Executive Summary

Neuroself is about an emerging framework in psychiatry that reconciles first-person descriptions of the self — subjective experience — to third-person descriptions of the brain — objective neuroscience. This reconciliation of the first- to third-persons is one of the longstanding goals of philosophy and science, and a precondition of solving what David Chalmers calls the hard problem of consciousness (also called the mind-brain problem and the mind-body problem).

The framework, which has roots in Kant and later Helmholtz, goes by many names today, including cybernetics, connectionism, Bayesian brain theory, and the free energy principle. The one settled upon by most neuroscientists today is predictive coding. However for mnemonic purposes in this website we will refer to it by way of an acronym that describes the steps in generating and revising a predictive code, POEM. POEM stands for the four-step process that neurons, brains, and minds appear to follow as they think, feel, decide, and act:

  1. Predict
  2. Observe
  3. Emote (Error detect)
  4. Minimize

The framework who used it to describe how first-person minds think. But it became famous in the 1950s for its role in explaining in the third-person the behavior of “intelligent” machines, e.g. robots.

The capacity of a single conceptual framework to explain both first-person experience and third-person behavior is astonishing. It constitutes preliminary evidence that the mind-body problem may be solved through the unifying idea of information processing.

Since the 1950s the power of the framework has grown with the advent of telecommunications, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, and over the past two decades has caught fire in modern neuroscience on account of its capacity to explain the behavior of single neurons in a way that scales up to explain the behavior of the entire brain.

Style

This website, neuroself.com, is written like a book — it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Rather than having footnotes, it has hyperlinks that allow you to dive as deeply as you like into a sub-topic before coming back to the surface story. If you don’t want the deep dive, just read on.

Audience

Neuroself.com is written by a psychiatrist with twenty years of experience as a clinician. Its fundamental goal is to be useful to patients. While many of the ideas discussed here are the focus of intense, ongoing academic work in neuroscience and philosophy, neuroself.com does not attempt to participate in academic discourse. It is always written to the proverbial “intelligent layperson,” assuming no prior knowledge, and always making the mathematical, statistical, neuroscientific, and philosophical concepts that drive the argument understandable to someone with zero literacy in the academic subspeciality in question. The impulse is democratic: to make important emerging ideas at the cutting edge of modern neuroscience accessible to people in other walks of life.

PDFs of cited papers