A new theory is taking hold in neuroscience. It is the theory that the brain is essentially a hypothesis-testing mechanism, one that attempts to minimise the error of its predictions about the sensory input it receives from the world. It is an attractive theory because powerful theoretical arguments support it, and yet it is at heart stunningly simple. Jakob Hohwy explains and explores this theory from the perspective of cognitive science and philosophy. The key argument throughout The Predictive Mind is (...) that the mechanism explains the rich, deep, and multifaceted character of our conscious perception. It also gives a unified account of how perception is sculpted by attention, and how it depends on action. The mind is revealed as having a fragile and indirect relation to the world. Though we are deeply in tune with the world we are also strangely distanced from it. (shrink)
An exciting theory in neuroscience is that the brain is an organ for prediction error minimization. This theory is rapidly gaining influence and is set to dominate the science of mind and brain in the years to come. PEM has extreme explanatory ambition, and profound philosophical implications. Here, I assume the theory, briefly explain it, and then I argue that PEM implies that the brain is essentially self-evidencing. This means it is imperative to identify an evidentiary boundary between the brain (...) and its environment. This boundary defines the mind-world relation, opens the door to skepticism, and makes the mind transpire as more inferentially secluded and neurocentrically skull-bound than many would nowadays think. Therefore, PEM somewhat deflates contemporary hypotheses that cognition is extended, embodied and enactive; however, it can nevertheless accommodate the kinds of cases that fuel these hypotheses. (shrink)
Predictive processing (PP) is now a prominent theoretical framework in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. This review focuses on PP research with a relatively philosophical focus, taking stock of the framework and discussing new directions. The review contains an introduction that describes the full PP toolbox; an exploration of areas where PP has advanced understanding of perceptual and cognitive phenomena; a discussion of PP's impact on foundational issues in cognitive science; and a consideration of the philosophy of science (...) of PP. The overall picture is that PP is a fruitful framework, with exciting new directions awaiting exploration. (shrink)
In this paper, we consider how certain longstanding philosophical questions about mental representation may be answered on the assumption that cognitive and perceptual systems implement hierarchical generative models, such as those discussed within the prediction error minimization framework. We build on existing treatments of representation via structural resemblance, such as those in Gładziejewski :559–582, 2016) and Gładziejewski and Miłkowski, to argue for a representationalist interpretation of the PEM framework. We further motivate the proposed approach to content by arguing that it (...) is consistent with approaches implicit in theories of unsupervised learning in neural networks. In the course of this discussion, we argue that the structural representation proposal, properly understood, has more in common with functional-role than with causal/informational or teleosemantic theories. In the remainder of the paper, we describe the PEM framework for approximate Bayesian inference in some detail, and discuss how structural representations might arise within the proposed Bayesian hierarchies. After explicating the notion of variational inference, we define a subjectively accessible measure of misrepresentation for hierarchical Bayesian networks by appeal to the Kullbach–Leibler divergence between posterior generative and approximate recognition densities, and discuss a related measure of objective misrepresentation in terms of correspondence with the facts. (shrink)
The free energy principle says that any self-organising system that is at nonequilibrium steady-state with its environment must minimize its free energy. It is proposed as a grand unifying principle for cognitive science and biology. The principle can appear cryptic, esoteric, too ambitious, and unfalsifiable—suggesting it would be best to suspend any belief in the principle, and instead focus on individual, more concrete and falsifiable ‘process theories’ for particular biological processes and phenomena like perception, decision and action. Here, I explain (...) the free energy principle, and I argue that it is best understood as offering a conceptual and mathematical analysis of the concept of existence of self-organising systems. This analysis offers a new type of solution to long-standing problems in neurobiology, cognitive science, machine learning and philosophy concerning the possibility of normatively constrained, self-supervised learning and inference. The principle can therefore uniquely serve as a regulatory principle for process theories, to ensure that process theories conforming to it enable self-supervision. This is, at least for those who believe self-supervision is a foundational explanatory task, good reason to believe the free energy principle. (shrink)
Self-evidencing describes the purported predictive processing of all self-organising systems, whether conscious or not. Self-evidencing in itself is therefore not sufficient for consciousness. Different systems may however be capable of self-evidencing in different, specific and distinct ways. Some of these ways of self-evidencing can be matched up with, and explain, several properties of consciousness. This carves out a distinction in nature between those systems that are conscious, as described by these properties, and those that are not. This approach throws new (...) light on phenomenology, and suggests that some self-evidencing may be characteristic of consciousness. (shrink)
