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Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science

  • Andy Clark (a1)

Brains, it has recently been argued, are essentially prediction machines. They are bundles of cells that support perception and action by constantly attempting to match incoming sensory inputs with top-down expectations or predictions. This is achieved using a hierarchical generative model that aims to minimize prediction error within a bidirectional cascade of cortical processing. Such accounts offer a unifying model of perception and action, illuminate the functional role of attention, and may neatly capture the special contribution of cortical processing to adaptive success. This target article critically examines this “hierarchical prediction machine” approach, concluding that it offers the best clue yet to the shape of a unified science of mind and action. Sections 1 and 2 lay out the key elements and implications of the approach. Section 3 explores a variety of pitfalls and challenges, spanning the evidential, the methodological, and the more properly conceptual. The paper ends (sections 4 and 5) by asking how such approaches might impact our more general vision of mind, experience, and agency.

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A exceptionally large number of excellent commentary proposals inspired a special research topic for further discussion of this target article's subject matter, edited by Axel Cleeremans and Shimon Edelman in Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. This discussion has a preface by Cleeremans and Edelman and 25 commentaries and includes a separate rejoinder from Andy Clark. See:

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