Livia De Picker

Livia de Picker is a Psychiatrist & Postdoctoral Researcher, respectively at the University Hospital Duffel and the University of Antwerp. She is also a lecturer on the topic of Psychopathology and Psychopharmacology"" in module Acute Psychiatry. Her specialties include personality disorders, borderline and general psychiatric problems. Human brains are superbly built for learning. In order to survive, we need to memorize new information, but even more importantly, we must learn what matters. As a continuous stream of information reaches our senses at any given moment, we intuitively filter and distinguish relevant and meaningful signals from uninteresting background noise. Compared to computers, the human brain is quite terrible at processing information – complex calculations are burdensome, and our biology prefers to avoid spending too much energy. Luckily, our value systems, also known as ‘feelings’, allow us to take a shortcut. This capacity to link and weigh the subjective values of certain objects and events remains one of the last features of human intelligence which A.I. struggles to replicate. In psychiatric practice, we can observe first-hand what happens when something goes wrong with this mechanism. During a psychotic episode, the system which draws our attention to what is important, called ‘salience’, starts to spike uncontrollably. As it becomes harder and harder to differentiate meaningful from non-meaningful input, delusional ideas can start to take root and patients become increasingly detached from reality. Yet an even worse situation occurs when the salience system is completely down. Nothing captures your attention any longer, and everything in life becomes bleak. Improving our understanding of these disorders helps us gain insight into how human intelligence functions.