A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

How the Brain Constructs Reality: Interview with Andy Clark

May 04, 2023 Randy Knie & Kyle Whitaker Season 3 Episode 21
A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar
How the Brain Constructs Reality: Interview with Andy Clark
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Every now and then we like to talk to someone who is an expert in something we know almost nothing about. What better topic than philosophy and neuroscience? Andy Clark is Professor of Cognitive Philosophy at the University of Sussex, and is a well-known voice within philosophy of mind, pushing the boundaries of how we conceive of the brain, its connections with our environment, and in his new book, how it actively constructs our experience through prediction. The book is The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality. We have a delightfully nerdy, scientific, and humble conversation with Andy about everything from why we sometimes feel our phones vibrating when they're not there, to whether AI can match human brains, to psychedelics, to whether there is a hard problem of consciousness. We even get him to talk a bit about religion. We barely scratch the surface, but it was a lot of fun!

The beverage we taste in this episode is Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Audio note: we weren't able to use our standard recording setup for this one, so if we sound a little odd, that's why. Apologies!

To skip the tasting, go to 6:53.

You can find the transcript for this episode here.

Image credit: The New Yorker Magazine


Want to support us?

The best way is to subscribe to our Patreon. Annual memberships are available for a 10% discount.

If you'd rather make a one-time donation, you can contribute through our PayPal.

Other important info:

  • Rate & review us on Apple & Spotify
  • Follow us on social media at @PPWBPodcast
  • Watch & comment on YouTube
  • Email us at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com


NOTE: This transcript was auto-generated by an artificial intelligence and has not been reviewed by a human. Please forgive and disregard any inaccuracies, misattributions, or misspellings.

Randy  00:06

I'm Randy, the pastor half of the podcast, and my friend Kyle is a philosopher. This podcast hosts conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and spirituality.

Kyle  00:15

We also invite experts to join us, making public space that we've often enjoyed off-air around the proverbial table with a good drink in the back corner of a dark pub.

Randy  00:24

Thanks for joining us, and welcome to A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. Friends, today we have a fun treat. We are talking to cognitive philosopher, I think that's what his title is, or his role is but cognitive philosopher, Andy Clark. And Andy wrote a book called the Experience Machine. How our minds predict and shape reality. And let me tell you, it is fascinating.

Kyle  00:53

Yeah, yeah, it's a really interesting book. I'm excited for this conversation. And he's somebody that I've read before, in a different area. But he's well known within philosophy of mind. He's kind of helped popularize a view called the extended mind thesis, which is that basically, the idea that the tools that we use can actually become a part of our mind. And we should consider them extensions of ourselves rather than tools that we use things like smartphones and whatnot. Really interesting argument. Maybe if we have time, we'll get get get into question about that. So normally, on the podcast, when we have philosophers on there's there are people who kind of straddle our interests or have some, you know, some relevance to, if not religion, at least the kind of epistemological topics we're interested in. But every now and then I think it's nice to have somebody on, it's just kind of pure philosophy. And that doesn't necessarily impact that. But that is an expert on something really interesting that does have relevance for stuff we care about. And that's kind of that's kind of the case with Andy, he's definitely an expert in consciousness and the brain, and neuroscience and a little bit artificial intelligence and all kinds of stuff. And so, really excited to talk to him about that stuff, even if it doesn't, obviously, directly impact religion.

Randy  02:05

Ya know, I love talking to philosophers. And every time we do talk to a philosopher who has some stuff for us to read, in this case, he has a book for us to read. It's always daunting, because these books are serious business. And Andy seems to dabble in science a lot. And

Kyle  02:20

he's married to a neuroscientist. And I think, I mean, he knows a lot about neuroscience, I don't mean to search directly on the brain. So yeah,

Randy  02:28

this book reads more like a neuroscience book rather than philosophy, cognitive philosophy, but I don't know anything about cognitive philosophy. So here we go.

Kyle  02:36

Yeah, yeah, I don't know much either. So this is mostly new to me too. And he's going to be arguing for is arguing for in the book, basically, a new way of conceiving how the brain constructs reality. So really interesting stuff.

Randy  02:47

It's truly fascinating. Yeah. So on this podcast, we sample alcoholic beverages, because we are a pastor and philosopher walk into a bar. And we'd love to cultivate conversations that you would have in the setting of a local pub or bar. So Kyle, what are we drinking today? I have no idea. I'm gonna tell you right off the bat. I'm not excited about this. Because in real world, I don't know when you're listening friends. But in our world, it's 10:45am. And I am not a drinker. I don't love drinking. I don't. It's a whole different thing. I don't I'm not excited that I'm gonna go to a meeting after this and smell like booze. All of the things so same,

Kyle  03:21

same, but you know, sometimes to get a guest that you want, you gotta do it. You gotta do so I'm gonna take one for the team. Yeah, yeah. So I'm not going to actually tell you what this is. I want us to sip this one blonde and see if you can guess or if you like it or not, or just whatever. There's some I've had on my shelf for a long time. And yeah, that's all I'm gonna say about it. So tell me what you think.

Randy  03:39

The nose is nice. It's, it's very, like old forester II to me to know. Interesting.

Kyle  03:45

Interesting. Yeah, I got some fruit notes and bright, bright and it's in there, but also some of that. Grain. I mean, green is so basic. Isn't that kind of field a smell? It's very good.

Randy  04:00

Oh, man. I like it a lot. Yeah. And I, whenever I do a blind tasting, I'm worried that I'm going to be made a fool that you're gonna tell me this is like, complete rail garbage old crow or something. But I like it. Let me take another sip. It's not barrel proof.

Kyle  04:19

For sure. No, no, it's obviously not bear proof.

Randy  04:22

It's very mild. Yeah, it. It's got the bananas thing. It's got the

Kyle  04:26

does have bananas. It's just mellow. That's smelling good.

Randy  04:29

Yeah. But not in a bad way. Like in a really appealing way. It's got character. It's got flavor. It's got the word in there. Nothing. Just standard names actually, though, isn't exactly nothing screams at you as being overbearing. It's rude. I like it. Yeah. And I liked the mouthfeel it's kind of luscious. Got the richness to it. What is it?

Kyle  04:48

Any guesses?

Randy  04:49

I'll stick with my old some variation of Ofo. But I'm sure it's not.

Kyle  04:53

This is Blanton's. No man. I was a little bit hoping you wouldn't like it.

Randy  05:03

I'm really glad I did. Yes, I

Kyle  05:08

actually think Blaine's is just pretty good. Doesn't nothing blows me away about it. It's a very straightforward bourbon. That's kind of what you would expect for, I would say, maybe $40. You cannot get it for that. But for me, this is like a $45 Bourbon.

Randy  05:23

Well, we can't find it anywhere. But I'm proud of my old forest kind of comp, because I would say it lands in that really good but not exceptional land. Yeah, for the most part of a forest and forester and, but it is just, it's just good. It just brings and delivers what I want from a bourbon.

Kyle  05:42

This would be a really excellent sipping whiskey if it was affordable, and you can easily locate it, which you used to be able to do.