What is the function of cognition? On one influential account, cognition evolved to co-ordinate behaviour with environmental change or complexity. Liberal interpretations of this view ascribe cognition to an extraordinarily broad set of biological systems—even bacteria, which modulate their activity in response to salient external cues, would seem to qualify as cognitive agents. However, equating cognition with adaptive flexibility per se glosses over important distinctions in the way biological organisms deal with environmental complexity. Drawing on contemporary advances in theoretical biology (...) and computational neuroscience, we cash these distinctions out in terms of different kinds of generative models, and the representational and uncertainty-resolving capacities they afford. This analysis leads us to propose a formal criterion for delineating cognition from other, more pervasive forms of adaptive plasticity. On this view, biological cognition is rooted in a particular kind of functional organisation; namely, that which enables the agent to detach from the present and engage in counterfactual inference. (shrink)
The notion that the brain is a prediction error minimizer entails, via the notion of Markov blankets and self-evidencing, a form of global scepticism — an inability to rule out evil demon scenarios. This type of scepticism is viewed by some as a sign of a fatally flawed conception of mind and cognition. Here I discuss whether this scepticism is ameliorated by acknowledging the role of action in the most ambitious approach to prediction error minimization, namely under the free energy (...) principle. I argue that the scepticism remains but that the role of action in the free energy principle constrains the demon’s work. This yields new insights about the free energy principle, epistemology, and the place of mind in nature. (shrink)
The search for the neural correlates of consciousness is in need of a systematic, principled foundation that can endow putative neural correlates with greater predictive and explanatory value. Here, we propose the predictive processing framework for brain function as a promising candidate for providing this systematic foundation. The proposal is motivated by that framework’s ability to address three general challenges to identifying the neural correlates of consciousness, and to satisfy two constraints common to many theories of consciousness. Implementing the search (...) for neural correlates of consciousness through the lens of predictive processing delivers strong potential for predictive and explanatory value through detailed, systematic mappings between neural substrates and phenomenological structure. We conclude that the predictive processing framework, precisely because it at the outset is not itself a theory of consciousness, has significant potential for advancing the neuroscience of consciousness. (shrink)
It appears that consciousness science is progressing soundly, in particular in its search for the neural correlates of consciousness. There are two main approaches to this search, one is content-based (focusing on the contrast between conscious perception of, e.g., faces vs. houses), the other is state-based (focusing on overall conscious states, e.g., the contrast between dreamless sleep vs. the awake state). Methodological and conceptual considerations of a number of concrete studies show that both approaches are problematic: the content-based approach seems (...) to set aside crucial aspects of consciousness; and the state-based approach seems over-inclusive in a way that is hard to rectify without losing sight of the crucial conscious-unconscious contrast. Consequently, the search for the neural correlates of consciousness is in need of new experimental paradigms. (shrink)
We use the hierarchical nature of Bayesian perceptual inference to explain a fundamental aspect of the temporality of experience, namely the phenomenology of temporal flow. The explanation says that the sense of temporal flow in conscious perception stems from probabilistic inference that the present cannot be trusted. The account begins by describing hierarchical inference under the notion of prediction error minimization, and exemplifies distrust of the present within bistable visual perception and action initiation. Distrust of the present is then discussed (...) in relation to previous research on temporal phenomenology. Finally, we discuss how there may be individual differences in the experience of temporal flow, in particular along the autism spectrum. The resulting view is that the sense of temporal flow in conscious perception results from an internal, inferential process. (shrink)
The phenomenology of agency and perception is probably underpinned by a common cognitive system based on generative models and predictive coding. I defend the hypothesis that this cognitive system explains core aspects of the sense of having a self in agency and perception. In particular, this cognitive model explains the phenomenological notion of a minimal self as well as a notion of the narrative self. The proposal is related to some influential studies of overall brain function, and to psychopathology. These (...) elusive notions of the self are shown to be the natural upshots of general cognitive mechanisms whose fundamental purpose is to enable agents to represent the world and act in it. (shrink)
Different cognitive functions recruit a number of different, often overlapping, areas of the brain. Theories in cognitive and computational neuroscience are beginning to take this kind of functional integration into account. The contributions to this special issue consider what functional integration tells us about various aspects of the mind such as perception, language, volition, agency, and reward. Here, I consider how and why functional integration may matter for the mind; I discuss a general theoretical framework, based on generative models, that (...) may unify many of the debates surrounding functional integration and the mind; and I briefly introduce each of the contributions. (shrink)
Bortolotti’s Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs defends the view that delusions are beliefs on a continuum with other beliefs. A different view is that delusions are more like illusions, that is, they arise from faulty perception. This view, which is not targeted by the book, makes it easier to explain why delusions are so alien and disabling but needs to appeal to forensic aspects of functioning.
