Universität Wien FIND
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180160 SE New Trends in Cognitive Science (2020W)

The predictive coding approach to mind/cognition

6.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 25 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Due to the potential Covid-19 restrictions in the winter semester we will not meet in person. The seminar will take place online on the moodle e-learning platform.

Tuesday 06.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 13.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 20.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 27.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 03.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 10.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 17.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 24.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 01.12. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 15.12. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 12.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 19.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital
Tuesday 26.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Digital


Aims, contents and method of the course

The brain as a phantastic organ: The predictive processing approach in Cognitive Science

In a recent publication, Karl Friston, one of world’s leading pioneers and authorities on human brain imaging, has called the brain a phantastic organ – derived from the Greek word phantastikos, the ability to create mental images. Contrary to the concept that the brain is more or less a passive stimulus-response system, the first and foremost function of the brain is that it constantly generates fantasies, or hypotheses, that are tested against sensory evidence. In doing so, it creates models that try to predict the sensory evidence.

In this seminar we will explore how this and related concepts (e.g., Bayesian brain hypothesis, free energy principle, active inference) can be applied to topics in Cognitive Science and other disciplines.

Assessment and permitted materials

The following deliverables are requirements for final grading:
- Presenting a topic of a module in a live online group presentation with 2-4 other students in the first session of one selected module and providing useful handouts (submitted to the eLearning platform)
(final grade: 30% individual performance, 20% group performance, 10% quality of the slides and hand outs)
- One review of a presentation (submitted to the eLearning plattform)
(final grade: 20%)
- Active participation (questions, statements, summaries) in the discussion forum on the eLearning platform of the course (comments)
(final grade: 20%)

Please note that these deliverables will need to be submitted online only via the eLearning platform as there will be participants that cannot participate in the seminar meetings in person due to Covid-19.

If you have any special needs or are not able to perform any of the seminar tasks please inform the lecturers in due time so we can plan accordingly. Please contact us in any of the following cases:

- before the first session: if you are subjected to traveling/visa restrictions, severe health risks, etc. and might not be able to attend some or any of our sessions
- before your presentation: if you are unable to attend your group presentation you also need to coordinate with your colleagues so we can discuss alternatives (e.g., online presentations)
- before any submission deadlines: you are asked to submit your assignments online and on time, so there should not be any problems.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

A positive score is required for passing the course.
Regular participation in at least 80% of seminar sessions is obligatory.

Additional Goals:
- Deeper understanding of a current approach in cognitive science and its influence on the field
- Awareness and understanding of current relevant topics and discussions in the field of cognitive science
- Ability to follow scientific developments in the field of cognitive science in a reflective manner
- Ability to write and present according to scientific standards
- Ability to interpret and evaluate results of primary scientific literature at an advanced level
- Ability to choose autonomously and give a condensed account on primary scientific literature
- Ability to communicate one’s expertise in order to contribute constructive criticism in the context of scientific debate
- Ability to work collaboratively within an interdisciplinary intercultural team in physical and virtual environments
- Ability to moderate dicussion on current topics in cognitive science
- Ability to deal with different points of view in an intercultural context

Examination topics

Each module consists of two sessions. In the first session, one group is asked to present their topic within 75 minutes. A short discussion session is mainly intended to give a short feedback, for clarification questions, and to name issues and questions that might be of additional interest. At the end of the first session the presenters have to provide a handout version of their presentation and the reference of an interesting (and maybe controversial) paper they stumbled upon during their preparation. Then two or three reviewers are assigned to review the presenters' individual and group performance and note what they have been missing.

The second part of the module will be used for interdisciplinary discussion. All participants are expected to read the provided paper and, optionally, use additional literature if needed. The discussion session should be used to find answers for open questions, integrating knowledge and compare different perspectives on the topic.

Reading list

Larissa MacFarquhar. The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark. The tools we use to help us think—from language to smartphones—may be part of thought itself.

Andy Clark. Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science.

Wanja Wiese & Thomas Metzinger. Vanilla PP for Philosophers: A Primer on Predictive Processing.

Scott Alexander. God Help Us, Let's try to understand Friston on Free Energy
(and links provided)

and additional literature announced in the seminar.

Association in the course directory

Last modified: Mo 05.10.2020 10:09