is a powerful lens through which to observe how we interact with others, and how we build our own predictable identities.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 1 – Guess What’s ComingPredictable Identities: 3 – Prisoner’s Dilemma >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog,, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.