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Predictive Models

A Predictive Model is a generic term for a statistical technique using machine learning and data mining to predict and forecast likely future outcomes. This article is about the predictive models we store in our brains (in the corpus callosum) to perform the function of creating virtual models of our environment complete with its mechanics, boundaries and rules so we can navigate the world, avoid dangers and discomfort and get our needs met.

It is a shared human experience many of us can relate to, of accidentally placing a wrong puzzle piece in what we think is the right place of a jigsaw puzzle we are trying to solve. It looks right and we even get that small dopamine hit from that incremental piece of progress, but we then end up blocking ourselves from significant progress because that one piece that seems to fit, can throw off all our other efforts at completing the puzzle, and it is very difficult to troubleshoot. 

Sometimes that one piece was handed to us, and we trusted the hand that gave it.  Sometimes we can put a lot of other effort in to completing the picture and then reach a point where forward progress is blocked in ways we cannot understand and we have no idea where the problem is.

Predictive models, that is, our model of the world and the way it is supposed to operate, our model of causes and effects, work not unlike jigsaw puzzles – the wrong pieces sometimes appear to fit.  And this is the source of much suffering and confusion. 

We need to understand firstly, that our perception of the world, our understanding of the relationship between causes and effects, that is our ability to accurately predict what should happen, or why something has happened, is something we build on over time. 

We tend to think that we perceive the world directly and accurately.  Our five senses and the sense of being a person creates this appearance of a seamless interface with the world, but in truth, we do not perceive the world as it actually is, we perceive it as a combination of our stored version of it in our brains and memories, and our imagination. Our eyes and ears, taste, smell and touch are like the data collected by peripherals one might plug in to a personal computer.  Our sensory organs selectively gather data which is translated into electrical signals transmitted and interpreted very rapidly in the brain. The data is processed in a vast series of internal models of the world and its rules that we refer to as our predictive model, and these models are not necessarily accurate, they are improved in accuracy over time.

The development of our predictive models are the same way that we develop motor skills, cognitive skills and parsing skills.  This includes language and other forms of communication through which we anticipate our needs, express our needs and go about doing what we believe we need to, to get our needs met.  But, the entire course of human history, which we can see a parallel of in single human life, shows that we do not arrive fully knowing or understanding, and we can spend a lot of time, causing avoidable suffering and discomfort to ourselves and others, simply because our predictive models are  inaccurate.   In a healthy society, all forms of knowledge and understanding are constantly undergoing a process verification and update. Every time we get the result we expect, from any interaction with the world or with another person, it is because our predictive model was aligned well enough, and we were able to successfully express our will upon the world.  When we do not get the result we expected, like tripping over a paving stone, or putting a glass of water down on an uneven surface, or any equivalent interaction with another person that does not pan out the way we expected, we experience this as surprise.  This surprise can cause us embarrassment, inconvenience, loss of opportunity, or accidental conflict with another person.  If this surprise is more impactful, we get deeply disappointed or even frustrated, and in extreme cases we experience this as shock and recall it later as trauma.  If something positive happens that we did not expect, we might be pleasantly surprised, and in the extreme this is the source of delight.

This is one of the main and only ways we are able to learn.  Unfortunately, this is also how we end up with superstition and the phenomenon of projection and Story.

Our brains, we should really say our brains and our neural networks, which include our nerves and spine, are not one computer.  There are several processing areas which manage different functions, much of which happens at blistering speed and mind-boggling scale, that happens completely below the waterline of our awareness.  Some of these areas collaborate and moderate each other, and those forms of moderation are not steady and constant, they are dependent on our level of arousal and awareness.  Even more interestingly, we have two separate hemispheres of the brain, which are joined only in one place, and can, and often so operate quite independently of each other.  The functions and natures of the left and right brains is something that is the subject of a longstanding inaccuracy or superstation, just like one of those puzzle pieces we were handed earlier on in life, but which later on turned out not to be the case.  There is a false trope about the Left brain being more verbal, analytical and helping with logic, sequencing, mathematics and facts whereas the right brain is all about imagination, intuition, visualisation and creativity.  This is quite false.  However, there are actual differences between the natures of the Left brain and Right brain. The truth is that both hemispheres are involved in linguistic, logic and creative endeavours.  The real difference between left and right braining thinking is can better be described by the ways in which they pay attention. The left brain is detail orientated and is preferences confirmation over discovery.  The right brain is more ‘whole-orientated’, and more open to correction and discovery.  It is true that we can be caught in ‘left brain thinking’, very focussed on selective detail that corresponds to our current level of interest and psychological preoccupation, and if that has emotional implications, we can easily create and live in Story, which do not need to correspond accurately with reality, so long as they correspond closely enough.  A dozen times a day, especially if we are triggered or if we have spent a lot of time and energy in our heads, rather than in our bodies, going repeatedly over a problem we are trying to solve, we can end up in Story.

The questions to ask oneself is

  • Is this Truth or is this Story?  That is how much is based on what someone else is actually trying to say or do and how much am I imagining.  If we are open to the actual truth, we have to be prepared to drop story, we have to be prepared to reset and own our overreaction.
  • Have you Cleared your Cache?  How much of my last psychological concern am I unconsciously carrying forward and projecting onto the present moment.
  • Are you present? Taking a few deep breaths and connecting with the feeling tone in your body not only answers that question, but also creates the desired outcome.
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