Randy  05:47

So this is like a better version of Eagle rare to me.

Kyle  05:50

Yes, yes. Yes. Although, you know, I think you're right, actually, don't quote me on this. I don't need to look this up. But I think he grows older. Is it not?

Randy  05:58

I don't know. But yeah, I agree. This is more interesting, but it doesn't have that awesome horsey on the top of the bottle. Exactly.

Kyle  06:05

You know, definitely one of the coolest bottles in the game for sure.

Randy  06:09

Where do you find this because you can't find this at any given liquor store.

Kyle  06:12

This is a old bottle that I've had for a long time that I got at the at the distillery You are the worst, which you can I don't even know if you can do that anymore. You have to get there like right when they open and I'm not even sure Blanton's is one of the things they offer anymore, so you may not be able to

Randy  06:26

Alright, well now I all of a sudden enjoy drinking a little bit more. Drinking is always better when you're drinking plantains but yeah, thanks. Thanks, California. Cheers Well, Andy Clark, thank you so much for joining us on the pasture and a philosopher walk into a bar fantastic to be here. Thanks

Andy  06:59

so much for having us

Randy  07:00

in. We are doing this early because you are in the UK and it is what's about 11 o'clock our time what is it your time five o'clock?

Andy  07:07

Yeah, just coming up to five o'clock on there all the gray and rainy UK late afternoon. We're in the UK are you Andy Brighton right on the coast. I look out the window, I can see the sea and the rain and the seagulls

Randy  07:22

makes me want to scotch. So your your book is the Experience Machine how our minds predict and shape reality which it's a fascinating, dense book. I really really enjoyed it. Andy, thank you for that gift. I wanted to just start out with I was I would just stopped in my tracks because I'm a pastor by who you quoted to begin the book with you begin the book with a quote from The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis. And it says what you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you're standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are. Now first of all, I wasn't expecting to see a CS Lewis quote from The Chronicles of Narnia in a cognitive philosophers book. Tell us why that quote? And what do you think about CS Lewis?

Andy  08:08

Yeah, interesting. Well, why the quote, because I think it captures something about the theme of the book, you know, the theme of the book being that, that your history and your personal experiences make a great deal of difference to the way that you literally see, hear, touch and feel the things around you, including your own body. So that idea that it's kind of about the person that you are, is, that's the thing that was speaking to me there. More generally than that, you know, either. I enjoyed CS Lewis's works for some, for some reason, you know, I've always found them kind of rich and imaginative, and sort of a nice way of a nice way of speaking to just about anybody. So you know, I haven't read them for quite a long time. To be honest, I just kind of just that one just kind of jumped into my jumped into my memory at the right time. But, but yeah, I guess I've found I think it's I think it's, it's a good job of communication, using strategies that we humans can get our heads around. Yeah.

Kyle  09:08

Yeah. It makes me wonder what your brain was predicting when you thought of that, quote,

Andy  09:13

to the point, I mean, it's interesting that half the time because we've got no idea what our own brains are predicting. So you know, when we say predictions, structure experience, doesn't mean that we know what those predictions are. And indeed, sometimes you try and predict something and you can't experience it that way at all. So I doubt it. You know, I'm sure we'll get around to the importance of all these layers of unconscious prediction.

Randy  09:36

Yeah. So Andy, before Kyle gets into the rest of the outline, I'm going to ask an unscripted question. You don't have to answer it if you don't want but we are, are a lot of our listeners are either post Evangelical, agnostic, progressive leaning Christians, people of faith. And would you mind sharing what your perspective or where You are in regards to faith or belief in a supernatural, higher power, whatever or none? Would you just mind sharing with our audience so we can kind of have a landscape of who you are and where you are?

Andy  10:13

Yeah. So I was brought up a Catholic. That's my background, but we'll talk, you know, fully in the Catholic Church. But what happened to me was, when I went to university, I just stopped going to church, I didn't make a conscious decision, just simply, I just stopped doing it. And I realized as time went on, but my belief system wasn't really working that way. And so I am now I would actually call myself an atheist. Now, I kind of I rather actively don't believe. But that's not because I have proof, you know, who could have proved that there's not a supernatural being out there? Or and indeed, some people understand supernatural being or God in ways that are sometimes so broad that I could I could pretty well endorse them as sort of, you know, I don't know, kind of a feeling that there's value in the universe, there's just value in the way things are and that that value brings obligations, I do believe all of that. But yeah, I just sort of suddenly found myself not being a Catholic anymore.

Randy  11:15

And then you said, you went from there to being actively atheist? What does that actively mean to

Andy  11:21

the active doesn't really mean very much to be honest, all I mean, is a theist. I guess that was an unnecessary little, little extra that. Yes. But, you know, a lot of my colleagues will say that they're kind of agnostic, if kind of blue stone, it's like, yeah, well, you know, I don't really know. But on the other hand, I think that it would be dishonest of me to say that, because I think when I apply the standards of proof and evidence that I normally apply to everything else, and I apply it to that body, at least the Catholic body of beliefs I was brought up with, I can't really, I really wouldn't like to speak to any other any other belief set or tradition, particularly the ones like the kind of Buddhist ones that are more, I don't know, kind of even know how to put that less easy to nail down somehow.

Kyle  12:07

Catholics at least have the virtue of having written everything down. Exactly what is

Andy  12:13

the virtue of making some claims that I've that I found sufficiently extreme to find myself rejecting them? You know? So? So yeah, it's, it's just applying what I think of as ordinary standards of evidence. But of course, given the the way that subjective probabilities work in the Bayesian stuff that is kind of behind the book, if your subjective probabilities start in a certain place, then in a way, you know, evidence sort of has to fall into place sometime with those very strong, subjective probabilities. So I think an awful lot depends on where you start from, and I imagine this, there might even be a reconstruction of the notion of faith, there somewhere, you know, just turn up that subjective.

Kyle  12:56

There, there are many Bayesian reconstructions of the notion of faith. There's no shortage of Bayesian philosophers arguing for theism. So interesting. Thank you for yeah, thanks for that. So let's dive into the book. So the book is an extended case for what you refer to as the predictive brain or you have various terms for it. So can you define that briefly for our listeners, and explain how it's different from the kind of standard model of how the brain works to construct AR experience that was dominant very recently, as recently as maybe 20 years ago, maybe even more recently than that? Yeah,

Andy  13:24

I think the place to start there is with a, what's his very slight caricature of the standard model. So the slight caricature would be that perception works entirely from the outside in, that as you look around the world, or even as you feel your own body, kind of what you're doing is you're processing sensory signals that carry information about what's out there, or what's in there in the case of your body. And your brain just progressively unpack sirs, revealing when things go well, how things are in the body and in the world. Now, kind of flip that model on its head. And imagine that instead of the brain just kind of waiting there for these signals to come. And then trying to make sense of them. It's kind of already made sense of everything. It's kind of sitting there with a sort of model of the world expectations about how these signals are most likely to be right now. And that's what it's actively doing all the time. It's kind of pulsing out these predictions, if you like, these guesses are how things are. And then all that incoming sensory information now plays a very different role. Instead of kind of doing most of the work and drive in most of the way you see and feel your world. What happens is it's a differences from your predictions that then get to drive updates and changes. So suddenly your your thing is sitting there predicting all kinds of stuff, and it's the residual errors of differences between what you were predicting and what the raw sensory evidence seems to be suggesting. You get to determine what you see and feel and actually do so in a way to kind of weigh that will again, come back to I'm sure, but so that's the kind of car flip is sort of perception works from the inside out more than from the outside in. And that's not the way we used to think about it.

