Monday 30 September 2019

Can the Free Energy Principle be made ecological? (Bruineberg et al, 2018)

Everyone loves Friston's free energy principle (FEP), and everyone wants it for their own. Not everyone can have it, though (well, at least not if it's going to mean anything) and so there's a spirited fight about who's theory it best fits in the literature. 

Bruineberg, Kiverstein & Rietveld (2018) argue two points in an effort to win the fight for the good guys. First, they want to show that inferential, representational takes on the FEP end up in an unworkable place. Second, they want to show that an ecological/enactivist analysis works much better. Overall I think they take a solid swing at both, so it will be interesting to see the responses this sparks. Here I want to review their arguments.

To unbury the lede, I like this paper a lot. It's really long and repetitive, but in here is an excellent ecological analysis of the free-energy principle that also works to explicitly rule out the competition. I am obviously biased, but their work pointing out the flaws of Hohwy's account all make good sense to me, not least because these flaws show up in all kinds of places in the representational ontology. Hohwy fails for the reason interface theory does, in my view, and it's nice to see separate analyses end up in the same place as me. 

For what it's worth, I am not yet convinced that the FEP is the way we need to go. However, if it ends up being a good idea, Bruineberg et al have done sterling work in showing how we should go about it.