Predictive processing (PP) approaches to the mind are increasingly popular in the cognitive sciences. This surge of interest is accompanied by a proliferation of philosophical arguments, which seek to either extend or oppose various aspects of the emerging framework. In particular, the question of how to position predictive processing with respect to enactive and embodied cognition has become a topic of intense debate. While these arguments are certainly of valuable scientific and philosophical merit, they risk underestimating the variety of approaches gathered under the predictive label. Here, we first present a basic review of neuroscientific, cognitive, and philosophical approaches to PP, to illustrate how these range from solidly cognitivist applications – with a firm commitment to modular, internalistic mental representation – to more moderate views emphasizing the importance of ‘body-representations’, and finally to those which fit comfortably with radically enactive, embodied, and dynamic theories of mind. Any nascent predictive processing theory (e.g., of attention or consciousness) must take into account this continuum of views, and associated theoretical commitments. As a final point, we illustrate how the Free Energy Principle (FEP) attempts to dissolve tension between internalist and externalist accounts of cognition, by providing a formal synthetic account of how internal ‘representations’ arise from autopoietic self-organization. The FEP thus furnishes empirically productive process theories (e.g., predictive processing) by which to guide discovery through the formal modelling of the embodied mind.
Analyzing the outline of the endless literature on consciousness, the separation between science and philosophy rather than being overcome, seems to come back in different shapes. According to this point of view, the hard problem seems to be how to study consciousness while avoiding a slip back to the old dualism. This article outlines the advantages of the phenomenological method. This method, more than getting over the mind-body separation, anticipates it through an open gaze, able to bring back the human presence as something structurally “ambiguous.” Reintroducing Husserl’s scientific project in a complete way, Francisco Varela opened up a research area yet to be explored, which promises to be fertile for neuroscience, provided that we accept that radicalism essential to phenomenology.
This article considers W. Ross Ashby’s ideas on the nature of embodied minds, as articulated in the last five years of his career. In particular, it attempts to connect his ideas to later work by others in robotics, perception and consciousness. While it is difficult to measure his direct influence on this work, the conceptual links are deep. Moreover, Ashby provides a comprehensive view of the embodied mind, which connects these areas. It concludes that the contemporary fields of situated robotics, ecological perception, and the neural mechanisms of consciousness might all benefit from a reconsideration of Ashby’s later writings.
Open peer commentary on the article “Consciousness as Self-Description in Differences” by Diana Gasparyan. Upshot: Gasparyan’s article ignores the inherent tension of being a human who is both a subject and an object at the same time. Any theory of consciousness must include both of these dimensions.
Open peer commentary on the article “Enaction as a Lived Experience: Towards a Radical Neurophenomenology” by Claire Petitmengin. Upshot: Why has the neurophenomenological approach not been adopted as a common and even obligatory tool in the study of consciousness? I suggest that the problem with the neurophenomenological approach is its effectiveness on the one hand and its almost impossible demands from the scientist on the other: One cannot accept the neurophenomenological approach without rejecting not only the paradigm of cognitive science, but the scientific paradigm as a whole.
The paper compares social systems theory and social network theory in terms of what it is they respectively seek to elucidate. Whereas systems theory focuses on problems of difference and reproduction, network theory deals with problems of identity and control, the former privileging communication and the latter action. To understand their different foci, it may help to keep in mind that systems theory is a child of computing’s formative years, whereas the more recent success of network theory, despite its roots in a far older tradition, accompanies the advent of the Internet. The paper goes on to compare the two theories with respect to questions of mathematical modeling, culture, and self-reference, which interestingly are closely related. It proposes a mathematical modeling of culture, which uses Spencer-Brown’s notion of form to combine variables of communication, consciousness, and life into one network relying on three systems capable of reproducing themselves. The paper is relevant for constructivist approaches because it shows how systems are constructed relying on networks within their own interpretation as culture.
The paper is a reading of Martin Heidegger’s Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Even) by means of Ranulph Glanville’s notions of black box, cybernetic control and objects as well as by George Spencer-Brown’s notion of form and Fritz Heider’s notion of medium. In fact, as Heidegger was among those who emphasized systems thinking as the epitome of modern thinking, did in his lecture on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom a most thorough reading of this thinking, and considered cybernetics the very fulfilment of modern science it is interesting to know whether second-order cybernetics, as it was not known to Heidegger and as it delves into an understanding of inevitable complexity and foundational ignorance, falls within that verdict mere modernity or goes beyond it. If modern science in its rational understanding considers its subjects to be objects sitting still while being observed, then indeed second-order cybernetics is different. It looks into the observer’s interactions with black boxes, radically uncertain of where to expect operations of a self, but certain that we cannot restrict it to human consciousness.
Upshot: We respond to three main challenges that the commentaries have raised. Firstly, we clarify our misunderstood intention of introducing a newcomer to the neurophenomenological family. Rather, we situate our approach under the broader umbrella of phenomenology. Secondly, we argue that from our empirical position it is questionable that the strategy we pursued in the target article left the black box of consciousness completely closed. Thirdly, we argue that the subjective fluctuations that may appear as outcomes in an experimental paradigm are not to be considered with a resigned attitude but as valuable information to work with. We conclude our response by agreeing with the concerns of two of the commentators about extending the perspectives and plurality of the methods to investigate the explanatory gap problem.
Excerpt: Inthe French language, the verb vivre means both “to be alive” (Leben) and “to have an experience, to feel something” (Erleben): it is neutral with respect to the distinction between the transitive life that we call consciousness, and the intransitive life of organisms that merely keep themselves alive. In this text, we put forward the hypothesis that this neutrality, far from being a simple accident of language, is highly revealing as to the primordial status of life; it thus indicates the direction that a phenomenology of life should take. The question that a phenomenology of life has to confront is thus the following: what is the primordial meaning of life such that it precedes the distinction between intransitive and transitive life, and thereby makes this distinction possible? In other words: what is life such that the possibility of consciousness is grounded therein? From the moment we consider that consciousness is basically characterized by intentionality, primordial life must already contain the germ of a fundamental transitivity where intentionality can be grounded; it follows from this that the question of the Being of intentionality, and that of the mode of Being of life, are one and the same question.
Open peer commentary on the article “Never Mind the Gap: Neurophenomenology, Radical Enactivism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness” by Michael D. Kirchhoff & Daniel D. Hutto. Upshot: I strongly agree with Kirchhoff and Hutto that consciousness and embodied action are one and the same, but I disagree when they say this identity cannot be fully explained and must simply be posited. Here I attempt to sketch the outlines of just such an explanation.