Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

Predictive processing, perceptual presence, and sensorimotor contingencies

Sackler Centre research is at the cutting edge of an increasingly dominant theory in cognitive neuroscience.  This is the theory that the brain is essentially a ‘prediction machine’, and that conscious perception is just the brain’s “best guess” of the causes of its sensory inputs (some people call this the “Bayesian brain”. We have developed this theory in new directions. One of these is to propose that the brain maintains ‘counterfactual’ predictions of the (causes of) sensory inputs that would occur, were particular actions to be made. This provides a link to influential theories of ‘sensorimotor contingencies’ which say that conscious experiences are things we do, rather than something generated by the brain.  The new theory of ‘counterfactual predictive processing’ can also tell us why the objects of perception usually seem ‘real’ (i.e., as existing in the world), and what might account for unusual situations where this isn’t the case, like in synaesthesia. See below for a ‘discussion paper’ which generated many published commentaries. We are also pioneering the application of ‘predictive processing’ to interoception, emotion, and conscious experiences of selfhood.

People:

Anil Seth

Reference:

Seth, A.K. (2014). A predictive processing theory of sensorimotor contingencies: Explaining the puzzle of perceptual presence and its absence in synaesthesia. Cognitive Neuroscience (target article) 5(2):97-118