Strong continuity of life and mind: the free energy framework, predictive processing and ecological psychology

Dissertation, University of Edinburgh (2021)
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Abstract

Located at the intersection of philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of biology, this thesis aims to provide a novel approach to understanding the strong continuity between life and mind. This thesis applies the Free Energy Framework, predictive processing and the conceptual apparatus from ecological psychology to reveal different manners in which the organizational processes and principles underlying life have been enriched so as to result in cognitive processes. By using these anticipatory cognitive frameworks this thesis unveils different forms of cognition at work in surprising places and considers how such expressions of cognition are ultimately driven by various forms of environmental complexity. Importing the concepts of affordances, environmental information and perceptual medium from ecological psychology into predictive processing and the Free Energy Framework, an empirically grounded account of cognition as an anticipatory process that allows living systems to adapt to various degrees of uncertainty in their environments at distinct and yet overlapping timescales is argued for. In doing so, this thesis attempts to identify both the explanatory limits of ecological coupling accounts of perception and action, and the possible environmental conditions under which the predictive brain evolved from its decentralized non-neural predecessors as a solution to uncertainty. In contributing to a novel approach to constraining the mind, the various concepts deployed in both philosophy and cognitive science are sharpened, furthering the current debate on what cognition is and how it is related to life.

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Matthew Sims
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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