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The value of uncertainty

Summary:
The value of uncertainty What is the evolutionary utility of the predictive strategy if it allows our models to remain so persistently disconnected from our external situation? To fully understand the self-reinforcing power of such habits, we need to look once more beyond the brain. We need to attend to how the process of acting to minimise surprise ensnares our environment into the overarching error-minimising process. At the simplest level, such actions might just involve ignoring immediate sources of error – as when alcoholics preserve the belief that they are functioning well by not looking at how much they’re regularly spending on drink. But our actions can also have a lasting effect on the structure of our environment itself, by moulding it into

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The value of uncertainty

What is the evolutionary utility of the predictive strategy if it allows our models to remain so persistently disconnected from our external situation?

The value of uncertaintyTo fully understand the self-reinforcing power of such habits, we need to look once more beyond the brain. We need to attend to how the process of acting to minimise surprise ensnares our environment into the overarching error-minimising process. At the simplest level, such actions might just involve ignoring immediate sources of error – as when alcoholics preserve the belief that they are functioning well by not looking at how much they’re regularly spending on drink. But our actions can also have a lasting effect on the structure of our environment itself, by moulding it into the shape of our cognitive model. Through this process, addicted predictors can create a personal niche in which elements incompatible with their model are excluded altogether – for instance, by associating only with others who similarly engage in, and thus do not challenge, their addictive behaviours.

This mutually reinforcing circularity of habit and habitat is not a unique feature of substance addiction. In 2010, the internet activist Eli Pariser introduced the term ‘filter bubble’ to describe the growing fragmentation of the internet as individuals increasingly interact only with a limited subset of sources that fit their pre-existing biases …

As the journalist Bill Bishop argued in The Big Sort (2008), by charting the movement of US citizens into increasingly like-minded neighbourhoods over the past century, this homophilic drive has long directed our movements through physical space. In the online world, it now occurs through more than a million subreddits and innumerable Tumblr communities serving everyone from queer skateboarders to incels, flat-Earthers and furries …

Perversely, the more flexible the environment, the more it allows for the creation of self-protective bubbles and micro-niches, and hence affords the entrenchment of rigid models.

Mark Miller et al.

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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