Competence is about minimizing surprise

Imagine you wake up tomorrow to a world where things fall to the ceiling, smoking lengthens your life, and  your husband can’t wait to do the laundry.  On day 1 you will be surprised, over the next couple of days you will sometimes forget to smoke, but you will eventually adapt to the new world.

Mounting evidence suggests that this is the defining principle of life in general: Life is about minimizing suprise. Hold on, you may be thinking, I want to maximize surpise – only pleasant one of course. But think again: If pleasant suprise is nice, but unpleasant surprise may be fatal, and you don’t know which one is coming (surprise, surprise) – is it not better to minimize surpise in general?

You are on holiday in a new place. What do you enjoy more, letting yourself drift to chance discoveries, or scrupulously following the top 10 of your tourist guide? Most people get more genuine pleasure from drifting – but isn’t this maximizing surprise again?  No, exploratory behavior helps you understand the new place and minimize surprise, and nature lures us into doing so with this initial dose of pleasure.

Now, we can either minimize surprise by changing the world, or by changing our expectations about the world. Assuming this blog has mostly Homo sapiens readers: Most other species need to work on their expectations as their influence on the world is, say, limited – while we can make even their life hell by being able to change the world.

It is time for a definition (important, please bear with me). Competence is our ability to minimize surprise.  It entails two factors, (1) our ability to change the world and (2) our ability to form true expectations about the world. Our ability to change the world depends on what is generally called know-how, skills and permissions. The quality of our expectations depends on our cognitive abilities, both conscious and unconscious.

One reason why ChangeMaker is so effective is that it boosts all aspects of competence. From propagating knowhow and managing permissions to providing feedback and adjusting expectations, ChangeMaker adresses the levers to optimize the competence of everyone involved.

Further Reading

[1] Wikipedia: Free energy principle

[2] Ploghaus, A. et al. (2000). Learning about pain: the neural substrate of the prediction error for aversive events. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(16), 9281-9286.

[3] Friston, K., Kilner, J., & Harrison, L. (2006). A free energy principle for the brain. J Physiol Paris. , 100 (1–3), 70–87.

[4] Brown, H., & Friston, K. J. (2012). Free-energy and illusions: the cornsweet effect. Front Psychol , 3, 43.