Active inference, communication and hermeneutics

Cortex. 2015 Jul;68:129-43. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.03.025. Epub 2015 Apr 15.


Hermeneutics refers to interpretation and translation of text (typically ancient scriptures) but also applies to verbal and non-verbal communication. In a psychological setting it nicely frames the problem of inferring the intended content of a communication. In this paper, we offer a solution to the problem of neural hermeneutics based upon active inference. In active inference, action fulfils predictions about how we will behave (e.g., predicting we will speak). Crucially, these predictions can be used to predict both self and others--during speaking and listening respectively. Active inference mandates the suppression of prediction errors by updating an internal model that generates predictions--both at fast timescales (through perceptual inference) and slower timescales (through perceptual learning). If two agents adopt the same model, then--in principle--they can predict each other and minimise their mutual prediction errors. Heuristically, this ensures they are singing from the same hymn sheet. This paper builds upon recent work on active inference and communication to illustrate perceptual learning using simulated birdsongs. Our focus here is the neural hermeneutics implicit in learning, where communication facilitates long-term changes in generative models that are trying to predict each other. In other words, communication induces perceptual learning and enables others to (literally) change our minds and vice versa.

Keywords: Active inference; Bayesian; Communication; Hermeneutics; Neuronal; Predictive coding; Synchronisation of chaos; Theory of mind.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Birds
  • Communication*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Hermeneutics*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Reading*
  • Vocalization, Animal