Colloquium Cognitive Systems

Mental Autonomy and Mental Action

Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger, JGU Mainz


Abstract. This talk explores the relevance of latest research on mind-wandering for theories of consciousness. First, conceptually, and in opposition to what many philosophers following Descartes and Kant traditionally have liked to believe, I will argue for the claim that conscious thought actually is a subpersonal process, only rarely a form of mental action, but rather an unintentional form of mental behaviour, and demonstrably for more than two thirds of our conscious life-time. The paradigmatic, standard form of conscious thought is non-agentive, it lacks veto-control, and involves an unnoticed loss of epistemic agency and goal-directed causal self-determination on the level of mental content. If time allows, I will also take a closer look at the concept of “mental action” in the second part. Can we conceptually accommodate mental actions under a predictive processing approach? My main positive claim will be that mental action is the predictive control of effective connectivity, where what is predicted is the epistemic value of states integrated into the phenomenal self-model under counterfactual outcomes.
Metzinger, T. (2013g). The Myth of Cognitive Agency: Subpersonal thinking as a cyclically recurring loss of mental autonomy. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 931.
Metzinger, T. (2015t). M-Autonomy. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 22 (11-12), 270-302.
            Special Issue edited by Mihretu P. Guta and Sophie Gibb: Insights into the First-Person Perspective and the Self - An Interdisciplinary Approach.
Metzinger, T. (2017e). The Problem of Mental Action: Predictive Control without Sensory Sheets. In T. Metzinger and W. Wiese (eds.), Philosophy and Predictive Processing. Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group.
Metzinger, T. (2017f). Why is Mind Wandering Interesting for Philosophers? Kieran C.R. Fox & Kalina Christoff [eds.] (2018), The Oxford Handbook of Spontaneous Thought: Mind-wandering, Creativity, Dreaming, and Clinical Conditions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bio. Thomas Metzinger is currently Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz and an Adjunct Fellow and Director of the MIND Group at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Study (FIAS). Metzinger is past president of the German Cognitive Science Society (2005-2007) and of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (2009-2011). His focus of research lies in analytical philosophy of mind and cognitive science, as well as in connections between ethics, philosophy of mind and anthropology; he received several awards and Fellowships, the last one being a 5-year GRC Fellowship by the Gutenberg Research College (2014-2019). In 2018 Metzinger has been appointed as a member of the European Commission’s High-Level Group on Artificial Intelligence (