Unification by Fiat: Arrested Development of Predictive Processing

Cognitive Science 44 (7) (2020)
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Predictive processing (PP) has been repeatedly presented as a unificatory account of perception, action, and cognition. In this paper, we argue that this is premature: As a unifying theory, PP fails to deliver general, simple, homogeneous, and systematic explanations. By examining its current trajectory of development, we conclude that PP remains only loosely connected both to its computational framework and to its hypothetical biological underpinnings, which makes its fundamentals unclear. Instead of offering explanations that refer to the same set of principles, we observe systematic equivocations in PP‐based models, or outright contradictions with its avowed principles. To make matters worse, PP‐based models are seldom empirically validated, and they are frequently offered as mere just‐so stories. The large number of PP‐based models is thus not evidence of theoretical progress in unifying perception, action, and cognition. On the contrary, we maintain that the gap between theory and its biological and computational bases contributes to the arrested development of PP as a unificatory theory. Thus, we urge the defenders of PP to focus on its critical problems instead of offering mere re‐descriptions of known phenomena, and to validate their models against possible alternative explanations that stem from different theoretical assumptions. Otherwise, PP will ultimately fail as a unified theory of cognition.
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