cover image The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality

The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality

Andy Clark. Pantheon, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4845-6

“Human brains are prediction machines,” contends Clark (Surfing Uncertainty), a cognitive philosophy professor at the University of Sussex, in this eye-opening study. Pushing back against the idea that the brain passively processes information from the senses, Clark argues that the organ is instead constantly predicting external reality based on previous experiences and adjusting mental impressions as new information arises. He highlights the surprising scientific research that backs up this claim, noting a 2001 study that demonstrated the power of suggestion on perception by asking participants to report if they heard the song “White Christmas” buried in a white noise recording; one-third said they did, despite the tune not featuring in the noise. Predictive processing, Clark suggests, can contribute to depression (through failure of the brain to alter negative expectations even when faced with “evidence of positive outcomes”) and chronic pain (through false predictions that “innocent” bodily signals indicate physiological damage). This revelation opens new vistas for treatment, and Clark describes how cognitive reframing can teach patients to correct “aberrant predictions” and reinterpret pain. The mind-bending research upends conventional wisdom about how humans interact with the world around them, and the lucid prose ensures lay readers won’t get lost. This head trip delivers. (May)