There is surprising evidence that introspection of our phenomenal states varies greatly between individuals and within the same individual over time. This puts pressure on the notion that introspection gives reliable access to our own phenomenology: introspective unreliability would explain the variability, while assuming that the underlying phenomenology is stable. I appeal to a body of neurocomputational, Bayesian theory and neuroimaging findings to provide an alternative explanation of the evidence: though some limited testing conditions can cause introspection to be unreliable, (...) mostly it is our phenomenology itself that is variable. With this account of phenomenal variability, the occurrence of the surprising evidence can be explained while generally retaining introspective reliability. (shrink)
In rubber hand illusions and full body illusions, touch sensations are projected to non-body objects such as rubber hands, dolls or virtual bodies. The robustness, limits and further perceptual consequences of such illusions are not yet fully explored or understood. A number of experiments are reported that test the limits of a variant of the rubber hand illusion. Methodology/Principal Findings -/- A variant of the rubber hand illusion is explored, in which the real and foreign hands are aligned in personal (...) space. The presence of the illusion is ascertained with participants' scores and temperature changes of the real arm. This generates a basic illusion of touch projected to a foreign arm. Participants are presented with further, unusual visuotactile stimuli subsequent to onset of the basic illusion. Such further visuotactile stimulation is found to generate very unusual experiences of supernatural touch and touch on a non-hand object. The finding of touch on a non-hand object conflicts with prior findings, and to resolve this conflict a further hypothesis is successfully tested: that without prior onset of the basic illusion this unusual experience does not occur. Conclusions/Significance -/- A rubber hand illusion is found that can arise when the real and the foreign arm are aligned in personal space. This illusion persists through periods of no tactile stimulation and is strong enough to allow very unusual experiences of touch felt on a cardboard box and experiences of touch produced at a distance, as if by supernatural causation. These findings suggest that one's visual body image is explained away during experience of the illusion and they may be of further importance to understanding the role of experience in delusion formation. The findings of touch on non-hand objects may help reconcile conflicting results in this area of research. In addition, new evidence is provided that relates to the recently discovered psychologically induced temperature changes that occur during the illusion. (shrink)
According to one theory, the brain is a sophisticated hypothesis tester: perception is Bayesian unconscious inference where the brain actively uses predictions to test, and then refine, models about what the causes of its sensory input might be. The brain’s task is simply continually to minimise prediction error. This theory, which is getting increasingly popular, holds great explanatory promise for a number of central areas of research at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. I show how the theory can (...) help us understand striking phenomena at three cognitive levels: vision, sensory integration, and belief. First, I illustrate central aspects of the theory by showing how it provides a nice explanation of why binocular rivalry occurs. Then I suggest how the theory may explain the role of the unified sense of self in rubber hand and full body illusions driven by visuotactile conflict. Finally, I show how it provides an approach to delusion formation that is consistent with one-deficit accounts of monothematic delusions. (shrink)
Most consciousness researchers, almost no matter what their views of the metaphysics of consciousness, can agree that the first step in a science of consciousness is the search for the neural correlate of consciousness (the NCC). The reason for this agreement is that the notion of ‘correlation’ doesn’t by itself commit one to any particular metaphysical view about the relation between (neural) matter and consciousness. For example, some might treat the correlates as causally related, while others might view the correlation (...) as evidence for identity between conscious states and brain states. The common ground therefore seems to be that the scientific search for the NCC is largely independent of the metaphysics of consciousness. (shrink)
Three challenges to a unified understanding of delusions emerge from Radden's On Delusion (2011). Here, I propose that in order to respond to these challenges, and to work towards a unifying framework for delusions, we should see delusions as arising in inference under uncertainty. This proposal is based on the observation that delusions in key respects are surprisingly like perceptual illusions, and it is developed further by focusing particularly on individual differences in uncertainty expectations.
