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A note for Lesson no. 4, "Your Brain Predicts (Almost) Everything You Do," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 72 is:

This whole constructive process happens predictively. Scientists are now fairly certain that your brain actually begins to sense the moment-to-moment changes in the world around you before those light waves, chemicals, and other sense data hit your brain.

Prediction goes by many names in the scientific literature, including:

  • predictive coding
  • predictive processing
  • active inference[1]
  • belief propagation
  • the Bayesian brain hypothesis

If you’d like to read more about this fascinating and non-intuitive topic, try these sources.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Prediction beats reaction

Prediction and correction are more efficient than detecting a stimulus and responding because prediction reduces uncertainty. If you had a reactive brain, then you would have to compute everything you need to respond on the spot — everything you see, hear, feel and do — from scratch every single moment of your life. And how would you know what the sense data are caused by (the wavelengths of light, changes in air pressure, chemicals, and so on)? Sense data are the effects of some cause, but the brain only receives the effects — it has to guess at the cause (e.g., is a loud bang a gun shot, a door slamming, a car backfiring, etc.). Not only is this inefficient, but it likely to be ineffective. It would take too long if you needed to respond in a hurry.

Related topics


  1. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2017. "The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization." Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 12 (1): 1-23.
  2. Barrett, Lisa Feldman. 2017. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, chapter 4. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  3. Howhy, Jakob. 2013. The Predictive Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Hutchinson, J. Benjamin and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2019. “The Power of Predictions: An Emerging Paradigm for Psychological Research.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 28 (3): 280–291.
  5. Clark, Andy. 2015. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Kleckner, Ian R., Jiahe Zhang, Alexandra Touroutoglou, Lorena Chanes, Chengie Xia, W. Kyle Simmons, Karen S. Quigley, Brad C. Dickerson, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2017. "Evidence For a Large-Scale Brain System Supporting Allostasis and Interoception in Humans." Nature Human Behavior 1 (5): 1–14.
  7. Barrett, Lisa F., and W. Kyle Simmons. 2015. "Interoceptive Predictions in the Brain." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16 (7): 419-429.
  8. Friston, Karl. 2010. "The Free-Energy Principle: a Unified Brain Theory?" Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11 (2): 127–138.
  9. Chanes, Lorena, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. 2016. "Redefining the Role of Limbic Areas in Cortical Processing." Trends in Cognitive Sciences 20 (2): 96–106.
  10. O'Reilly, Jill X., M. Marsel Mesulam, and Anna Christina Nobre. 2008. "The Cerebellum Predicts the Timing of Perceptual Events." Journal of Neuroscience 28 (9): 2252–2260.
  11. Ito, Masao. 2008. "Control of Mental Activities By Internal Models in the Cerebellum." Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9 (4): 304–313.
  12. Kuperberg, Gina R., and T. Florian Jaeger. 2016. "What Do We Mean By Prediction in Language Comprehension?" Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 31 (1): 32–59.
  13. Franklin, David W., and Daniel M. Wolpert. 2011. "Computational Mechanisms of Sensorimotor Control." Neuron 72 (3): 425–442.
  14. Adams, Rick A., Stewart Shipp, and Karl J. Friston. 2013. "Predictions Not Commands: Active Inference in the Motor System." Brain Structure and Function 218 (3): 611–643.
  15. Shadmehr, Reza, Maurice A. Smith, and John W. Krakauer. 2010. "Error Correction, Sensory Prediction, and Adaptation in Motor Control." Annual Review of Neuroscience 33: 89–108.