In my post on consciousness possibly being a simulation engine, I noted Anil Seth’s excellent Aeon article as one of the inspirations. As it turns out, Seth talked at a TEDx conference and covered many of the same topics he addressed in that article.
As noted in my post, I think a lot of what Seth describes here is actually unconscious perception. If I’m right, it’s when those predictive models trigger multiple emotional reactions from our limbic system and we have to do simulations on various courses of action to decide what to do, that what we call consciousness actually comes into the picture.
I like one point Seth makes about proprioception. He demonstrates, using the famous rubber hand test, that proprioception is a construction, a model created by the brain based on exteroception (sense of the outside world, including the external body), and interoception (sense of internal body states). It’s become fashionable to tout proprioception and many other related perceptions as senses beyond the basic ones. But if these additional perceptions are built on top of the basic ones, I think calling them senses in and of themselves is questionable.
Seth’s closing points about the self are worth pondering. The self is a model, in many ways similar to the models we create for the external world. As a result, that model can be different from the reality. It can be wrong, no matter how privileged our access to it might feel.
Idealists ask whether the external world exists, whether or not we live in a simulation. What isn’t often appreciated is that we definitely do live in a simulation. Each and every one of us lives inside a simulation constructed inside our brain, both of the outside world and of ourselves. As Seth says, “a fantasy that corresponds with the reality”, except that the reality is often a simplified cartoonish view of the reality, one adaptive for survival but not necessarily for giving us an accurate view of the actual reality.