At present, the science of consciousness is structured around the search for the neural correlates of consciousness. One of the alleged advantages of the NCCs framework is its metaphysical neutrality—the fact that it begs no contested questions with respect to debates about the fundamental nature of consciousness. Here, we argue that even if the NCC framework is metaphysically neutral, it is structurally committed, for it presupposes a certain model—what we call the Lite-Brite model—of consciousness. This, we argue, represents a serious (...) liability for the NCC framework for the plausibility of the Lite-Brite model is very much an open question, and the science of consciousness would be better served by a framework that does not presuppose it. Drawing on interventionist ideas in the philosophy of science, we suggest that the Difference-Maker framework can provide just such an alternative. Instead of searching for the neural correlates of consciousness, we ought to be searching for the difference makers of consciousness. We detail how a shift to searching DMCs will change both the practice of consciousness science and the interpretation of existing results. (shrink)
This chapter focuses on what’s novel in the perspective that the prediction error minimization (PEM) framework affords on the cognitive-scientific project of explaining intelligence by appeal to internal representations. It shows how truth-conditional and resemblance-based approaches to representation in generative models may be integrated. The PEM framework in cognitive science is an approach to cognition and perception centered on a simple idea: organisms represent the world by constantly predicting their own internal states. PEM theories often stress the hierarchical structure of (...) the generative models they posit. The novel explanatory power of the PEM account derives largely from the way in which pairs of generative and recognition models interact. “Predictive coding” refers to an encoding strategy in which predicted portions of an input signal are subtracted from the actual signal received, so that only the difference between the two is passed as output to the next stage of information processing. (shrink)
Some monothematic types of delusions may arise because subjects have unusual experiences. The role of this experiential component in the pathogenesis of delusion is still not understood. Focussing on delusions of alien control, we outline a model for reality testing competence on unusual experiences. We propose that nascent delusions arise when there are local failures of reality testing performance, and that monothematic delusions arise as normal responses to these. In the course of this we address questions concerning the tenacity with (...) which delusions are maintained, their often bizarre content, the patients' inability to dismiss them, and their often circumscribed character. (shrink)
Cognitive neuroscience aspires to explain how the brain produces conscious states. Many people think this aspiration is threatened by the subjective nature of introspective reports, as well as by certain philosophical arguments. We propose that good neuroscientific explanations of conscious states can consolidate an interpretation of introspective reports, in spite of their subjective nature. This is because the relative quality of explanations can be evaluated on independent, methodological grounds. To illustrate, we review studies that suggest that aspects of the feeling (...) of being in control of one's bodily movement can be explained in terms of the complex and surprising way the brain predicts movement. This is a modest type of functional, contrastive explanation. Though we do not refute the threatening philosophical arguments, we show that they do not apply to this type of explanation. (shrink)
This chapter explores the idea that the need to establish common knowledge is one feature that makes social cognition stand apart in important ways from cognition in general. We develop this idea on the background of the claim that social cognition is nothing but a type of causal inference. We focus on autism as our test-case, and propose that a specific type of problem with common knowledge processing is implicated in challenges to social cognition in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This (...) problem has to do with the individual’s assessment of the reliability of messages that are passed between people as common knowledge emerges. The proposal is developed on the background of our own empirical studies and outlines different ways common knowledge might be comprised. We discuss what these issues may tell us about ASD, about the relation between social and non-social cognition, about social objects, and about the dynamics of social networks. (shrink)
