The emulation theory of representation: Motor control, imagery, and perception

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (3):377-396 (2004)
Abstract
The emulation theory of representation is developed and explored as a framework that can revealingly synthesize a wide variety of representational functions of the brain. The framework is based on constructs from control theory (forward models) and signal processing (Kalman filters). The idea is that in addition to simply engaging with the body and environment, the brain constructs neural circuits that act as models of the body and environment. During overt sensorimotor engagement, these models are driven by efference copies in parallel with the body and environment, in order to provide expectations of the sensory feedback, and to enhance and process sensory information. These models can also be run off-line in order to produce imagery, estimate outcomes of different actions, and evaluate and develop motor plans. The framework is initially developed within the context of motor control, where it has been shown that inner models running in parallel with the body can reduce the effects of feedback delay problems. The same mechanisms can account for motor imagery as the off-line driving of the emulator via efference copies. The framework is extended to account for visual imagery as the off-line driving of an emulator of the motor-visual loop. I also show how such systems can provide for amodal spatial imagery. Perception, including visual perception, results from such models being used to form expectations of, and to interpret, sensory input. I close by briefly outlining other cognitive functions that might also be synthesized within this framework, including reasoning, theory of mind phenomena, and language. Key Words: efference copies; emulation theory of representation; forward models; Kalman filters; motor control; motor imagery; perception; visual imagery
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