Literal Perceptual Inference

Alex Kiefer

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In this paper, it is argued that theories of perception that appeal to Helmholtz’s idea of unconscious inference should be taken literally, i.e. that the inferences appealed to in such theories are inferences in the full sense of the term, as employed elsewhere in philosophy and in ordinary discourse. The argument consists in first defending a minimal conception of inference based on Gilbert Harman’s account, and then arguing that Helmholtzian computational models of perceptual inference in machine learning and theoretical neuroscience implement the type of process Harman describes.

In the course of the argument, I consider constraints on inference based on
the idea that inference is a deliberate acton, and on the idea that inferences depend on the syntactc structure of representations. I argue that inference is a personal-level but sometimes unconscious process that cannot in general be distinguished from association on the basis of the structures of the representations over which it’s defined. I also critique arguments against representationalist interpretations of Helmholtzian theories, and argue against the view that perceptual inference is encapsulated in a module.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy and Predictive Processing
EditorsThomas Metzinger, Wanja Wiese
Place of PublicationFrankfurt Germany
PublisherMIND group
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783958573185
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

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