Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Predictive Processing and Phenomenology of Autism

Janko Nešić

Thursday 2 December 2021

16:20 - 17:00

Zoom 1-1

The goal of my talk is to connect predictive processing accounts of autism with phenomenology of social cognition, and see what can be gained for the understanding of the autistic spectrum disorder. It has been noted that there are parallels between notions of predictive processing framework and concepts of habitual anticipation and expectation found in phenomenology of Husserl, and a multidisciplinary account of autism was advocated by Bizzari arguing for the impairment of the habitual body (Merleau-Ponty). However, phenomenologists hold an anti-representationalist position and predictive coding/processing theories are mostly committed to neuro-representationalism. Predictive coding has come under criticism, and there has been a movement towards aligning the ideas of predictive processing with enactivism.

The enactive version of predictive coding moves away from the internalist vocabulary of “inference” and “representation” in favor of “attunement” and “affordance.” Fuchs suggests that instead of postulating “hypotheses” and “prediction errors,” there is a match or mismatch of neural forward models or open loops with the environment. The subjective body is an ensemble of all skills and capacities at disposal, a habitual body. Body memory is an embodied knowledge or know-how, the operative intentionality of the body.

Several predictive processing theories of autism have been put forward recently: HIPPEA, dialectical misattunement, and ecological niche construction. In the vocabulary of predictive coding, autism is characterized by “high and inflexible estimation of precision of prediction errors,” autistic subjects have “limitations in internal (precision) modeling,” so they resort to suitable actions to reduce uncertainty. Ecological theory claims that “the other” for autistic subjects “will tend to be less generalized, which will result in highly formalized, conventional social responses to familiar environmental cues.” Dialectical misattunement account explains that the “communication misalignments and weak interpersonal coupling in social interactions might be the result of increasingly divergent predictive and (inter-)action styles across individuals (cf. Predictive Processing and Active Inference).”

I will discuss what these theories claim about impairments in autism when translated to phenomenology. According to HIPPEA, autistic disturbances are in the body schema and habitual body. Dialectical misattunement hypothesis is of additional interest, because it presents a step towards an enactive-predictive account of autism, and, in phenomenology, it would relate to the notions of habit, intercorporeal coupling, and styles of intercorporeality.