Expecting Ourselves: Embodied Prediction and the Construction of Conscious Experience (XSPECT)

This project aims to deliver an innovative, highly interdisciplinary, account of the nature, scope and (importantly) the very possibility of conscious experience. To do so, it explores and extends the vision of the brain as a prediction machine – an inner engine continuously striving to anticipate the incoming sensory barrage. The key innovation is to consider this increasingly popular vision in the special context of embodied agents able to predict many of their own evolving states and responses – agents able to ‘expect themselves’. These crucial self-expectations span the interoceptive (targeting the sensory flows signaling our own physiological states) and the exteroceptive (targeting the world, and our own behaviors as they unfold over multiple scales of space and time). XSPECT explores the idea that such states of (complex, layered) self-prediction may hold the key to understanding much that is puzzling about conscious experience.

The project is divided into three simultaneously active sub-projects, to be completed over a period of four years. The first sub-project concerns relations between prediction, motor action, and experience. The second sub-project targets the role of interoceptive prediction in the construction of experience. The third sub-project considers ways in which more reflective forms of conscious experience (involving agency, selfhood, and the introspection of own experiential states) are further enriched by a spiraling array of socially mediated higher-level self-predictions.

XSPECT will combine integrative philosophical argument, collaborative experimentation, and leading edge interdisciplinary research and discussion. The goal is to deliver new insights into the nature, scope, mechanisms and (importantly) the very possibility of conscious experience. 

Project team: 

Project Team:

  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Andy Clark
  • Co-Investigator: Dr. David Carmel (Psychology, University of Edinburgh)
  • Post-doctoral Fellow: Dr. Sam Wilkinson
  • PhD Students: George Deane and (starting September 2017) Kathryn Nave
  • Project Network: Prof Lars Muckli (Neuroscience, Glasgow University), Professor Philippe Schyns (Neuroscience, Glasgow University), Professor Anil Seth (Neuroscience, University of Sussex), Prof Karl Friston (Neuroimaging, UCL), Professor Andreas Roepstorff (Neuroscience, Aarhus University, Denmark).
Project duration: 
4 years
Funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (c. €1.4M)