In his book: On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins reveals his extensive research into the neocortex. He's found that the brain cells are the same throughout the entire surface, even though regions appear to specialize in particular capabilities. Experiments have shown that portions ordinarily used for one function like vision, can be used for another like hearing without complications. This uniform sheet of cells is comprised of several layers which organize processing into levels. This neural structure dismissed understanding regions of the brain as dedicated processors hard wired to particular inputs. Our intelligence appears to use the same processing pattern for every kind of input. Jeff Hawkins has concluded that pattern makes predictions, checks for accuracy and revises those predictions as required. The Wikipedia article on his Memory Prediction Framework goes into great detail about the functioning of our neocortex regions.
In their book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath suggest making things memorable for people by "breaking their guessing machine". Relying on the research of Robert Cialdini, they suggest that it really gets our attention when the thing we were expecting to be said or shown to us does not happen. The Polynesian winters are usually fragrant with blossoms. We instantly wonder "where did that come from?" and "what will happen next?". The fact that we are constantly making predictions and expecting what's familiar, continuous and coherent creates opportunities for getting others' attention. We can either defy those expectations, lure people into making false predictions or give them a tease of what's essential to make an accurate prediction. This is the art of creating hooks, captivation and suspense in storytelling.
In his book: How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer shares lots of research findings in a very readable prose style. Our continual use of predictions makes more sense in light of cognitive patterns like these five:
- Our domamine neurons develop recognizable patterns which then trigger a "funny feeling" when something is off that we're not consciously aware of
- We learn by getting familiar enough with something to form an expectation of how it works, (relates, makes sense, etc.) and then revise those expectations if they get proven wrong.
- We can get a feeling faster than thinking about a situation in flux that accurately predicts how to respond (throw the pass to a receiver not yet in the clear, look for an engine fire, etc.)
- The anterior cingulate cortex prevents erratic and ineffective behavior by detecting prediction errors and keeping these predictions up to date as things change
- When we're faced with erratic returns (gambling, news watching, gaming, shopping, social networking, etc) that defy forming reliable predictions, we get thrilled by it, misjudge the evidence and likely get addicted to it.
In the book I reviewed earlier this week: Management Rewired - Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, Charles Jacobs explores how we desperately cling to some of our predictions. When we're getting pressured or rewarded for changing our mind, we will likely balk at the opportunity if it generates cognitive dissonance. We predict that we will lose face, respect, confidence, justifications, or even deeply held beliefs -- if we go along with changing our mind. We will resort to subtle maneuvers to sidestep the confrontation by giving it lip service, sabotaging it later or lying about it. This dysfunctional drama gets played out in reaction to most conventional management methods that are designed to control, intimidate or manipulate employees. It won't stop until we respond to what others are perceiving, processing and insisting on with their predictions.
From all this reading in cognitive neuroscience I've done, I've come to the following conclusions:
- Just as our minds seem hard wired to comprehend stories, they also seem equally predisposed to get oriented by predictions.
- Since we're constantly making, verifying and updating predictions, a framework that supported making better predictions would be perceived as inherently useful and understandable.
- A framework for making quality predictions could keep us out of the trouble we get into when we cannot make reliable predictions on our own.
- Our brains already speak a language of predictions in the process of handling sensory input, recalling memories, making decisions and responding to situations.
- Speaking that language could quickly enhance decisions and responses that are essential to working more cooperatively and collaboratively in the next economy.