Sleep and dreaming in the predictive processing framework

Philosophy and Predictive Processing (2017)
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Sleep and dreaming are important daily phenomena that are receiving growing attention from both the scientific and the philosophical communities. The increasingly popular predictive brain framework within cognitive science aims to give a full account of all aspects of cognition. The aim of this paper is to critically assess the theoretical advantages of Predictive Processing (PP, as proposed by Clark 2013, Clark 2016; and Hohwy 2013) in defining sleep and dreaming. After a brief introduction, we overview the state of the art at the intersection between dream research and PP (with particular reference to Hobson and Friston 2012; Hobson et al. 2014). In the following sections we focus on two theoretically promising aspects of the research program. First, we consider the explanations of phenomenal consciousness during sleep (i.e. dreaming) and how it arises from the neural work of the brain. PP provides a good picture of the peculiarity of dreaming but it can’t fully address the problem of how consciousness comes to be in the first place. We propose that Integrated Information Theory (IIT) (Oizumi et al. 2014; Tononi et al. 2016) is a good candidate for this role and we will show its advantages and points of contact with PP. After introducing IIT, we deal with the evolutionary function of sleeping and dreaming. We illustrate that PP fits with contemporary researches on the important adaptive function of sleep and we discuss why IIT can account for sleep mentation (i.e. dreaming) in evolutionary terms (Albantakis et al. 2014). In the final section, we discuss two future avenues for dream research that can fruitfully adopt the perspective offered by PP: (a) the role of bodily predictions in the constitution of the sleeping brain activity and the dreaming experience, and (b) the precise role of the difference stages of sleep (REM (Rapid eye movement), NREM (Non-rapid eye movement) in the constitution and refinement of the predictive machinery.

Author Profiles

Alessio Bucci
UniversitĂ  di Torino
Matteo Grasso
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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