Randy  15:19

Yes, recently is how, how far, how long ago? Did we not think about it like that?

Andy  15:24

Yeah, I think that I think that tradition, well, it goes back a very long way, at least to Descartes. So Descartes is the first place where I can look and absolutely see anatomical drawings that basically have lots of little openings out onto the world. And then pictures of forces impinging there. And being sort of sent through the system making deeper and deeper impressions. I think that's Descartes own word into the system. And then that, that that sort of picture lasted right through least to to the late 20th century. So you'd see neuroscience textbooks like candle and Schwartz, absolutely wonderful, super careful textbooks. Were when they would depict the visual system, nearly all of the all of the arrows actually, were going inwards from the outside deeper and deeper into the neural processing, when in fact, even then it was no and that if you were thinking about the actual wiring of the brain, that you probably had about, you know, between four and 10 times as much moving signals in the other direction. So there was this sort of kind of almost unexplained dark matter in the brain or this stuff going on, where people thought, Well, maybe it's just sort of a little bit of applying context to the incoming signal. So you know, people were clearly clearly thinking about it. But the idea that maybe we should flip the whole model on its head is kind of new. You saw the same picture in David Marr in artificial intelligence. So Mars theory of vision, absolutely groundbreaking, wonderful theory of vision, super influential. But it basically depicted vision as a feed forward process. And so these feedback signals, the ones going from deep in the brain towards the sensory periphery, is we're kind of relegated to doing some kind of secondary cleaning up sort of job. So yeah, so it lasted a long time. And actually, to be honest, I don't think it's even gone. Now. I think predictive processing, and this sort of story about the brain as an active organ of prediction, is the idea that the brain is predicting is generally accepted now. But the idea that as it were, that's mostly what it's doing. That's the main thing that it's doing. And we really should be thinking, and inside our terms most of the time, that's still that's still a new idea.

Randy  17:46

Yeah, you, you say you have a little bit in your book about new drivers and how they don't have that grid for, you know, their brain hasn't learned all the things and that I have a 16 year old, who's probably two months away from getting her her driver's license here in the US. And that petrifies me beyond all belief. And it makes sense to me, though, that, you know, statistically young drivers are worse than, you know, experienced drivers. And you kind of say that, she won't have that grid of understanding of predicting what's happening, because she's experiencing it all it all it is all directly coming at her rather than from within her. Likewise, I've had times on road trips, where I'm talking with a person intensely. And while driving in or I'm looking at my phone, don't tell anyone where all of a sudden, I'll look up at the road and realize that I've been driving for the last four minutes, but I don't remember any of it. Right? How much of what your your theorizing in your study has to do with that practical kind of stuff?

Andy  18:42

Yeah, I think it's got a lot of implications for all this practical sort of stuff. So in the driving kind of case, it makes very good sense of the kinds of different patterns of ability and mistake that novices an expert drivers have. Because there are certain kinds of mistakes, the experts will make a lot more than novices things like hitting a cyclist that enters a roundabout from an unexpected angle, the novice is much more likely to see the cyclist. The reason for that seems to be because the expert has such a strong prediction of how traffic ought to flow around the roundabout, that that's the only place they look in effect. They just kind of look over there. If they do happen to look to the other place, their strong prediction that there's nothing interesting going on there. Actually, Trump's the little bit of sensory information they get in from this, I don't know cyclists all dressed in black or something, and they don't spot it at all. So you know, it's a, as you build up expertise, your predictions play a stronger and stronger role. And that's a good thing because obviously expert drivers can do all kinds of cool stuff and a bad thing because it gives you kind of blind spots that come along with your strong predictions.

Randy  19:53

Fascinating. So similarly, you quoted it. You mentioned AI just a minute ago. Andy in This is a bit of a crude question coming from me, the non philosopher in the conversation, but you quote AI pioneer Patrick Winston in your book where I believe he was talking about our brain function and said we confront, quote, a strange architecture about which we are nearly clueless. Given the idea that our brains are prediction machines and are able to predictably process our environments and reality in ways that seem like we're just beginning to understand our this is the crude question part of it. Are our brains better than or superior to AI?

Andy  20:30

Oh, okay. Well, maybe I should divide that into into two halves. So the so the, you know, the quote from Winston there is just saying, there's this architecture that we just we really don't understand yet. And it is that one that had all of these connections running and what looks to be the wrong direction as it were running from inside to out. So he thought, yeah, we're not really gonna model does justice to that, to be honest, I think he was maybe slightly held to touch with some of the best cognitive neuroscience of his day even then, because by that time, people were beginning to form these models. So the other part of your question, though, was about whether our brains are better than those of the things like I guess, chat GPT. And the kind of AIS that we have, that are making so many big splashes at the moment? Well, I think they're different. And I think that let me back up slightly here, chat GPT. And, and predictive processing, these models of what brains do have something in common, they each say there's a model at the heart that is trying to make predictions about something. And so in the case of chat, GPT, it was trained to predict the next word in sentences, basically, that's just, you know, those are texts, go, try and predict the next word turned out, you could learn an awful lot of stuff that way. What's interesting about human brains, I think, is that they're not just trying to predict the next sensory input, or even the current sensory input. So we need to, we need to remember, actually, when we're doing some of this work that a lot of the prediction is predicting the present, if you're actually trying to predict the sensory signals that are hitting you, kind of right now. So it's not it's not necessarily very future oriented. But so the difference really, I think, is perception action loops, brains like ours, or prediction machines whose job is to keep a perception action loop running, so that we're forever harvesting new information from the world moving around in the world poking and prodding it to get the information we need to serve our needs as biological organisms. Whereas these other things are much more passive, the AIS that we've got, they don't, they don't really poke and prod the data streams in order to get better data. They're not acting in that sense. So their actions are pretty thin, they just kind of outputs. So I think that is fundamentally different. I think, actually, I think it's these by being lodged in these action loops that you gain a deep understanding of your world, a place where things cause other things to happen. And some things kind of matter more than others. So all of that stuff seems to me to be missing from the super cool tools, nonetheless, wonderful. The nice things to have around it like books.

Kyle  23:18

Yeah, this is a good segue, because I wanted to ask you about action. Anyway. And its relation to perception in this predictive model of the brain. I remember as an undergrad reading, I think it was Alvin know his book, action and perception. And that kind of inactive theory of the mind that seemed different from what previous psychologists had been doing. Were, you know, very much similar to what you're doing the book, things are coming in, rather than we're organisms who live in an environment, and we're going out, and we're thinking with our whole body, and with the environment and all of that. So can you say a bit more about how action constitutes maybe that's too strong of a word, perception how that's related to this predictive model. And while we're on AI, do you think there's any chance that AI will achieve that?

