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Variational ecology and the physics of sentient systems

Ramstead, MJD; Constant, A; Badcock, PB; Friston, KJ; (2019) Variational ecology and the physics of sentient systems. Physics of Life Reviews 10.1016/j.plrev.2018.12.002. (In press). Green open access

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Abstract

This paper addresses the challenges faced by multiscale formulations of the variational (free energy) approach to dynamics that obtain for large-scale ensembles. We review a framework for modelling complex adaptive control systems for multiscale free energy bounding organism–niche dynamics, thereby integrating the modelling strategies and heuristics of variational neuroethology with a broader perspective on the ecological nestedness of biotic systems. We extend the multiscale variational formulation beyond the action–perception loops of individual organisms by appealing to the variational approach to niche construction to explain the dynamics of coupled systems constituted by organisms and their ecological niche. We suggest that the statistical robustness of living systems is inherited, in part, from their eco-niches, as niches help coordinate dynamical patterns across larger spatiotemporal scales. We call this approach variational ecology. We argue that, when applied to cultural animals such as humans, variational ecology enables us to formulate not just a physics of individual minds, but also a physics of interacting minds across spatial and temporal scales – a physics of sentient systems that range from cells to societies.

Type: Article
Title: Variational ecology and the physics of sentient systems
Location: Netherlands
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.plrev.2018.12.002
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plrev.2018.12.002
Language: English
Additional information: © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Physics of the mind, Free energy principle, Evolutionary systems theory, Variational neuroethology, Variational ecology, Niche construction
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10066600
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