Contexts as Behavioral Markov Blankets

Karl Friston has a very simple and elegant explanation of the definition of life from cells to bacteria to brains and human behaviour. In his theory of Free Energy, a Markov Blanket is a border that separates the inside of a system from the outside. If there were no such a border we would observe only dissipating energy and increasing entropy. 

Karl Friston

In his view, at every scale, from cells to bacteria to brains, the entity adapts to its environment to sustain its existence. A cell will only show simple, mostly chemical, behaviour. Brains will show complex behaviour, with human brains as the ultimate example.

A Context may act as a Behavioural Markov Blanket. It introduces an inside and outside, not in a physical sense but in a sociological sense. It defines a border within which certain behaviour is relevant and expected. 

This is easily put in an evolutionary explanation of cognitive development. As a way to structure reality, to be able to understand it and to choose relevant and expected behaviour. This as a prerequisite for social interaction and cooperation.

Based on statistical evidence and Bayesian learning strategies, Friston explains that human behaviour is mostly determined by minimising the difference between ones expected behaviour in a certain context, and the behaviour one actually shows. Friston calls this Active Inference and maybe it is not a coincidence that this is abbreviated AI. 

In Perspectives, we explicitly model the possible actions a role may perform in a certain context. Because of its non-deterministic nature, the model will not predict the actual behaviour of the users.  Maybe Friston's theory of Free Energy and Active Inference will one day provide a statistical background for expected behaviour in contexts, instead of just observing what happens. And maybe Friston's work may actually lead to a comprehensive theory of consciousness.

For a short introduction into Friston's ideas, please watch this interview.

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