Andy  23:57

Okay, yeah, lots in there, too. So, yeah, so the way to get action into the equation here, how to think about it in predictive brain terms, is that that there are two ways to get rid of these prediction error signals that are the thing that you get when your predictions meet the evidence. One is to change your prediction, I think that's what we're doing. When we kind of open our eyes and we try and see what's around us, you know, you might try out one hypothesis that you're at home in bed, that's a usual one, but you're not getting evidence to support that because you're actually in a hotel room. And so you have to get a better guess until things come into view. Of course, there's another way to make the prediction errors go away, which would be to somehow get up move from your hotel room and go home and start looking around and and seeing what you expect to see at home. And so action is a way of getting rid of proprioceptive prediction errors. I'll unpack that because it's a mouthful. So these are just errors of proprioceptive predict Tuna is a prediction of how your body is feeling as it moves through space, how it would be feeling as it moves through space. So the idea is I predict a certain flow of those feelings, they're not actual because they're not happening yet. And I get rid of the prediction errors by moving my arm in exactly that way. This turns out to be a really efficient and powerful model of motor control. So these predictions of this kind do the job of motor commands. And it hooks in rather nicely, I think, into sports psychology. So you know, if you think about what's going on in a good bit of sports training, is not really telling you what to do, that doesn't really work all that well. But if you can get someone to know how it feels to be doing it, right, then they can predict that feeling that flow sensation, if they can get rid of the errors relative to a good prediction like that they're doing it right. That's kind of what it is to learn to drive properly is to be able to predict how it would feel if you were turning the steering wheel just right, and get rid of the errors by turning the steering wheel just right. So that's the sort of action side of it. And when all that comes together, you've got the kind of common currency for action and perception. They're all revolving together around this sort of core project, let's get rid of the prediction errors. That's so I think that gives us a way of closing the perception action loop. And revealing the brain is basically in the same business all the time. perception and action just aren't as different as they seem to be, once we take this perspective. Now, there's something else at the end of your question, there's something about AI?

Kyle  26:38

Yeah. If you think I would be able to have that kind of active ability eventually. Yeah, well,

Andy  26:44

absolutely. You know, people are working on that now, often in the context of either real robotics or simulated robotics, because you need something that at least simulates a perception action loop to be able to do this stuff. It goes under the name of active inference there, and there's a there's even a company called vs. a, I think they called vs. Ve RSCs. And they are trying to trying to sort of leverage the predictive processing and active inference story as a way of doing Artificial General Intelligence actually get into the thing that perhaps, you know, if we're right about this, is maybe beyond the reach of the more passive, passive systems, I chat GPT. Yeah.

Randy  27:32

We could go down a whole AI thread, but I want to stick to your book, Andy, another quest? Kind of cruder question from a non philosopher, you say at different parts of the book. And I'm quoting you from different parts experience is shaped by our own expectations, experiences shaped by your own expectations. And you say the world we experience is the world we predict. Now, these makes sense to me in the predictive brain, the brain being a predictive machine makes a lot of sense to me. And at the same time, then it kind of messes with me thinking then what's real? If I'm, if I'm processing what's real to me, and you're processing? What's real to you? Where can we come to some communal understanding of what is real and true?

Andy  28:15

Yeah, that's a great question. And understanding how we should think about our contact with reality on these models is a very, very important and tricky philosophical project. So where shall we even start with that? I think one thing to say is that we've got all kinds of ways of being anchored in a common world, you know, we have roughly similar bodily forms, and we bump into things in roughly the same way. So the world is gonna throw prediction errors at you and me in rather a similar way, if we both try and walk through a solid wall, for example. So I think that's doing a lot of work. We've also got language and we talk to each other about stuff. And I think language actually is quite a powerful force to pull in our worlds together. Sort of, you know, I, I hear what you say about the way that you experience the world. And I need to take that into account when I tried to think about the world. So I think there are real forces important really important ones that anchor us in a way, I mean, going back to their old chat GPT. And if chat GPT is anchored to the world, it's only through our kind of traces left out there in text space, not anchored in the way an organism that's got to get things right about its interactions with reality or die, is so so I think we all kind of anchored at the same time, the amount of wiggle room is quite surprising. And in a way the books about the wiggle room the book is about, you know, so we're anchored in a common reality. But how much difference might be common in our experience from the different predictions we bring to bear. So, you know, some of the more dramatic cases in the book, I think, are just there to highlight that like the construction worker case, who is fell off some scaffolding and stakes, big nail went through the boot. Construction worker in extreme agony. This is all reported in the BMJ British Medical Journal, they they get the person to the hospital start to give them fentanyl because they're in so much pain, some other kinds of painkiller to when they actually get down to business and get the nail out, it did pass safely between the toes of the construction worker had gone right through the boot that gives you strong visual evidence for your sort of prediction of pain. And a really, really strong prediction of pain is capable fully capable of bringing pain about. So I think that's, you know, at that level, we can see the predictions really matter. And that gives you some leverage to maybe you can start to push back against chronic pain by changing the way people predict things about their own future present experiences. So it's that it's that wiggle room, and I think we don't yet know actually how different individual human experiences might be because of that, they might be more different than we think.

Randy  31:05

Let me let me just on that chronic pain idea. I'm sure there's some listeners who deal with chronic pain, are you insinuating that kind of mindfulness techniques can do something or psychedelics or both, and

Andy  31:18

with psychedelics, that will be interesting, but that wasn't where I was going with that one. No reason. Maybe not to. But yeah, the kind of technique I've got in mind is sometimes called pain reprocessing theory. It's really just a version of what we think of as reframing, good old reframe. And so you know, people say to you, you've got that tingly feeling before you give a talk, if you frame that as nerves. And that might be unsettling for you. But suppose you frame it this way, you say, well, that's my body signal in its chemical readiness to deliver a great performance. Now, suddenly, instead of being sort of unsettled by that tingly feeling, you find it, it enhances your your performance. So people are trying to do things like this with chronic pain, people take their pain very often, while I do to everyone does to be the body's way of saying don't do it. But in the case of chronic pain, it's the pain signaling that is often either exaggerated or wrong. And so if you can, if you can reframe it by saying that it's a warning light that's gone wrong, your body has given you these warnings, but actually, you can do a lot more than those warnings suggest without damaging yourself at all, then if people start to try and do a bit more, and they find they can, and that helps them make even more optimistic predictions, if you like about, you know, what they can do without feeling extreme pain. And at least to some people, this is a beneficial technique to try. You know, there are no there are no golden bullets here. And, you know, chronic pain, nearly always has standard organic stuff going on there at the same at the same time. So you know, there's just this unexplained penumbra, around chronic pain, a lot of our daily experiences, there's a huge variation between the way that I experienced the very same bodily damage at one moment. And another moment. We I think getting to grips with this will be good, good for us as a as a society that has a hell of a lot of chronic pain to deal with. Yeah,

Kyle  33:32

yeah, I was gonna ask you about that case, because it was really striking to me, partially because they gave him fentanyl apparently without checking if there was an actual injury. But what happened when when he realized that it was fine? Did the pain go away? Do you know?