Recent research has begun to investigate sensory processing in relation to nonclinical variation in traits associated with the autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We propose that existing accounts of autistic perception can be augmented by considering a role for individual differences in top-down expectations for the precision of sensory input, related to the processing of state-dependent levels of uncertainty. We therefore examined ASD-like traits in relation to the rubber-hand illusion: an experimental paradigm that typically elicits crossmodal integration of visual, tactile, and (...) proprioceptive information in an unusual illusory context. Individuals with higher ASD-like traits showed reduced effects of the rubber-hand illusion on perceived arm position and reach-to-grasp movements, compared to individuals with lower ASD-like traits. These differences occurred despite both groups reporting the typical subjective experience of the illusion concerning visuotactile integration and ownership for the rubber hand. Together these results suggest that the integration of proprioceptive information with cues for arm position derived from the illusory context differs between individuals partly in relation to traits associated with ASD. We suggest that the observed differences in sensory integration can be best explained in terms of differing expectations regarding the precision of sensory estimates in contexts that suggest uncertainty. (shrink)
After being sorely neglected for some time, consciousness is well and truly back on the philosophical and scientific agenda. This entry provides a whistle-stop tour of some recent debates surrounding consciousness, with a particular focus on issues relevant to the scientific study of consciousness. The first half of this entry (the first to fourth sections) focuses on clarifying the explanandum of a science of consciousness and identifying constraints on an adequate account of consciousness; the second half of this entry (the (...) fifth to seventh sections) examines a number of the methodological challenges facing the science of consciousness. (shrink)
Events and event prediction are pivotal concepts across much of cognitive science, as demonstrated by the papers in this special issue. We first discuss how the study of events and the predictive processing framework may fruitfully inform each other. We then briefly point to some links to broader philosophical questions about events.
Clark acknowledges but resists the indirect mind–world relation inherent in prediction error minimization (PEM). But directness should also be resisted. This creates a puzzle, which calls for reconceptualization of the relation. We suggest that a causal conception captures both aspects. With this conception, aspects of situated cognition, social interaction and culture can be understood as emerging through precision optimization.
The effect of the body transfer illusion on the perceived strength of self- and externally-generated “tickle” sensations was investigated. As expected, externally generated movement produced significantly higher ratings of tickliness than those associated with self-generated movements. Surprisingly, the body transfer illusion had no influence on the ratings of tickliness, suggesting that highly surprising, and therefore hard to predict, experiences of body image and first-person perspective do not abolish the attenuation of tickle sensations. In addition, evidence was found that a version (...) of the rubber hand illusion exists within the body transfer illusion. We situate our findings within the larger debate over sensory attenuation: there is an attenuation of prediction errors that depends upon the context in which sensory input is predicted , and sensory attenuation is a necessary consequence of self-generated movement irrespective of context . The results support the notion of active inference. (shrink)
There is a view on consciousness that has strong intuitive appeal and empirical support: the intermediate-level theory of consciousness, proposed mainly by Ray Jackendoff and by Jesse Prinz. This theory identifies a specific “intermediate” level of representation as the basis of human phenomenal consciousness, which sits between high-level non-perspectival thought processes and low-level disjointed feature-detection processes in the perceptual and cognitive processing hierarchy. In this article, we show that the claim that consciousness arises at an intermediate-level is true of some (...) cognitive systems, but only in virtue of specific constraints on their active interactions with the environment. We provide ecological reasons for why certain processing levels in a cognitive hierarchy are privileged with respect to consciousness. We do this from the perspective of a prediction-error minimization model of perception and cognition, relying especially on the notion of active inference: the privileged level for consciousness depends on the specific dispositions of an organism concerned with inferring its policies for action. Such a level is indeed intermediate for humans, but this depends on the spatiotemporal resolution of the typical actions that a human organism can normally perform. Thus, intermediateness is not an essential feature of consciousness. In organisms with different action dispositions the privileged level or levels may differ as well. (shrink)
Shaun Gallagher calls for a radical rethinking of the concept of nature and he resists reduction of phenomenology to computational-neural science. However, classic, reductionist science, at least in contemporary computational guise, has the resources to accommodate insights from transcendental phenomenology. Reductionism should be embraced, not feared.
