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Unlocking Secrets of the Mind: How Free Energy and Markov Blankets Reveal Consciousness

Updated: Jun 6



Jump on a medieval mission to explore the complexity of consciousness.



We'll start by opening the gates of FEP (Free Energy Principle) and encounter its quantum parts. Then, we will explore the brain's anatomy, wandering through the magic of Markov blankets, and delving into the captivating dynamic between consciousness and memory.


As you continue reading, we will embark on the follow concepts:

  • Intro to Free Energy Principle

  • Navigating the Kingdom of the Brain

  • Markov Blankets for Modeling Consciousness

  • The Relationship Between Consciousness and Memory



 

Intro to Free Energy Principle

As we open the gates of Free Energy Principle (FEP) -- a groundbreaking theory that suggests our brains are prediction-making wizards -- we will encounter a brave forest wizard named Riko, whose duty is to protect the land and people from the unpredictable danger of hungry dragons. Think of FEP as Riko, always guessing what will happen next by using past experiences to minimize surprises. His quest for prediction accuracy is what drives his learning, perception, and action. FEP principle not only applies to neuroscience, but is also widely applicable across biology, offering a unified theory of how living beings interact with the world. FEP's quest to reduce uncertainty will reveal an enlightening view of how our minds work in harmony with the universe.


Understanding the Magic in Free Energy Principle

Imagine walking into a realm where science meets mysteries of the mind. Picture Riko's brain as a theater with a screen that displays his perception, thoughts, and consciousness. This represents the inner screen which is an internal boundary layer that captures and displays all the important information about what's happening inside the system, much like a screen displaying the details of a movie.

This hypothesis offers a novel perspective on how consciousness emerges. Now, let's imagine a projector inside of a cube where each face represents an inner screen. According to the holographic principle, all the information about what's happening inside the cube can be encoded on these faces (the cube's physical boundaries). This principle suggests what happens inside, is projected on the outside of its physical boundaries through classical communication, self reflections, and holographic encoding. This provides a unique perspective on how our brains can operate in a holographic manner. The quantum (or magic) version of FEP is where the inner screen hypothesis and the holographic principle intertwine to reshape our understanding of consciousness.

 

Navigating the Kingdom of the Brain

The brain is described as having a sparse, nested, and hierarchical structure. This means that the brain is organized in levels. Each level of the brain's hierarchy contributes to FEP by making predictions based on the information it receives. These predictions are adjusted when compared with actual sensory input.

Let's think of these brain levels as a medieval kingdom!


  • Neuronal Level - the most basic level, consisting of individual neurons. Imagine each neuron as a villager in a medieval kingdom. Every villager has a specific job, like farming, blacksmithing, or baking. This is similar to how each neuron has a specific role in processing information.

  • Networks of Neurons - groups of neurons forming networks that work together to perform specific functions. Think of villagers forming guilds (medieval groups) based on their professions. For instance, a guild of blacksmiths working together on metal and crafting. Networks of neurons are like these guilds, each specializing in a particular function like memory or movement.

  • Brain Regions - different networks forming distinct brain regions that each specialize in different types of processing. Imagine various guilds getting together to form a town known for something unique (like a town specializing in baked goods in the shape of swords). In the brain, these towns are akin to different regions, each responsible for specific functions like emotions or sensory processing.

  • Interconnected Brain Regions - regions forming an integrated system at a complex level. Just like towns having trade routes and alliances that share resources and information for mutual benefit, interconnected brain regions share information and work together. This collaboration is crucial for tasks like decision-making and problem-solving.

Integrating towns, guilds, and villagers form an entire kingdom that functions operationally smooth. The brain's integrated functions result in supporting everything from basic survival all the way up to complex thoughts and consciousness.

 

Markov Blankets for Modeling Consciousness

The blankets of Markov is like having a castle wall that helps you interact with the environment while maintaining your own identity. Imagine a boundary that separates the inside of a system from the outside world. The castle has layers that allow a system to exchange information with the outside, while maintaining the safety and separation of itself inside. Markov blankets are present at each level of the brain hierarchy, defining the interactions and communication between them.

What are the layers of Markov Blankets?

  • Outer layers - the layers that interact with the environment. Think of the surrounding land of the castle. They can influence the castle (like a storm affecting the castle or other kingdoms interacting with it), but they remain outside of the castle walls. The outer layers pick up information from the outside and pass it to the inner layers, and also take information from the inside to the outside world.

  • Interface Layer - the layer that sits between the inner core and the outer layers. This is your typical soldiers guarding the walls and gates of the castle, deciding who or what can enter or leave the castle. The interface layer is a gatekeeper, deciding what information goes in and out of the core.

  • Innermost Layer - the CORE of the system. The castle room where the king and queen (the system's core elements) make all the important decisions. The innermost layer is protected and private, where internal processes happen.

The outer layers connect with the environment, the interface layer controls the communication, and the innermost layer processes information. Together, these layers help the system make sense of and respond to what's happening around.

 

The Relationship Between Consciousness and Memory

Like a torch, consciousness acts as a bright light, illuminating moments of our present experience. Consciousness is the state of being awake and aware of our existence and surrounding. Now, picture memory as a vivid tapestry, woven with threads of past experiences which the light reveals. Recent research says that conscious awareness is continuously shaped and informed by our memories, through the principles of the FEP. It suggests that our brain uses memories as an active participant in our conscious experience. This dynamic between what we perceive now and what we've experienced before offers a fascinating glimpse to understanding the true nature of consciousness.


 

As we reflect on these insights, I invite you to continue the journey of discovery. For those fascinated by the mysteries of the human mind and the breakthroughs of AI and science, the research on the inner screen model of consciousness is just the beginning. The path to understanding the human brain through the lens of AI research is an adventure worth pursuing.

 

Source:

  1. Maxwell J. D. Ramstead, Mahault Albarracin, Alex Kiefer, Brennan Klein, Chris Fields, Karl Friston, and Adam Safrone (2023). The inner screen model of consciousness: applying the free energy principle directly to the study of conscious experience.

  2. Chris Fields, Antonino Marcianò (2020). Holographic Screens Are Classical Information Channels.


 

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