Andy  33:48

But you know, I don't know. The report is not very long report in the BMJ they don't talk about what happened then. I think given fentanyl there, it's there's nothing particularly too surprising about that, you know, you get fentanyl before lots of minor procedures. And I think it's just yell if someone is sitting there screaming and you're about to try and pull the nail out of their boot, probably giving them momentum or something like that. But yeah, sorry. There was another way to that question.

Kyle  34:19

Well, I'm just curious about because you talk in the book about I think it was somewhere around that section about how some of these, let's just call them false perceptions can become ingrained, and become very difficult to overthrow, because you start predicting them more and more. And then each time you experience it, it like reinforces the prediction. So look, there's evidence that it was right. So can you talk a bit about that process? And how ingrained it can become and maybe some ways to get out of it? Yeah. I was curious about whether that guy can we do have the pain?

Andy  34:51

Yeah. Oh, that's relate to when they pulled it out. Work. You would think that at that point, you've got good visual evidence that the terrible thing that you thought was happening isn't happening. And then that will change the balance in the sort of prediction machine. So it's the the brain is kind of on these pictures, the brain is constantly estimating the reliability of its own predictions, as well as the reliability of the sensory evidence. And that balancing act is really, really important. If you change the weighting, then suddenly, you're either up or down the reliability of the sensory evidence. In this case, the sensory evidence was nailed through boot. Expect extreme pain. But of course, now you either don't take that evidence seriously. Or rather, you just see that it was really evidence for something else. So I would have expected that with almost immediate effect. As soon as they saw what was actually going on. They should have started to experience a great deal of relief and be like, oh, yeah, okay. Yeah, it's not hurting, after all. But that's an empirical, or at least it's a question about that particular case, to which I don't know the answer. You're right about the vicious sort of cycles that we can get into. So you know, if you're someone that predicts that what the dentist is going to do to you is going to cause extreme pain, you go into the dentist with that prediction, you will feel more pain than you would fail. If you believe the dentist, when they say this will just be a tickle. You know, if you actually believe them, when they say that, then it will feel less. And of course, that means that you now have more reason to believe that it's just going to be a tickle. And so you've got a nice sort of virtuous circle. They're just like the kind of vicious circles that you can get into when you think something's really going to hurt and, and it does really hurt. And so you have evidence that yeah, that really hurts when that happens. We can break these these these cycles by recognizing them. First of all, I think if you recognize that something like that can be going on, then you're very, very well positioned to start to question whether things are really feeling the way you think they're feeling. So the thing there is, technically in these accounts, attention can reverse the effects of prediction. So, you know, if I'm, in effect if I if I'm predicting a particular thing, but I attend very, very strongly to the sensory evidence that kind of pushes back against the power of the prediction. So we do have kind of tools. Nothing is nothing is nothing is foolproof, and I don't think we really know how to use them properly yet. self affirmation is another one. So there are lots of things that will fall into place, placebos, self affirmation, all these things that seem to be ways of sort of massaging our own prediction machinery in ways that hopefully will be helpful. Yeah. That's awesome. So

Kyle  38:03

yeah, my background is epistemology. So all through the book, I'm thinking what are the epistemic implications of this. And so that's my mind immediately went to like echo chambers and misinformation and conspiracy theories, when you're talking about getting trapped in these kinds of cycles and what it would take to, to break out of them. I like that attention point. You also say at one point, this is a quote, the perceiving brain is never passively responding to the world. Instead, it's actively trying to hallucinate the world by checking that hallucination against the evidence coming in via the senses. Hallucinations are the bread and butter of epistemology. So of course, we love we love talking about those things. So it reminded me a little bit of what one Epistemologists named Lawrence Bon jour his defensive of view called coherent ism back in the day, he later changed his mind. But it was very similar because you what makes a belief justified on that view is its coherence with the web of beliefs, but he also built in this part where it had to be constantly checking against the world to confirm itself. I thought that sounds very similar. So what do you think about the the implications of this view? For epistemology? If you have any thoughts about that? Yeah,

Andy  39:05

a little thought, is gonna sound a little bit philosophical. And that's because it is. So there's this sort of slogan there that you mentioned, perception of controlled hallucination. And, and I liked the slogan in some ways, but I do think it tends to give a wrong impression in some other ways. So I slightly prefer to say that hallucination is uncontrolled perception. So you know, what, what comes out of these models is that there's the same apparatus involved in hallucination. And in ordinary perception, you've got a model of how things are likely to be that model is meeting the sensory evidence. If the model is overweighted, it will trump the sensory evidence and you'll see just what you expect to see. If the models underweighted you'll actually have trouble spotting a genuine but fine pattern in a noisy environment. So it's very useful to be able to do this kind under this kind of work, the reason I prefer to think of perception as uncon sorry, hallucination as uncontrolled perception is just that it sort of puts perception in the driving seat, it kind of says that, typically this stuff works. And it keeps us in contact with the world, in the ways that matter for an organism like us, sometimes it goes wrong. And in those cases, the the control element is kind of misfiring. This is all about this relative weighting of sensory input versus predictions. That's the, that's the most sensitive bit of the instrument. And when it goes wrong, all kinds of terrible things happen, because when it goes wrong, our brains don't know what to take seriously, and what not to take seriously. It's really as the kind of neural equivalent of fake news, you're just like, you know, at that point, where do you stand to start correcting things, it gets harder and harder. So I think epistemologically, that stuff is revealing in some way it's helps make sense of why we're so susceptible, actually, to conspiracy theories and the like, because you know, if you can, if you can bring enough stuff under a single umbrella, then that begins to look like evidence for that umbrella, and in fact, often, exactly.

Kyle  41:20

And often it Yes, exactly. It's not just that it looks like it's legitimate. Yes. Yeah, that's excellent. And also, I think, shed some light on possible corrections, or at least corrective actions that we can take to try to counter some of that influence. That's actually it's just

Andy  41:34

awareness, just awareness of how we work. I think it's very often a good it's at least step one of countering these these, I don't know, pernicious modes of influence.

Kyle  41:44

Sure. So I wanted to ask you, you gave the example case of the guy with the nail in his booth. There's lots of really interesting, dramatic examples like that in the book. So for listeners who are still trying to get their heads around what this whole idea of the predictive brain is, can you give? Maybe, I don't know, some of those. What do you think are the like the strongest, most vivid supports, examples or lines of evidence for this kind of view that they could sink their teeth into?

Andy  42:07

Yeah, there's, I mean, as you say, there's lots and lots of them there in the book, one of the ones that is just most familiar, maybe, is phantom phone vibrations. So I think probably, it's just about

Kyle  42:18

I'm not kidding, Andy, when I read that, I thought I had such a moment of validation, because that has happened to me numerous times. And I legit thought I was going insane. And I didn't know I didn't know anyone else and experienced this.

