Metaphors or mechanism? Predictive coding and a (brief) history of empirical study of the arts

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Predictive processing (PP) offers an intriguing approach to perception, cognition, but also to appreciation of the arts. It does this by positing both a theoretical basis - one might say a 'metaphor' - for how we engage and respond, placing emphasis on mismatches rather than fluent overlap between schema and environment. Even more, it holds the promise for translating metaphor into neurobiological bases, suggesting a means for considering mechanisms - from basic perceptions to possibly even our complex, aesthetic experiences. However, while we share the excitement of this promise, the history of empirical or psychological aesthetics is also permeated by metaphors that have progressed our understanding but which also tend to elude translation into concrete, mechanistic operationalization - a challenge that can also be made to PP. We briefly consider this difficulty of convincing implementation of PP via a brief historical outline of some developments in the psychological study of aesthetics and art in order to show how these ideas have often anticipated PP but also how they have remained at the level of rather metaphorical and difficult-to-measure concepts. Although theoretical in scope, we hope that this commentary will spur researchers to reflect on PP with the aim of translating metaphorical explanations into well-defined mechanisms in future empirical study. This article is part of the theme issue 'Art, aesthetics and predictive processing: theoretical and empirical perspectives'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220427
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1895
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2024

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 604004 Fine arts
  • 501001 General psychology


  • art
  • empirical aesthetics
  • predictive processing
  • theoretical challenges

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