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The Math is not the Territory: Navigating the Free Energy Principle

Andrews, Mel (2021) The Math is not the Territory: Navigating the Free Energy Principle. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Much has been written about the free energy principle (FEP), and much misunderstood. The principle has traditionally been put forth as a theory of brain function or biological self-organisation. Critiques of the framework have focused on its lack of empirical support and a failure to generate concrete, falsifiable predictions. I take both positive and negative evaluations of the FEP thus far to have been largely in error, and appeal to a robust literature on scientific modelling to rectify the situation. A prominent account of scientific modelling distinguishes between model structure and model construal. I propose that the FEP be reserved to designate a model structure, to which philosophers and scientists add various construals, leading to a plethora of models based on the formal structure of the FEP. An entailment of this position is that demands placed on the FEP that it be falsifiable or that it conform to some degree of biological realism rest on a category error. To this end, I deliver first an account of the phenomenon of model transfer and the breakdown between model structure and model construal. In the second section, I offer an overview of the formal elements of the framework, tracing their history of model transfer and illustrating how the formalism comes apart from any interpretation thereof. Next, I evaluate existing comprehensive critical assessments of the FEP, and hypothesise as to potential sources of existing confusions in the literature. In the final section, I distinguish between what I hold to be the FEP—taken to be a modelling language or modelling framework—and what I term “FEP models.”


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Andrews, Melmel.andrews@tufts.edu0000-0002-0042-5098
Keywords: free energy principle, Bayesian brain, life-mind continuity, scientific models, modelling, simulations, scientific theories, epistemic virtues, falsification, demarcation problem
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Complex Systems
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Computation
Specific Sciences > Computation/Information
General Issues > Computer Simulation
Specific Sciences > Mathematics
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Perception
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Specific Sciences > Psychology
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Depositing User: Mel Andrews
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 19:25
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 19:25
Item ID: 18974
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Complex Systems
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Computation
Specific Sciences > Computation/Information
General Issues > Computer Simulation
Specific Sciences > Mathematics
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
General Issues > Operationalism/Instrumentalism
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Perception
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Specific Sciences > Psychology
General Issues > Realism/Anti-realism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Date: 29 April 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18974

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