DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0427 ISSN: 0962-8436

Metaphors or mechanism? Predictive coding and a (brief) history of empirical study of the arts

Helmut Leder, Matthew Pelowski
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Predictive processing (PP) offers an intriguing approach to perception, cognition, but also to appreciation of the arts. It does this by positing both a theoretical basis—one might say a ‘metaphor’—for how we engage and respond, placing emphasis on mismatches rather than fluent overlap between schema and environment. Even more, it holds the promise for translating metaphor into neurobiological bases, suggesting a means for considering mechanisms—from basic perceptions to possibly even our complex, aesthetic experiences. However, while we share the excitement of this promise, the history of empirical or psychological aesthetics is also permeated by metaphors that have progressed our understanding but which also tend to elude translation into concrete, mechanistic operationalization—a challenge that can also be made to PP. We briefly consider this difficulty of convincing implementation of PP via a brief historical outline of some developments in the psychological study of aesthetics and art in order to show how these ideas have often anticipated PP but also how they have remained at the level of rather metaphorical and difficult-to-measure concepts. Although theoretical in scope, we hope that this commentary will spur researchers to reflect on PP with the aim of translating metaphorical explanations into well-defined mechanisms in future empirical study.

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

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