Embodied Decisions and the Predictive Brain

Dissertation, University of Bristol (2016)
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Abstract

Decision-making has traditionally been modelled as a serial process, consisting of a number of distinct stages. The traditional account assumes that an agent first acquires the necessary perceptual evidence, by constructing a detailed inner repre- sentation of the environment, in order to deliberate over a set of possible options. Next, the agent considers her goals and beliefs, and subsequently commits to the best possible course of action. This process then repeats once the agent has learned from the consequences of her actions and subsequently updated her beliefs. Under this interpretation, the agent’s body is considered merely as a means to report the decision, or to acquire the relevant goods. However, embodied cognition argues that an agent’s body should be understood as a proper part of the decision-making pro- cess. Accepting this principle challenges a number of commonly held beliefs in the cognitive sciences, but may lead to a more unified account of decision-making. This thesis explores an embodied account of decision-making using a recent frame- work known as predictive processing. This framework has been proposed by some as a functional description of neural activity. However, if it is approached from an embodied perspective, it can also offer a novel account of decision-making that ex- tends the scope of our explanatory considerations out beyond the brain and the body. We explore work in the cognitive sciences that supports this view, and argue that decision theory can benefit from adopting an embodied and predictive perspective.

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Christopher Burr
The Alan Turing Institute