Waves surrounded by Scottish hills and a lighthouse

Surfing uncertainty: prediction, action, and the embodied mind

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Have you ever suspected that people tend to see what they expect to see? Professor of Philosophy Andy Clark might have the answer

Andy’s book Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind (Clark, 2015) explores an emerging view of the perceiving brain as a prediction machine.

Brains like that are not cognitive couch-potatoes, passively awaiting the next waves of sensory stimulation. Instead, they are pro-active prediction engines constantly trying to guess at, or anticipate, the shape of the incoming sensory signal.

Prediction as hallucination?

Such systems use their own predictions to shape and sculpt the way they process the incoming sensory information – resulting, in extreme cases, in seeming to see what you predict will be there even when it is not.

Of course, in most cases, a more delicate balance is struck, and the predictions are used to separate signal from noise, and to fill in missing information. All this recalls the lovely dictum that perception is controlled hallucination.

You can find out more about this proposal via a series of blogs Andy has written for popular Philosophy site Brains:

Guest post by Andy Clark – prediction, action and the embodied mind

Embodiment and prediction

Another major attraction of the story is indeed that it reveals perception, understanding, and imagination as deeply intertwined – as elements of a single ‘cognitive package deal’ in which the brain tries to guess the incoming sensory barrage as it arrives. Surfing Uncertainty takes this story and puts it into full contact with work in ‘embodied cognition’ – the idea that minds like ours make maximal use of the opportunities provided by bodily form, action, and environmental situation.

Surfing Uncertainty takes this story and puts it into full contact with work in ‘embodied cognition’ – the idea that minds like ours make maximal use of the opportunities provided by bodily form, action, and environmental situation.

Andy Clark was one of the pioneers of Embodied Cognition, now a cornerstone of contemporary philosophy (Clark and Chalmers, 1998; Clark, 2008).

For an introduction to the key ideas of embodied cognition and the extended mind, Andy’s 2010 piece for the New York Times is a great starting point:

New York Time | Guest post by Andy Clark – Out of our brains

Constructing consciousness

Following on from the ideas in the book, Andy is currently working on a major research project about how predictions might help shape our conscious experience.

What happens when our brains make predictions that go wrong? Where and how is conscious experience stored in our brains? How do we make predictions about our own changing physiological states?

The project, “Expecting ourselves: Embodied prediction and the Construction of Conscious Experience) is a 4-year project led by the University of Edinburgh and funded by the European Research Council:

Expecting ourselves: Embodied Prediction and the Construction of Conscious Experience

About Andy Clark

Andy Clark is Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the British Academy.

References

Clark, A. (2008) Supersizing the mind: Embodiment, action, and cognitive extension. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A. (2015). Surfing uncertainty: Prediction, action, and the embodied mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. J. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58, pp7-19

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *