Every couple of years, I seem to go back and look at “decision making” books that have arrived in my local library. I clearly take a broad view of decision making. This time I came up with Farsighted, Elastic, and the Mind is Flat. The first two books were definitely written to be popular books with the third less so. They share quite a bit. They all rely quite a bit on illustrations or questionnaires that show the peculiarities and shortcomings of our minds. They all rely on literature to explain their cases on how our minds work. Farsighted uses George Eliot and Middlemarch. Elastic uses Jonathan Franzen and mentions his book Corrections. The Mind is Flat uses Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina.
Taming Uncertainty by Ralph Hertwig (See posts Dialectical Bootstrapping and Harnessing the Inner Crowd.), Timothy J Pleskac (See post Risk Reward Heuristic.), Thorsten Pachur (See post Emotion and Risky Choice.) and the Center for Adaptive Rationality, MIT Press, 2019, is a new compendium that I found accidentally in a public library. There is plenty of interesting reading in the book. It takes the adaptive toolbox approach as opposed to the Swiss Army Knife . The book gets back cover raves from Cass Sunstein (See posts Going to Extremes, Confidence, Part 1.), Nick Chater, and Gerd Gigerenzer (See post Gigerenzer–Risk Saavy, and others.). I like the pieces, but not the whole.
This is the second of three posts discussing William Davies’ book Nervous States–Democracy and the Decline of Reason. I pick a couple of areas to argue with some of the scenarios Davies presents.
Markets and Evolution
Davies discusses Hayek as the guy who believes in free markets above all else, and who has helped us reach this point of not agreeing on reality. When I read Hayek (The Road to Serfdom), he said to me that free markets with the right stable rules in place are the best system for everyone. Unfortunately, determining the right stable rules is difficult and the job of government. Hayek seems to have taken Adam Smith’s invisible hand and run with it. David Sloan Wilson in This View of Life- Completing the Darwinian Revolution makes clear that the invisible hand only works at one scale of a market (see posts Evolution for Everyone and Multilevel Selection Theory).
In Confidence, Part II, the authors conclude that confidence is computed continuously, online, throughout the decision making process, thus lending support to models of the mind as a device that computes with probabilistic estimates and probability distributions.
The Embodied Mind
One such explanation is that of predictive processing/embodied mind. Andy Clark, Jacob Hohwy, and Karl Friston have all helped to weave together this concept. Our minds are blends of top down and bottom up processing where error messages and the effort to fix those errors makes it possible for us to engage the world. According to the embodied mind model, our minds do not just reside in our heads. Our bodies determine how we interact with the world and how we shape our world so that we can predict better. Our evolutionary limitations have much to do with how our minds work. One example provided by Andy Clark and Barbara Webb is a robot without any brain imitating human walking nearly perfectly (video go to 2:40). Now how does this tie into confidence? Confidence at a conscious level is the extent of our belief that our decisions are correct. But the same thing is going on as a fundamental part of perception and action. Estimating the certainty of our own prediction error signals of our own mental states and processes is as Clark notes: “clearly a delicate and tricky business. For it is the prediction error signal that…gets to ‘carry the news’.”
This post is based on a paper written by Andy Clark, author of Surfing Uncertainty (See Paper Predictive Processing for a fuller treatment.), “A nice surprise? Predictive processing and the active pursuit of novelty,” that appeared in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, pp. 1-14. DOI: 10.1007/s11097-017-9525-z. For me this is a chance to learn how Andy Clark has polished up his arguments since his book. It also strikes me as connected to my recent posts on Curiosity and Creativity.
Clark and Friston (See post The Prediction Machine) depict human brains as devices that minimize prediction error signals: signals that encode the difference between actual and expected sensory simulations. But we know that we are attracted to the unexpected. We humans often seem to actively seek out surprising events, deliberately seeking novel and exciting streams of sensory stimulation. So how does that square with the idea of minimizing prediction error.