Andy  42:30

Yeah, no, it's a real thing. It was even gosh, it was word of the year in the Macquarie Dictionary back in 2013, or something. But yeah, Phantom phone vibrations seem to reflect the extent to which chronic phone users if you like, start to persistently expect those sorts of those sorts of vibration II sensations. And what seems to happen is it's a sort of microscopic version of what's probably going wrong. When you have what are called functional medical disorders. These will be cases where there's no standard organic calls, but you're having a very real experience, it could be a pain, it could be a blindness, it could be a paralysis. This falls quite easily into place, because the predictive brain has the ability to bring those experiences about, as long as the predictions become highly weighted. So what's happened in the phone cases, you know, you get an awful lot of this stuff going on, you've got some highly weighted predictions that at any moment, you could be interrupted by a bargain, then there's a little bit of bodily fluctuation within normal bounds. But that could be taken as a very faint version of the vibration thing starting up. And then the predictive brain just latches right onto that says, yes, there is happening. And the strong prediction then gives you a clear feeling that the vibrations happening you know, sometimes it's ridiculously clear, you know, he's Aiden, How is this even possible I get these phantom vibrations on my wrist now as well, thanks to having finally given in and started wearing a smartwatch. It's like, you know, there's no end to these things. The White Christmas experiments are another one where undergraduates at first and then ordinary people were kind of set up to expect that in a sound file that they were that they were being played, there might be a fade onset of being Crosby singing White Christmas, and huge numbers of participants, highly significant numbers of participants did in fact, detect the onset of being singing White Christmas, but in fact, it was white noise or sound file, there was not a there was no bit of white Christmas in there at all. And, you know, this is this is a robust result. It's enhanced by caffeine. So you know, there there are, there are things that we do to ourselves that make it more likely that we're going to experience these effects and others. And it just seems as if that you know, this Just is the way that brains like ours work and it's how they make sense of a very complex world that is that is full of signals that sometimes carry good information and sometimes don't. Another example there is my my partner and started using a little alarm that makes a sort of gentle, birdie cheap in noise in the morning, it's supposed to be some kind of gentle wake up. It's obviously it's causing hallucinations in me because no real birdsong comes through our windows, sadly, but I do very often find myself here in this little chirpy sound. And then it's not the right time at all, there is no chirping, but I've got this chronic, ongoing underlying prediction at about, you know, early morning light time that this is going to happen. So there are, you know, lots of lots of examples, some of them in the domain of bodily states lots in the domain of looking out at the world hearing, see, and I think once you start to think in predictive brain terms, you'll, you'll find it all around you all the time.

Randy  46:05

It's yeah, I've I've been thinking about you, Andy, in many moments of my everyday life, because this stuff is happening the other day, I have a I have a song, that's my alarm, it's very gentle, and ring, it's, it's way better than a buzzing alarm. And the other day, I was laying in bed and woke up right around the time when my alarm was gonna go off. But, and I heard that song, I thought for sure I heard that song. And all of a sudden, I looked at my phone and realized, it's before the alarm goes off. And I didn't hear that song. Again, that's stunning that in that state of consciousness, if you would, that I just woke up. And immediately as I just wake up, I think I hear that song. So maybe you can get when you've just spoken. And also,

Andy  46:47

I was just gonna say there are simulation studies are reported in the book to where you can see that if you set up the prediction, and then you and then you emit the signal. So that's what's happening there. There's this thing, normally it comes in this sequence, this time it's emitted. what the brain does, or what the artificial systems here start doing to is it starts to produce a signal for itself. So you get a little sort of uptick of that. And then prediction error kicks in. realize it's not really there, and it crushes it down. But you know, I think this makes phenomenologically good sense. You know, when I, when I sort of seem to just see my dead dog emerging from behind the curtain that Russell's or something, I think we might really be having a fleeting but genuine start of a visual experience that isn't actually happening, like a very fleeting hallucination that then we pick up on fast enough to to get rid of anyway, sorry, I think I interrupted you a bit there, Randy. Just come back.

Randy  47:48

No, you have a bit about an I forget what you call it. It's like functional, forget. But I have dealt with psychosomatic pains or what I've called psychosomatic pains. And therapists will say that that's because Randy You don't process stress, you know, in normal ways where like, you're not as stressed out person. But your job is very stressful. And so your body's just telling you you need to slow down or whatever, you know that that's that's the bit that I hear from therapists. You have a bit in here about psychosomatic or what some would call psychosomatic pains, pains that doctors will tell you aren't rooted in the biology of your body. Is there anything that you can tell me about that?

Andy  48:25

Yeah, this is the things that yeah, used to be called psychosomatic, hysterical, long, long ago, functional seems to be the preferred term now, where the idea is, look, it's, it's, it's, it's perfectly real. But it's not, not not rooted in the standard organic causes. Of course, there are organic causes for everything. But these aren't the standard organic causes. You know, just I think the thing is, it falls into place very much like those phantom phone vibrations, you know that the body is producing all kinds of signals all the time, and it can latch on to some perfectly innocent signals. But just treat them as signal in something completely different. And then that can be the thing you experience very often. You might ask, how do you ever get evidence for this kind of thing? Because after all, you know, medical science misses a lot of standard organic causes. And so, so what's going on there. But the sort of interesting profile of some of these cases is that you can get sorts of shapes of deficit that couldn't really have a standard organic cause. There's not very many of these, but one of them is one of them is a kind of kind of blindness, tubular visual field. The effect is called, where you have a blind spot, and we're, whether they measure it close to your eye or far away from your eye, it's exactly the same diameter. That's actually optically impossible, but it's not impossible. All if what's generated in the experience is your prediction of blindness of a certain your brains prediction of blindness of a certain diameter, that can, that can clearly cause that you can cause just about any such profile. So, in cases like that, if you can, if you recognize what's going on, then interventions again become possible. So a colleague of mine, I used to work at Edinburgh University. And one of my colleagues up there was working with a woman who was had woken up one day, totally blind, it turned out that she had been having lots and lots of migraines, and she'd spent a lot of time in darkened rooms. And she'd started her brain had started very strongly to predict darkness. That seemed to be at least this is, this was the idea that that seemed to be the root cause. So how might you push back on that you might do something like, induce experiences of light by, in this case, using a magnetic pulse to the brain to activate phosphenes, which are those, those sorts of things that you can sometimes see if you screw up your eyes hard enough, these kinds of little flashes of light like that. So inducing, that is a way of saying, Look, you know, vision can happen to you. And there were various other sorts of things, he pointed out that she was that she was often following his eyes as she was talking. So again, that enabled her to push back against her own unconscious prediction that she wasn't seeing. And then she started to be able to see again. So you know, that's a dramatic case. But, but I think very functional medical disorders are one of the areas that thinking about the brain as a prediction machine will help with one other reason I think it will help a lot, is because since this is the way we all construct our experience, it's not going to perhaps seem, I don't know so unpalatable to be told that you have a functional disorder of this kind. This is how we all construct our experience. It's just it's the same balancing act just just skewed a little way. So

Randy  52:12

in your book, you I think it's in chapter two, but you I found particularly interesting this topic, because I have a son on the spectrum, autism spectrum, and you're writing about enhanced sensory worlds and autism is fascinating. I always thought that when it comes to embodied observations or self awareness, that my son might not have all the indicators and cues that neurotypical people have, that is about a deficit of those things. And you say it's looks like it's just the opposite, that there's an overload of senses, coming at people on the spectrum that makes it almost impossible to interpret. Can you explain this for us and our listeners, Andy?

