Free Energy Determines Choices

A human being's psychological make-up depends on an array of emotional and motivational parameters, such as desire, suffering or the need for security. In addition, it includes spatial and temporal dimensions that also play a key role in rationalising the decisions we make and planning our actions. A team of researchers from the Universities of Geneva (UNIGE), Texas, Paris and University College London joined forces to create the first mathematical model of embodied consciousness. Their aim?

To understand, study and predict human behaviour. The model, which is based on solid mathematical concepts and is demonstrated using simulations, makes it possible to anticipate and explain a host of cognitive phenomena and behavioural reactions. The research—available in full in the Journal of Theoretical Biology—also paves the way for a wealth of industrial applications in robotics, artificial intelligence and the health sector. We all are constantly faced with a range of choices, some of which are important, some not.

But how do we make our decisions? There are many factors at work, conscious and unconscious, which are forever colliding whenever a decision is made. "We built a model to replicate decision-making based on the time, framework and perceptions (real and imaginary) that are linked to it," explains David Rudrauf.

"The next step was to analyse the best solution that the mind would naturally opt for." Depending on an individual's personal preferences (such as security), and including different real and imaginary perspectives on the world, the mind calculates the probabilities of obtaining what it wants in the safest possible way. This probability calculation, which is derived from an individual's personal preferences and values, can be expressed as free energy. "Our consciousness uses free energy to actively explore the world and to satisfy its predilections by imagining the anticipated consequences of its actions," says Karl Friston from University College London.

Depending on the free energy, the mathematical model can predict the states of consciousness and behaviour adopted by the individual and analyse the mechanisms.

Kemo D. 7

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