This post is based on a draft dated July 10, 2015, “Learning in Dynamic Probabilistic Environments: A Parallel-constraint Satisfaction Network-model Approach,” written by Marc Jekel, Andreas Glöckner, & Arndt Bröder. The paper includes experiments that contrast Parallel Constraint Satisfaction with the Adaptive Toolbox Approach. I have chosen to look only at the update of the PCS model with learning. The authors develop an integrative model for decision making and learning by extending previous work on parallel constraint satisfaction networks with algorithms of backward error-propagation learning. The Parallel Constraint Satisfaction Theory for Decision Making and Learning (PCS-DM-L) conceptualizes decision making as process of coherence structuring in which learning is achieved by adjusting network weights from one decision to the next. PCS-DM-L predicts that individuals adapt to the environment by gradual changes in cue weighting.
This post is based on a paper written by Fabienne Picard and Karl Friston, entitled: “Predictions, perceptions, and a sense of self,” that appeared in Neurology® 2014;83:1112–1118. Karl Friston is one of the prime authors of predictive processing and Fabienne Picard is a doctor known for studying epilepsy. The ideas here are not new or even new to this blog, but the paper and specifically the figure below provide a good summary of the ideas of predictive processing. Andy Clark’s Surfing Uncertainty is the place to go if the subject interests you.
This post starts from the conclusion of the previous post that the evidence supports a single strategy framework, looks at Julian Marewski’s criticism, and then piles on with ideas on how weights can be changed in a single strategy framework.
Marewski provided a paper for the special issue of the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (2015) on “Modeling and Aiding Intuition in Organizational Decision Making”: “Unveiling the Lady in Black: Modeling and Aiding Intuition,” authored by Ulrich Hoffrage and Julian N. Marewski. The paper gives the parallel constraint satisfaction model a not so subtle knock:
By exaggerating and simplifying features or traits, caricatures can aid perceiving the real thing. In reality, both magic costumes and chastity belts are degrees on a continuum. In fact, many theories are neither solely formal or verbal. Glöckner and Betsch’s connectionist model of intuitive decision making, for instance, explicitly rests on both math and verbal assumptions. Indeed, on its own, theorizing at formal or informal levels is neither “good” nor “bad”. Clearly, both levels of description have their own merits and, actually, also their own problems. Both can be interesting, informative, and insightful – like the work presented in the first three papers of this special issue, which we hope you enjoy as much as we do. And both can border re-description and tautology. This can happen when a theory does not attempt to model processes. Examples are mathematical equations with free parameters that carry no explanatory value, but that are given quasi-psychological, marketable labels (e.g., “risk aversion”).
- Egon Brunswik’s Lens model as elucidated by Ken Hammond and examined by Karelaia & Hogarth (see post What has Brunswik’s Lens Model Taught? et al)
- Parallel Constraint Satisfaction model through Andreas Glockner and his colleagues (see post Parallel Constraint Satisfaction Theory et al)
- Surprise Minimization or Free Energy Minimization (see post Prediction Machine et al) as presented by Andy Clark and including the ideas of Karl Friston and others
I continually look for commment on and expansion of these ideas, and I often do this in the most lazy of ways, I google them. Recently I seemed to find the last two mentioned on the same page of a philosophy book. That was not actually true, but it did remind me of similarities that I could point out. The idea of a compensatory process where one changes his belief a little to match the current set of “facts” tracks well with the idea that we can get predictions correct by moving our hand to catch the ball so that it does not have to be thrown perfectly. Both clearly try to match up the environment and ourselves. The Parallel Constraint Satisfaction model minimizes dissonance while the Free Energy model minimizes surprise. Both dissonance and surprise can create instability. The Free Energy model is more universal than the Parallel Constraint Satisfaction model, while for decision making PCS is more precise. The Free Energy model also gives us the idea that heuristic models could fit within process models. All this points out what is obvious to us all. We need the right model for the right job.
This post is based on the paper: “Free-energy minimization and the dark-room problem,” written by Karl Friston, Christopher Thornton and Andy Clark that appeared in Frontiers in Psychology in May 2012. Recent years have seen the emergence of an important new fundamental theory of brain function (Posts Embodied Prediction and Prediction Error Minimization). This theory brings information-theoretic, Bayesian, neuroscientific, and machine learning approaches into a single framework whose over arching principle is the minimization of surprise (or, equivalently, the maximization of expectation). A puzzle raised by critics of these models is that biological systems do not seem to avoid surprises. People do not simply seek a dark, unchanging chamber, and stay there. This is the “Dark-Room Problem.”