DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0423 ISSN: 0962-8436

Designs on consciousness: literature and predictive processing

Karin Kukkonen
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Predictive processing is a recent approach in cognitive science that describes the brain as an engine of probabilistic hierarchical inference. Initially proposed as a general theory of brain function, predictive processing has recently been expanding to account for questions of consciousness in philosophy and neuroscience. In my previous work (Kukkonen 2020 Probability designs: literature and predictive processing . New York, NY: Oxford University Press), I have shown how predictive processing can also be used to model our engagement with literary texts. In this article, I use my account of our engagement with literature in predictive processing terms, as well as recent work on predictive processing and consciousness, to explore how literature can shed light on various aspects of conscious experience, including qualia, counterfactual depth in conscious experience and sense of self. In the final section, I propose a number of theoretical questions that could be addressed by drawing on literature as a source of hypotheses and stimuli for possible experimental designs. The upshot is a picture where literature is not just a source of illustrative examples about conscious experience, but a designer environment through which we can explore and rethink consciousness.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Art, aesthetics and predictive processing: theoretical and empirical perspectives’.

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