Predictive brains: forethought and the levels of explanation

Frontiers in Psychology 3 (2012)
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Is any unified theory of brain function possible? Following a line of thought dat- ing back to the early cybernetics (see, e.g., Cordeschi, 2002), Clark (in press) has proposed the action-oriented Hierarchical Predictive Coding (HPC) as the account to be pursued in the effort of gain- ing the “Grand Unified Theory of the Mind”—or “painting the big picture,” as Edelman (2012) put it. Such line of thought is indeed appealing, but to be effectively pursued it should be confronted with experimental findings and explana- tory capabilities (Edelman, 2012). The point we are making in this note is that a brain with predictive capa- bilities is certainly necessary to endow the agent situated in the environment with forethought or foresight, a crucial issue to outline the unified account advocated by Clark. But the capacity for fore- thought is deeply entangled with the capacity for emotions and when emotions are brought into the game, cogni- tive functions become part of a large-scale functional brain network. However, for such complex networks a consistent view of hierarchical organization in large-scale functional networks has yet to emerge (Bressler and Menon, 2010), whilst heterarchical organization is likely to play a strategic role (Berntson et al., 2012). This raises the necessity of a multilevel approach that embraces causal relations across levels of explanation in either direc- tion (bottom–up or top–down), endorsing mutual calibration of constructs across levels (Berntson et al., 2012). Which, in turn, calls for a revised perspective on Marr’s levels of analysis framework (Marr, 1982). In the following we highlight some drawbacks of Clark’s proposal in address- ing the above issues.

Author Profiles

Giuseppe Boccignone
Università degli Studi di Milano


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