This chapter seeks to recover an approach to consciousness from a general theory of brain function, namely the prediction error minimization theory. The way this theory applies to mental and developmental disorder demonstrates its relevance to consciousness. The resulting view is discussed in relation to a contemporary theory of consciousness, namely the idea that conscious perception depends on Bayesian metacognition; this theory is also supported by considerations of psychopathology. This Bayesian theory is first disconnected from the higher-order thought theory, and (...) then, via a prediction error conception of action, connected instead to the global neuronal workspace theory. Considerations of mental and developmental disorder therefore show that a very general theory of brain function is relevant to explaining the structure of conscious perception; furthermore, this theory can subsume and unify two contemporary approaches to consciousness, in a move that seeks to elucidate the fundamental mechanism for selection of representational content into consciousness. (shrink)
Autism spectrum disorder is characterised by differences in unimodal and multimodal sensory and proprioceptive processing, with complex biases towards local over global processing. Many of these elements are implicated in versions of the rubber hand illusion, which were therefore studied in high-functioning individuals with ASD and a typically developing control group. Both groups experienced the illusion. A number of differences were found, related to proprioception and sensorimotor processes. The ASD group showed reduced sensitivity to visuotactile-proprioceptive discrepancy but more accurate proprioception. (...) This group also differed on acceleration in subsequent reach trials. Results are discussed in terms of weak top-down integration and precision-accuracy trade-offs. The RHI appears to be a useful tool for investigating multisensory processing in ASD. (shrink)
We challenge Bruineberg et al's view that Markov blankets are illicitly reified when used to describe organismic boundaries. We do this both on general methodological grounds, where we appeal to a form of structural realism derived from Bayesian cognitive science to dissolve the problem, and by rebutting specific arguments in the target article.
Among all their sensations, agents need to distinguish between those caused by themselves and those caused by external causes. The ability to infer agency is particularly challenging under conditions of uncertainty. Within the predictive processing framework, this should happen through active control of prediction error that closes the action-perception loop. Here we use a novel, temporally-sensitive, behavioural proxy for prediction error to show that it is minimised most quickly when volatility is high and when participants report agency, regardless of the (...) accuracy of the judgement. We demonstrate broad effects of uncertainty on accuracy of agency judgements, movement, policy selection, and hypothesis switching. Measuring autism traits, we find differences in policy selection, sensitivity to uncertainty and hypothesis switching despite no difference in overall accuracy. (shrink)
The effect of the body transfer illusion on the perceived strength of self- and externally-generated “tickle” sensations was investigated. As expected, externally generated movement produced significantly higher ratings of tickliness than those associated with self-generated movements. Surprisingly, the body transfer illusion had no influence on the ratings of tickliness, suggesting that highly surprising, and therefore hard to predict, experiences of body image and first-person perspective do not abolish the attenuation of tickle sensations. In addition, evidence was found that a version (...) of the rubber hand illusion exists within the body transfer illusion. We situate our findings within the larger debate over sensory attenuation: there is an attenuation of prediction errors that depends upon the context in which sensory input is predicted, and sensory attenuation is a necessary consequence of self-generated movement irrespective of context. The results support the notion of active inference. (shrink)
We introduce the predictive processing account of body representation, according to which body representation emerges via a domain-general scheme of (long-term) prediction error minimisation. We contrast this account against one where body representation is underpinned by domain-specific systems, whose exclusive function is to track the body. We illustrate how the predictive processing account offers considerable advantages in explaining various empirical findings, and we draw out some implications for body representation research.
Any position that promises genuine progress on the mind-body problem deserves attention. Recently, Daniel Stoljar has identified a physicalist version of Russells notion of neutral monism; he elegantly argues that with this type of physicalism it is possible to disambiguate on the notion of physicalism in such a way that the problem is resolved. The further issue then arises of whether we have reason to believe that this type of physicalism is in fact true. Ultimately, one needs to argue for (...) this position by inference to the best explanation, and I show that this new type of physicalism does not hold promise of more explanatory prowess than its relevant rivals, and that, whether it is better than its rivals or not, it is doubtful whether it would furnish us with genuine explanations of the phenomenal at all. (shrink)