ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (7): 1186-1194.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01186

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Predictive processing and the bounds of cognition: A phenomenological perspective

LI Xueyu, GAO Shenchun()   

  1. Jilin University School of Philosophy and Sociology, Changchun 130012, China
  • Received:2022-09-08 Online:2023-07-15 Published:2023-04-23
  • Contact: GAO Shenchun


Predictive processing (PP) is an important theoretical framework in cognitive science and philosophy of mind. As a cognitive model, PP performs “Copernican inversion” on the standard image of sensory processing, and it depicts the brain as a sophisticated hypothesis-testing machine, which strives to minimize the error of predictions of the incoming sensory input. The perception view of prediction not only reflects and promotes the theoretical thinking of predecessors, but also has been confirmed by experiments. However, the research community has not formed a consistent view. What is the boundary of cognition has become the core of the debate, Markov Blanket as a hypothesis is an important concept. However, the framework has two distinct approaches to the understanding of the bounds of cognition, which are divided into internalism and externalism.
On the one hand, the proponents of internalism hold that perception is a process of inference from “effects” (internal states of the brain) to “causes” (hidden triggers in the external world), with the Markov Blanket as the evidentiary boundary. Cognition is an internal mental activity, that means radical neuro-representationalism.This is considered "an affirmation of the simple Cartesian skepticism". There is no doubt that the model in the brain can never access the original, nor replace the original. Therefore, the interpretation of internalism makes it difficult for us to understand the miracle of the interconnection between the mind and the world. The problem with this position is how does the mind in our brain know things outside our mind? How does the brain, as a physical thing, relate to the nonphysical mind?These two problems can be considered in combination with Husserl's transcendence of cognition.
On the other hand, the supporters of PP externalism emphasize that the framework should be combined with the embodied mind and extended cognition, advocating an action-oriented representation.Through analysis, radical neuro-representationalism has made at least two mistakes: one is to introduce a "veil" between the subject and the world; Second, the role of action in the prediction process was ignored. With the help of the dynamic and variable Markov blanket, this externalism position can freely change the boundary to walk in the brain, body and the world. The boundary of cognition is fluid and changeable. The problem is that the marks of cognition are ambiguous, and how the body interacts with the environment. Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of the body undoubtedly lays a strong foundation for the action turn in cognitive research.
Through careful investigation and critical reflection, we find the following conculusion that the explanation of the absolute internalism and externalism of cognition seems to be inaccurate. And to clarify the boundary of cognition, we must inevitably resort to the interpretation of the nature of cognition, and the core content in the phenomenological criticism of cognition is just in line with this appeal. To solve the problem of internalism, we could combine intentionality, meaning and prediction of consciousness. As for the dilemma of externalism, we should explore the phenomenological scheme of “to the things themselves” (zu den Sachen selbst), and adopt the viewpoint of body phenomenology.
As mentioned above, it is undeniable that predictive processing, as a possible new paradigm of cognitive science, does provide some new concepts and unique perspectives for understanding human cognition and action. Unfortunately, both the internalism and externalism positions of the framework are facing cognitive dilemmas to some extent. Cognition is neither limited to the brain, nor simply embedded in the surrounding world. It also participates in the generation of the world. Cognitive psychology can get effective enlightenment from this research in both methods and theories. Phenomenology, as a mode of thinking, undoubtedly provides a space for reflection in the study of PP cognitive model.

Key words: predictive processing, the bounds of cognition, internalism, externalism, phenomenology

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