Andy  52:48

Yeah, yeah, I think this is a this is one of the better started kind of kind of areas applying the brain kind of story. And I think the first thing that came out of that is that it really doesn't look as if it's a deficit, as if Autism Spectrum condition involves anything like for example, a theory of mind deficit, or an empathy deficit, or any of those things that people have talked about. In fact, when people like another colleague of mine, Sarah Garfinkel, have looked at the empathy thing, it seems like people with with ASC are more empathetic, if anything, it's just that because the sense imagine that the sensory signal is constantly enhanced, then it's going to be harder to use predictions to pick out fake patterns that are that are present in the world around you. And of course, some of these social cues and indicators, they are very faint patterns. And so they're a very good example of, of the kind of thing that might be easily swamped by enhanced sensory information is one of the cases where, you know, they've been able to run simulation studies, at least, that seemed to suggest that enhanced sensory information rather than reduced top down prediction is the best way to think about this. And that was a very subtle, very subtle distinction to be able to make, because since it's a balancing act, you they kind of have similar effects. You know, if you had, if your top down model was less able to exert effects, then the sensory evidence will be exerting more, it's not really like that. It seems to be that it's the sensory evidence itself that is enhanced, which also explains that stuff about being less susceptible to some illusions like the hollow mask illusion and McGurk sort of ventriloquism, the type illusion. These are just cases where if you let the sensory information speak for itself a bit more, then you'll see things as they really are a bit better. So that goes back to those issues about Yeah,

Randy  54:57

yeah. So in in real life kind of thing. I experienced with my son, when he was younger, he would always he would never tell me he was hungry, he would always say, Dad, my stomach hurts so bad, you know, and he would be this pattern, you know, this pattern emerged and I was like, bro, you're hungry, just like try to figure out that you're hungry. It's not that you're sick, go eat, you know, but he couldn't do it, he kept on saying, Oh, my stomach hurts for months and months, years and years even. And in me that's like this, there's a disconnect there that you know that, why don't you have that tool that can connect that you're saying he's got so much coming at him with that intensity of those feelings, that it's, it makes it almost impossible for him to connect those dots.

Andy  55:36

I think that's right. So you know, that experience of hunger is probably very, very different every time that he has it, because he's really taken account of the fine subtleties of the sensory information that the body is kind of throwing. And, of course, that, you know, we're not, you know, non ASE people that probably dampening down a lot of that stuff, not seeing it at all, because they immediately suck it into, into the bits of the model. So yeah, that's how I'm gonna, you know, now we fully predicted that sensory signal don't need to think about that anymore. So I think it is that sort of the idea of enhanced sensory worlds as a kind of fundamental difference there, I think is is a very, very useful one. And when I spoken about this stuff with kind of autism spectrum groups in, in Sussex and elsewhere, they, it seems that it's one that makes phenomenological sense of a lot of a lot of lived experiences they were

Randy  56:40

so last question about that, does that mean that there's that you would say there's hope that people with ASC can overcome that or connect those dots with certain kinds of predictive training?

Andy  56:53

Yeah, this is a very early, very early days for that kind of that kind of intervention. But the colleague that I mentioned earlier, that was been working on empathy. Sarah Garfinkel, she has moved to University College London, now, she is working on training interoception, like the internal sense of the body, to kind of improve the interoceptive sense in that sense of improve that the kind of means be able to package things a bit better. And that seems to help with a lot of things helps with anxiety, for example. So what she is fine in, but this is very early days is interoception training, reduces overall anxiety. And so you know, if that could be done properly, that would be that would be a real way.

Randy  57:41

This sounds a bit like Inception, but I'm not gonna go there. Yeah.

Kyle  57:47

So I want to switch gears to something quite different. And talk a little bit about the hard problem of consciousness, because you have in the middle of the book and interlude about that, which I didn't expect, but was was gratified to see. And so you've kind of, you know, famously written with David Chalmers about the extended mind thesis, and he is the probably main progenitor of what's now called the hard problem of consciousness amongst philosophers. You disagree with him about how hard that problem is? And so can you for our listeners who might not be familiar with it set up what the hard problem is, and how you think this predictive model of the brain might help us to solve it. And then maybe as an addendum, what do you see? What do you foresee as the major objections to hear your claim there?

Andy  58:33

So do you have a spare a couple of hours?

Kyle  58:36

In five minutes?

Andy  58:38

That's a very, very, very big question. There's a reason why that's an interlude. The reason being that it's the, it's the stuff I'm least sure of in this area, and stuff that looks so important that I didn't want to sort of jump in with two feet and, and say anything very firmly about it. So the books called the Experience Machine. It that does suggest that it should be saying something about what Dave Chalmers calls a hard problem, which is the question of why experience feels the way it does to us. And so the hard problem is not sort of charmers idea is science is really good at explaining what we say and what we do that, you know, visible behaviors of one kind or another. But then there's this other thing the way it actually feels to you. So the idea was that science is fundamentally illiquid to get at this hard problem. What's it really like to see the sunset? Now my own view for what it's worth, which I kind of try and defend in the interlude, is that actually, the real hard problem is deciding whether there's a hard problem on what might be going on is that we've got a very simple predictive model that we use to make sense of our own behavior and that of other people. And that predictive model says I got these sorts of experiences I experience, this food is tasty and sweet, or this sunset is looking beautiful. And that explains a lot of the things I do. And it helps me make predictions about myself and about other people. But perhaps this is a case where it's just a simple model that enables useful prediction of myself and others in the social setting. And what we're doing when we say there's a hard problem of consciousness is sort of re fi in what that model says, sort of saying, Okay, now we know we got this stuff. So let's try and work out how science can explain it. Well, maybe what science needs to explain is actually why we think there's this stuff, like, pure experience, if you like. And I think that if you think about ourselves, as in the business of predicting our own responses, when we encounter things in the world, I need to predict how I'm going to respond when I when I see a coat can versus some other kinds of can. And then having this notion that oh, it's the redness of the can that I'm seeing that explains how I can pick that can out from the rest. That's, that's one way around. And it's a way around a dozen. That just requires you to think that there's redness, if you see what I'm sure it requires you to have a way of picking out the coat can and to think that there's redness, but to think also that there's this super specific experience of redness that now also needs to be explained. That's a bit that in the interlude, I tried to reject. And you know, I'll say I do so you know, with 50% confidence. Okay,

Kyle  1:01:38

I appreciate the the pinpointing the number. I have so many follow up questions that I would love to ask. But we're coming to the end of our time. And I think Randy had a question about psychedelics he wanted to get to, so make sure we cover that. Thanks. I appreciate that digression.

