A Duet for one

Conscious Cogn. 2015 Nov:36:390-405. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2014.12.003. Epub 2015 Jan 3.


This paper considers communication in terms of inference about the behaviour of others (and our own behaviour). It is based on the premise that our sensations are largely generated by other agents like ourselves. This means, we are trying to infer how our sensations are caused by others, while they are trying to infer our behaviour: for example, in the dialogue between two speakers. We suggest that the infinite regress induced by modelling another agent - who is modelling you - can be finessed if you both possess the same model. In other words, the sensations caused by others and oneself are generated by the same process. This leads to a view of communication based upon a narrative that is shared by agents who are exchanging sensory signals. Crucially, this narrative transcends agency - and simply involves intermittently attending to and attenuating sensory input. Attending to sensations enables the shared narrative to predict the sensations generated by another (i.e. to listen), while attenuating sensory input enables one to articulate the narrative (i.e. to speak). This produces a reciprocal exchange of sensory signals that, formally, induces a generalised synchrony between internal (neuronal) brain states generating predictions in both agents. We develop the arguments behind this perspective, using an active (Bayesian) inference framework and offer some simulations (of birdsong) as proof of principle.

Keywords: Active inference; Attention; Bayesian; Communication; Generalised synchrony; Predictive coding; Sensory attenuation; Theory of mind.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*