Real Problems and Beast Machines: Predictive Processing and Conscious Experience
Seth, Anil K.
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Consciousness is, for each of us, the presence of subjective experience. Without consciousness there is no world, no self: there is nothing at all. In this talk, I will illustrate how the framework of predictive processing (or active inference) can help bridge from mechanism to phenomenology in the science of consciousness – addressing not the ‘hard problem’, but the ‘real problem’. I will advance the view that predictive processing, precisely because it is not itself a theory of consciousness, is an excellent theoretical resource for consciousness science. I will illustrate this view first by showing how conscious experiences of the world around us can be understood in terms of perceptual predictions, drawing on examples from psychophysics and virtual reality. Then, turning the lens inwards, we will see how the experience of being an embodied self rests on control-oriented predictive (allostatic) regulation of the interior of the body. This approach implies a deep connection between mind and life, and provides a new way to understand the subjective nature of consciousness as emerging from systems that care intrinsically about their own existence. Contrary to the old doctrine of Descartes, we are conscious because we are beast machines.