The free energy principle is sometimes put forward as accounting for biological self-organization and cognition. It states that for a system to maintain non-equilibrium steady-state with its environment it can be described as minimising its free energy. It is said to be entirely scale-free, applying to anything from particles to organisms, and interactive machines, spanning from the abiotic to the biotic. Because the FEP is so general in its application, one might wonder whether this framework can capture anything specific to (...) biology. We take steps to correct for this here. We first explicate the worry, taking pebbles as examples of an abiotic system, and then discuss to what extent the FEP can distinguish its dynamics from an organism’s. We articulate the notion of ‘autonomy as precarious operational closure’ from the enactive literature, and investigate how it can be unpacked within the FEP. This enables the FEP to delineate between the abiotic and the biotic; avoiding the pebble worry that keeps it out of touch with the living systems we encounter in the world. (shrink)
The free energy principle (FEP) portends to provide a unifying principle for the biological and cognitive sciences. It states that for a system to maintain non-equilibrium steady-state with its environment it must minimise its (information-theoretic) free energy. Under the FEP, to minimise free energy is equivalent to engaging in approximate Bayesian inference. According to the FEP, therefore, inference is at the explanatory base of biology and cognition. In this paper, we discuss a specific challenge to this inferential formulation of adaptive (...) self-organisation. We call it the universal ethology challenge: it states that the FEP cannot unify biology and cognition, for life itself (or adaptive self-organisation) does not require inferential routines to select adaptive solutions to environmental pressures (as mandated by the FEP). We show that it is possible to overcome the universal ethology challenge by providing a cautious and exploratory treatment of inference under the FEP. We conclude that there are good reasons for thinking that the FEP can unify biology and cognition under the notion of approximate Bayesian inference, even if further challenges must be addressed to properly draw such a conclusion. (shrink)
This aim of this paper is two-fold: it critically analyses and rejects accounts blending active inference as theory of mind and enactivism; and it advances an enactivist-dynamic understanding of social cognition that is compatible with active inference. While some social cognition theories seemingly take an enactive perspective on social cognition, they explain it as the attribution of mental states to other people, by assuming representational structures, in line with the classic Theory of Mind. Holding both enactivism and ToM, we argue, (...) entails contradiction and confusion due to two ToM assumptions widely known to be rejected by enactivism: that social cognition reduces to mental representation and social cognition is a hardwired contentful ‘toolkit’ or ‘starter pack’ that fuels the model-like theorising supposed in. The paper offers a positive alternative, one that avoids contradictions or confusion. After rejecting ToM-inspired theories of social cognition and clarifying the profile of social cognition under enactivism, that is without assumptions and, the last section advances an enactivist-dynamic model of cognition as dynamic, real-time, fluid, contextual social action, where we use the formalisms of dynamical systems theory to explain the origins of socio-cognitive novelty in developmental change and active inference as a tool to demonstrate social understanding as generalised synchronisation. (shrink)
Predictive processing is an increasingly popular approach to cognition, perception and action. It says that the brain is essentially a hierarchical prediction machine. It is typically construed in a representationalist and inferentialist fashion so that the brain makes contentful inferences on the basis of representational models. In this paper, I argue that the predictive processing framework is inconsistent with this epistemic position. In particular, I argue that the combination of hierarchical modeling, contentful inferentialism and representationalism entail an internal inconsistency. Specifically, (...) for a particular set of states, there will be both a representation requirement and not. Yet a system cannot both be required to represent a certain set of states and not be required to represent those states. Due to this contradiction, I propose to reject the standard view. I suggest that predictive processing is best interpreted in terms of reliable covariation instead, entailing an instrumentalist approach to the statistical machinery. (shrink)
Autism research is increasingly moving to a view centred around sensorimotor atypicalities instead of traditional, ethically problematical, views predicated on social-cognitive deficits. We explore how an enactivist approach to autism illuminates how social differences, stereotypically associated with autism, arise from such sensorimotor atypicalities. Indeed, in a state space description, this can be taken as a skewing of sensorimotor variables that influences social interaction and so also enculturation and habituation. We argue that this construal leads to autism being treated on a (...) par with other sensorimotor atypicalities such as blindness or atypical height. This leads to our conclusion that, insofar there is an ethical call to inclusion in our public sphere regardless of contingent bodily difference, an enactivist take on autism naturally leads to extending such inclusion to autism. Moreover, our analysis suggests a concrete way forward to achieve inclusion of autistics: by being more attentive to autistic sensorimotor specifics. (shrink)
Philosophy of science has undergone a naturalistic turn, moving away from traditional idealized concerns with the logical structure of scientific theories and toward focusing on real-world scientific practice, especially in domains such as modeling and experimentation. As part of this shift, recent work has explored how the project of philosophically understanding science as a natural phenomenon can be enriched by drawing from different fields and disciplines, including niche construction theory in evolutionary biology, on the one hand, and ecological and enactive (...) views in embodied cognitive science, on the other. But these insights have so far been explored in separation from each other, without clear indication of whether they can work together. Moreover, the focus on particular practices, however insightful, has tended to lack consideration of potential further implications for a naturalized understanding of science as a whole (i.e., above and beyond those particular practices). Motivated by these developments, here we sketch a broad-ranging view of science, scientific practice and scientific knowledge in terms of ecological-enactive co-construction. The view we propose situates science in the biological, evolutionary context of human embodied cognitive activity aimed at addressing the demands of life. This motivates reframing theory as practice, and reconceptualizing scientific knowledge in ecological terms, as relational and world-involving. Our view also brings to the forefront of attention the fundamental link between ideas about the nature of mind, of science and of nature itself, which we explore by outlining how our proposal differs from more conservative, and narrower, conceptions of “cognitive niche construction.”. (shrink)
We target the ontological and epistemological ramifications of the proposed distinction between Friston and Pearl blankets. We emphasize the need for empirical testing next to computational modeling. A peculiar aspect of the free energy principle (FEP) is its purported support of radically opposed ontologies of the mind. In our view, the objective ontological aspiration itself should be rejected for a pragmatic instrumentalist view.
Whether perception involves the manipulation of representations is currently heavily debated. The embedded view advanced by Nico Orlandi seeks a middle passage between representationalism and radical enactivism. In this paper I argue for a non-representational take on EV. I argue that this is the best way to resolve the objections EV has received from both representationalists and non-representationalists. I analyze this debate, and distinguish four sorts of objections: the objection of the wrongfully cut middleman, the argument against explanatory exclusionism, the (...) case for scientific benefits of representations, and the charge of inconsistent ascription of representational status in EV. I argue that the middleman was never cut in EV, and is controversial to boot, otherwise equal, non-representational explanations have primacy over representational explanations, due to the lack of naturalistic grounds for representations and the unnecessarily ascribed cognitive load to the system. Further, I show that puts the cart before the horse, and the arguments on offer are viciously circular. However, the final objection, lays bare a deeper issue for EV. At the cost of giving up the middle position, however, the explanatory tools already available to EV can be shown to cover the work initially thought to require representation. I conclude that EV is best altered to be a non-representational theory of perception. (shrink)