Predictive processing and anti-representationalism

Synthese 199 (3-4):11609-11642 (2021)
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Abstract

Many philosophers claim that the neurocomputational framework of predictive processing entails a globally inferentialist and representationalist view of cognition. Here, I contend that this is not correct. I argue that, given the theoretical commitments these philosophers endorse, no structure within predictive processing systems can be rightfully identified as a representational vehicle. To do so, I first examine some of the theoretical commitments these philosophers share, and show that these commitments provide a set of necessary conditions the satisfaction of which allows us to identify representational vehicles. Having done so, I introduce a predictive processing system capable of active inference, in the form of a simple robotic “brain”. I examine it thoroughly, and show that, given the necessary conditions highlighted above, none of its components qualifies as a representational vehicle. I then consider and allay some worries my claim could raise. I consider whether the anti-representationalist verdict thus obtained could be generalized, and provide some reasons favoring a positive answer. I further consider whether my arguments here could be blocked by allowing the same representational vehicle to possess multiple contents, and whether my arguments entail some extreme form of revisionism, answering in the negative in both cases. A quick conclusion follows.

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