Constructive theories of brain function such as predictive coding posit that prior knowledge affects our experience of the world quickly and directly. However, it is yet unknown how swiftly prior knowledge impacts the neural processes giving rise to conscious experience. Here we used an experimental paradigm where prior knowledge augmented perception and measured the timing of this effect with magnetoencephalography (MEG). By correlating the perceptual benefits of prior knowledge with the MEG activity, we found that prior knowledge took effect in the time-window 80–95ms after stimulus onset, thus reflecting an early influence on conscious perception. The sources of this effect were localized to occipital and posterior parietal regions. These results are in line with the predictive coding framework.
In this paper, we argue for a theoretical separation of the free-energy principle from Helmholtzian accounts of the predictive brain. The free-energy principle is a theoretical framework capturing the imperative for biological self-organization in information-theoretic terms. The free-energy principle has typically been connected with a Bayesian theory of predictive coding, and the latter is often taken to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception as unconscious inference. If our interpretation is right, however, a Helmholtzian view of perception is incompatible with Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle. We argue that the free energy principle and the ecological and enactive approach to mind and life make for a much happier marriage of ideas. We make our argument based on three points. First we argue that the free energy principle applies to the whole animal–environment system, and not only to the brain. Second, we show that active inference, as understood by the free-energy principle, is incompatible with unconscious inference understood as analagous to scientific hypothesis-testing, the main tenet of a Helmholtzian view of perception. Third, we argue that the notion of inference at work in Bayesian predictive coding under the free-energy principle is too weak to support a Helmholtzian theory of perception. Taken together these points imply that the free energy principle is best understood in ecological and enactive terms set out in this paper.
We distinguish between three philosophical views on the neuroscience of predictive models: predictive coding (associated with internal Bayesian models and prediction error minimization), predictive processing (associated with radical connectionism and ‘simple’ embodiment) and predictive engagement (associated with enactivist approaches to cognition). We examine the concept of active inference under each model and then ask how this concept informs discussions of social cognition. In this context we consider Frith and Friston’s proposal for a neural hermeneutics, and we explore the alternative model of enactivist hermeneutics.
The full scope of enactivist approaches to cognition includes not only a focus on sensory-motor contingencies and physical affordances for action, but also an emphasis on affective factors of embodiment and intersubjective af-fordances for social interaction. This strong conception of embodied cognition calls for a new way to think about the role of the brain in the larger system of brain-body-environment. We ask whether recent work on predictive coding offers a way to think about brain function in an enactive system, and we sug-gest that a positive answer is possible if we interpret predictive coding in a more enactive way, i.e., as involved in the organism’s dynamic adjustments to its environment.
The concept of the brain as a prediction machine has enjoyed a resurgence in the context of the Bayesian brain and predictive coding approaches within cognitive science. To date, this perspective has been applied primarily to exteroceptive perception (e.g., vision, audition), and action. Here, I describe a predictive, inferential perspective on interoception: ‘interoceptive inference’ conceives of subjective feeling states (emotions) as arising from actively-inferred generative (predictive) models of the causes of interoceptive afferents. The model generalizes ‘appraisal’ theories that view emotions as emerging from cognitive evaluations of physiological changes, and it sheds new light on the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie the experience of body ownership and conscious selfhood in health and in neuropsychiatric illness.
Normal perception involves experiencing objects within perceptual scenes as real, as existing in the world. This property of “perceptual presence” has motivated “sensorimotor theories” which understand perception to involve the mastery of sensorimotor contingencies. However, the mechanistic basis of sensorimotor contingencies and their mastery has remained unclear. Sensorimotor theory also struggles to explain instances of perception, such as synesthesia, that appear to lack perceptual presence and for which relevant sensorimotor contingencies are difficult to identify. On alternative “predictive processing” theories, perceptual content emerges from probabilistic inference on the external causes of sensory signals, however, this view has addressed neither the problem of perceptual presence nor synesthesia. Here, I describe a theory of predictive perception of sensorimotor contingencies which (1) accounts for perceptual presence in normal perception, as well as its absence in synesthesia, and (2) operationalizes the notion of sensorimotor contingencies and their mastery. The core idea is that generative models underlying perception incorporate explicitly counterfactual elements related to how sensory inputs would change on the basis of a broad repertoire of possible actions, even if those actions are not performed. These “counterfactually-rich” generative models encode sensorimotor contingencies related to repertoires of sensorimotor dependencies, with counterfactual richness determining the degree of perceptual presence associated with a stimulus. While the generative models underlying normal perception are typically counterfactually rich (reflecting a large repertoire of possible sensorimotor dependencies), those underlying synesthetic concurrents are hypothesized to be counterfactually poor. In addition to accounting for the phenomenology of synesthesia, the theory naturally accommodates phenomenological differences between a range of experiential states including dreaming, hallucination, and the like. It may also lead to a new view of the (in)determinacy of normal perception.