Randy  1:01:51

So Andy, towards the end of the book, you talk about possibilities of hacking our brains, which I love that idea in that word. With things like self directed language, talk therapies, pain, reprocessing, meditation, and psychedelic drugs. Tell us a bit about these potential hacks how much influence and power they might have to affect our brains in general? And then I got a specific question about psychedelics for you.

Andy  1:02:13

Okay, so Well, the general idea that is one that I'm borrowing from a researcher at the psychedelics Institute in London, Robin Carhartt Harris. And the idea from that lab is that what the psychedelics are really doing is they're, they're pushing back against ingrained top level predictions about what kind of person you are, what kind of thing you like how your world is going to present itself. So you can sort of imagine that if you suffer from chronic depression, for example, imagine the sort of power of losing the strong prediction that your world is always going to appear to you the way that it normally appears through the lens of chronic depression. I think Carla Harris talks about shaking the snowglobe, something like that. So you know, instead of being stuck into these ruts of our own self prediction, shape the system, our good thing about the molecules for the psychedelic drugs is they seem to shake it up at quite high levels. And so what you want to do, at least at high doses, or reasonable doses, they shake it up at high levels, very low doses, they shake it up at lower levels, and you get perceptual effects, rather than the more interesting effects of, I don't know, new ways of being in the universe, or ego dissolution and stuff like that. So the idea is that understanding how the molecules work, kind of shows that they are hitting the higher bits of a prediction hierarchy. And those will be the very bits that are sort of perhaps, I don't know, responsible for a lot of the anguish that you feel in chronic depression, or perhaps in end of life scenarios. So that's another place where the psychedelics have been shown to be helpful is kind of you know, coping with terminal disease. So that's the kind of idea a hierarchical prediction machine, top level predictions about how you're going to experience your world what kind of person you are, unravel some of that top level stuff, and let new ways of being revealed themselves to you. And just having experienced that once or twice can really be very beneficial, then, you know, that as it were, there's another way of experiencing your own world. So that's, I think that's that's the kind of core idea

Randy  1:04:34

that was that was my you know, part of my next question is just, it seems crazy to me that just once or twice under the influence of you know, magic mushrooms or LSD, whatever it might be. Can can rewire the brain but it it is that strong to experience that one time to take those predictive filters off into see what's possible?

Andy  1:04:56

Yeah, well, that's the idea. I mean, I'm surprised to be honest, you know, I I think the fact that these things can work in those sorts of one off ways really is a surprising result. But, you know, sometimes just being shown that there's another way of doing something or seeing something can be very powerful just like, you know, you might spend, you might, you might visit a foreign country and see some very different way of interacting with your family or some or with a family or something like that. And maybe that can have a very, very strong effect, because it's an existence proof. And in these cases, it's an existence proof that you yourself can feel differently about your own life. And maybe when you think about it like that, the idea that just a one off can be really, really powerful isn't quite so surprising.

Randy  1:05:46

So last, last question for me, Andy. Because I'm a pastor, and I think about spiritual and supernatural things you say in that section about psychedelics, one of the negative effects in this made me laugh deck, actually, one of the negative effects would be people have the tendency to have a supernatural experience. And you say, that's, that's not good. And for me, it's like, well, maybe maybe your brain just kind of got through to what's real? And you say not there's, that's not a good way to do it. Tell us tell me more about that.

Andy  1:06:14

Yeah, well, obviously, I'm, you know, I'm revealing my own prejudices there a bit. It's true. So, you know, I, I think that when people have these supernatural experiences under the psychedelics, it is just because of that malleable state that the brain has gotten into sort of like, you know, heating, heating up the liquid or whatever, shaking the snowglobe. And if you shake it hard enough, you know, just about any shape could possibly appear there, just like when we look up at the clouds. And so because these are such strong experiences, people might infer that, okay, that I've now felt the existence of something important and profound outside of me, I feel like that's not something you should take seriously, as a result of the psychedelic experience, my feeling is that, you know, you should, you should, you should believe for the right reasons, and I'm not sure that shaking snowglobe with a psychedelic molecule is the right kind of reason. But you're right to put pressure on that. Because obviously, I'm saying, look, it's a perfectly good kind of reason for coming into a new and better understanding of yourself and how you experience the world. So to be honest, I think you just reveal a certain prejudice in the way that I think about these things there.

Randy  1:07:36

Wasn't hoping to do that. And let me just say, and I think you would agree with this disclaimer that you know, you're not in the book, you're not talking about somebody going out into the woods and dropping acid or taking a bunch of magic mushrooms on their own and hoping to heal their depression. This is with experts in therapists to walk you through and help you process that experience, correct?

Andy  1:07:57

Yes, that's right. Exactly. So and this is because first of all, this is to guard against for the possible, possible bad effects. I mean, imagine it was suddenly believing in the great conspiracy theory or something instead of instead of a supernatural being, we want to guard against these, these effects. And also because you enhance the good effects by structuring things around a set of expectations that maybe you're going to learn more about yourself this way, maybe you'll learn a new way of being in the world and setting up the environment. So it doesn't sort of aggressively push against that get the music right, set the mood, right? I think because the brain is a prediction machine, that Chuck's everything into the pot, you know, current context expectations, the music that's playing all of that stuff, the clothes that you're wearing the textures that are around you, everything gets chucked into the pot to make a prediction. So let's try and organize the pot as well as we can.

Randy  1:08:55

It's fascinating, fascinating stuff.

Andy  1:08:57

No pun intended with Patna.

Randy  1:09:01

Nicely done. Well, the book is the Experience Machine again, how our minds predict and shape reality. It's fascinating. Dr. Andy Clark, thank you for joining us. We're, we're gonna invite you back on because there's a lot of stuff that you write about that we haven't covered here today, but thanks for your time.

Kyle  1:09:17

Yeah, thanks. It's been really good.

Andy  1:09:18

Thanks so much for having me. I've really enjoyed the conversation. Appreciate it. So yeah. All right. Thank you, Andy. Thanks so

Kyle  1:09:25

Well, that's it for this episode of A Pastor and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar. We hope you're enjoying the show as much as we are. Help us continue to create compelling content and reach a wider audience by supporting us at patreon.com/apastorandaphilosopher, where you can get bonus content, extra perks, and a general feeling of being a good person.

Randy  1:09:45

Also, please rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, and Spotify. These help new people discover the show, and we may even read your review in a future episode. If it's good enough.

Kyle  1:09:56

If anything we said really pissed you off or if you just have a question you'd like us to answer, or if you'd just like to send us booze, send us an email at pastorandphilosopher@gmail.com.

Randy  1:10:06

Catch all of our hot takes on Twitter at @PPWBPodcast, @RandyKnie, and @robertkwhitaker, and find transcripts and links to all of our episodes at pastorandphilosopher.buzzsprout.com. See you next time.

Kyle  1:10:20


Beverage Tasting