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Active Inference

By Anthony K. Shin

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[This working essay aims at connecting Horneyan theory with Tershakovec's SLP/PDP model of the mind and with J. Allan Hobson and Karl J. Friston's model of consciousness by active inference.]

As noted by Jack Danielian (2014, p.c.), the last book by Karen Horney that was published within her lifetime, Neurosis and Human Growth, contained her most abstract ideas, was very far ahead of its time, and the psychoanalytic establishment refused to review the book, not knowing what to do with it. Because Horney lacked an alternative model of dreaming or of the mind, there was no way for brain scientists to know whether Horney’s theory of anxiety neurosis was less tautological than Freud’s. Because Horney’s premises could not be subjected to corroboration or disproof at the time, her theory could not be made scientific.

However, Andrew Tershakovec offered just such a correct, realistic model of the mind in his book from 2007, The Mind: The Power that Changed the Planet. In addition, since 1988, J. Allan Hobson has developed a realistic model of dreaming to supersede the Freudian model, and he and Karl J. Friston (2012, 2014, inter alia) have provided scientifically rigorous, plausible, testable accounts of the mechanism and purpose of what we perceive as waking and dreaming consciousness. In short, the mechanism underlying both dreaming (“primary”) and waking (“secondary”) consciousness is active inference. Active inference continuously generates and tests hypotheses to discover the causes behind sensory input. The purpose of the biochemical processes underlying dreaming and waking consciousness is to interact with and approximate external reality more and more closely, while reducing the complexity of the overall system of beliefs about the world.

It is not enough to propose an alternative view of dreaming, as Hobson has done, that implies that the Freudian model is wrong, or to show that one can account for neurotic conflicts based on different assumptions, as Horney did. It may not be sufficient either to propose a more correct model of how the mind works, ad Tershakovec did with his SLP/PDP model, or even to integrate it with Hobson and Friston’s work, although these steps also need to be taken. In my view, it is furthermore necessary to show how Freudian disguise-censorship corresponds to the circular logic to which information processing becomes relegated when consciousness has been thwarted from its goal of learning about the world through active inference, and the brain-mind has thus been turned into a closed system, which can only reinforce itself and repeat its own mistakes.


Friston, K. J., and J. A. Hobson (2012), Waking and Dreaming Consciousness-Neurobiological and Functional Considerations. Progress in Neurobiology 98(1) [2012], 82-98.

Friston, K. J., and J. A. Hobson (2014) Consciousness, Dreams, and Inference-The Cartesian Theatre Revisited. Journal of Consciousness Studies 21(1-2) [2014], 6-32.

Hobson, J. A. (1988). The Dreaming Brain: How the brain creates both the sense and the nonsense of dreams. New York: Basic Books.

Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Tershakovec, A. (2007). The Mind: The Power that Changed the Planet. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

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Last updated: 06/18/2002