Introduction to Active Inference: The Very Basics

Active inference is a concept that has gained significant attention in the field of cognitive science. It is a theoretical framework that seeks to explain how organisms actively interact with their environment to gather information and make predictions about the world around them. In this article, we will delve into the details of active inference, exploring its key principles and potential applications.

Understanding Active Inference

Active inference can be best understood by breaking down its key components.

The Predictive Brain

The foundation of active inference lies in the idea of the “predictive brain.” Our brains are constantly making predictions about the sensory inputs we receive from the environment. This prediction is based on our prior experiences and beliefs and helps us make sense of the world. Active inference proposes that our brains actively seek out sensory information that can confirm or update our predictions, reducing uncertainty in the process.

Perception as Action

According to active inference, perception, and action are deeply intertwined. Our actions are not merely a response to the sensory information we receive but also play a crucial role in shaping our perception of the world. By actively exploring and interacting with the environment, we gather information to refine our predictions and reduce uncertainty.

Minimizing Free Energy

The central goal of active inference is to minimize a quantity called “free energy.” Free energy, in the simplest terms, can be understood as a measure of how well our predictions match or are expected to match the sensory inputs we receive. By minimizing free energy, our brain aims to reduce the discrepancy between what we expect to perceive and what we actually perceive.

Free Energy Principle in Much More Complicated Terms
Credit: Friston

Applications of Active Inference

Active inference has far-reaching implications across various fields. Let’s explore some of its potential applications:

Neuroscience and Psychology

Active inference provides a valuable framework for understanding how the brain processes information and makes sense of the world. It offers insights into perception, decision-making, and learning processes. By studying active inference, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of how the brain generates predictions and organizes actions accordingly.

Internet Memes

When it comes to internet memes, active inference can shed light on why certain memes go viral and capture our attention. Memes, with their witty captions and relatable images, provoke a response in our brains by presenting a familiar scenario in an unexpected or exaggerated way. This surprise element triggers our brain’s prediction mechanisms, leading to increased engagement and sharing of the meme.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Active inference has been increasingly employed in the development of artificial intelligence systems and robotics. By incorporating active inference principles into the algorithms that control these systems, researchers aim to create more adaptive and intelligent machines. Active inference allows these systems to actively seek out relevant information, update their models, and improve their decision-making capabilities.

Credit: Oliver, Lanillos and Cheng.

Mental Health and Well-being

Active inference also offers insights into mental health disorders and well-being. Disorders such as anxiety and depression can be understood, in part, as the result of inaccurate predictions and high levels of uncertainty. By applying active inference principles, therapists and researchers can develop interventions focused on reducing uncertainty, improving prediction accuracy, and ultimately promoting mental well-being.


Active inference is a powerful concept that sheds light on how organisms actively interact with their environment to reduce uncertainty and improve prediction accuracy. By understanding the key principles of active inference, researchers can advance our knowledge in various fields, from neuroscience to artificial intelligence. This framework has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of perception, decision-making, and mental health, paving the way for exciting developments in the future.

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