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Bayesian reasoning implicated in some mental disorders

An 18th century math theorem may help explain some people's processing flaws

By
11:37am, May 13, 2016
Bayesian brains

MISGUIDED MATH  English clergyman Thomas Bayes formulated a way to calculate the likelihood of an event based on prior knowledge. Bad Bayesian reasoning could be why perceptions of reality get muddled in people with certain mental disorders.

From within the dark confines of the skull, the brain builds its own version of reality. By weaving together expectations and information gleaned from the senses, the brain creates a story about the outside world. For most of us, the brain is a skilled storyteller, but to spin a sensible yarn, it has to fill in some details itself.

“The brain is a guessing machine, trying at each moment of time to guess what is out there,” says computational neuroscientist Peggy Seriès.

Guesses just slightly off — like mistaking a smile for a smirk — rarely cause harm. But guessing gone seriously awry may play a part in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism and even anxiety disorders, Seriès and other neuroscientists suspect. They say that a mathematical expression known as Bayes’ theorem — which quantifies how prior expectations can be combined with current evidence — may provide novel insights into pernicious mental problems that have so far defied explanation.

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