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Department of Cognitive Science

The hypothesis testing brain: some philosophical applications

Jakob Hohwy (
School of Philosophy and Bioethics, Monash University


According to one theory, the brain is a sophisticated hypothesis tester: perception is Bayesian unconscious inference where the brain actively uses predictions to test, and then refine, models about what the causes of its sensory input might be. The brain's task is simply continually to minimise prediction error. This theory, which is getting increasingly popular, holds great explanatory promise for a number of central areas of research at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. I show how the theory can help us understand striking phenomena at three cognitive levels: vision, sensory integration, and belief. First, I illustrate central aspects of the theory by showing how it provides a nice explanation of why binocular rivalry occurs. Then I suggest how the theory may explain the role of the unified sense of self in rubber hand and full body illusions driven by visuotactile conflict. Finally, I show how it provides an approach to delusion formation that I consistent with one-deficit accounts of monothematic delusions.

Citation details for this article:

Hohwy, J. (2010). The hypothesis testing brain: some philosophical applications. In W. Christensen, E. Schier, and J. Sutton (Eds.), ASCS09: Proceedings of the 9th Conference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science (pp. 135-144). Sydney: Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science.

DOI: 10.5096/ASCS200922
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