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Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Sep 12;7:547. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00547.

Minimal self-models and the free energy principle.

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1Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany.


The term "minimal phenomenal selfhood" (MPS) describes the basic, pre-reflective experience of being a self (Blanke and Metzinger, 2009). Theoretical accounts of the minimal self have long recognized the importance and the ambivalence of the body as both part of the physical world, and the enabling condition for being in this world (Gallagher, 2005a; Grafton, 2009). A recent account of MPS (Metzinger, 2004a) centers on the consideration that minimal selfhood emerges as the result of basic self-modeling mechanisms, thereby being founded on pre-reflective bodily processes. The free energy principle (FEP; Friston, 2010) is a novel unified theory of cortical function built upon the imperative that self-organizing systems entail hierarchical generative models of the causes of their sensory input, which are optimized by minimizing free energy as an approximation of the log-likelihood of the model. The implementation of the FEP via predictive coding mechanisms and in particular the active inference principle emphasizes the role of embodiment for predictive self-modeling, which has been appreciated in recent publications. In this review, we provide an overview of these conceptions and illustrate thereby the potential power of the FEP in explaining the mechanisms underlying minimal selfhood and its key constituents, multisensory integration, interoception, agency, perspective, and the experience of mineness. We conclude that the conceptualization of MPS can be well mapped onto a hierarchical generative model furnished by the FEP and may constitute the basis for higher-level, cognitive forms of self-referral, as well as the understanding of other minds.


active inference; agency; free energy principle; minimal phenomenal selfhood; ownership; predictive coding; self; self-model

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