Modelling ourselves: what the debate on the Free Energy Principle reveals about our implicit notions of representation

Synthese 1 (1):30 (2021)
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Predictive processing theories are increasingly popular in philosophy of mind; such process theories often gain support from the Free Energy Principle (FEP)—a nor- mative principle for adaptive self-organized systems. Yet there is a current and much discussed debate about conflicting philosophical interpretations of FEP, e.g., repre- sentational versus non-representational. Here we argue that these different interpre- tations depend on implicit assumptions about what qualifies (or fails to qualify) as representational. We deploy the Free Energy Principle (FEP) instrumentally to dis- tinguish four main notions of representation, which focus on organizational, struc- tural, content-related and functional aspects, respectively. The various ways that these different aspects matter in arriving at representational or non-representational interpretations of the Free Energy Principle are discussed. We also discuss how the Free Energy Principle may be seen as a unified view where terms that tradition- ally belong to different ontologies—e.g., notions of model and expectation versus notions of autopoiesis and synchronization—can be harmonized. However, rather than attempting to settle the representationalist versus non-representationalist debate and reveal something about what representations are simpliciter, this paper demon- strates how the Free Energy Principle may be used to reveal something about those partaking in the debate; namely, what our hidden assumptions about what represen- tations are—assumptions that act as sometimes antithetical starting points in this persistent philosophical debate.



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Matthew Sims
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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