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Es, T.P. van

Department of Theoretical Philosophy

Sensorimotor Theory and Predictive Coding: On Experience and Attention

Little is more pervasive and clearer to us than our own perception. So clear perhaps it may be transparent, as perceptual consciousness is seen as quite an elusive phenomenon. In explaining this phenomenon, two heavyweight theories are sensorimotor theory (SMT) and predictive coding (PC). The former argues that experience is a bodily activity of exploring the world, the latter argues that the brain’s primary function is prediction error minimization. Though both have received a lot of attention recently, SMT in particular has been controversial. To strengthen its argumentative position it has turned to attention-grabbiness, but fails to give a proper account of it. In my thesis I argue that exactly here PC could complement SMT. Ideally, PC can supply SMT with a specific story on the brain’s function and attention-grabbiness. Yet this is problematic. After all, non-representationalist SMT rejects the internal models of PC at the outset. What now?

I show that there are two paths to take. Either we give up on non-representationalism and incorporate PC into SMT, or we attempt to take the representationalist sting out of PC. The first path is unsatisfactory for those interested in maintaining the non-representationalism thesis. If we are to take the second path, we will have to first elucidate what the explicit reasons are for SMT’s non-representationalism. Then we have to come clear on what the representations in PC really are, and finally analyse whether they meet these conditions. In my paper I show that they seem very similar to certain components of SMT. Moreover, they seem to meet the conditions, but more work will be needed to ensure that in the required interpretation of representations no functions of PC will be lost. Even if this project fails, I will have sharpened the differences, and perhaps we will have shown that, due to the large similarities between representations in PC and components of SMT, the step to a representationalist SMT required by incorporating PC is smaller than initially thought.

Last modified:29 August 2016 6.20 p.m.