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Memory and Markov Blankets

Parr, T; Da Costa, L; Heins, C; Ramstead, MJD; Friston, KJ; (2021) Memory and Markov Blankets. Entropy , 23 (9) , Article 1105. 10.3390/e23091105. Green open access

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Abstract

In theoretical biology, we are often interested in random dynamical systems—like the brain—that appear to model their environments. This can be formalized by appealing to the existence of a (possibly non-equilibrium) steady state, whose density preserves a conditional independence between a biological entity and its surroundings. From this perspective, the conditioning set, or Markov blanket, induces a form of vicarious synchrony between creature and world—as if one were modelling the other. However, this results in an apparent paradox. If all conditional dependencies between a system and its surroundings depend upon the blanket, how do we account for the mnemonic capacity of living systems? It might appear that any shared dependence upon past blanket states violates the independence condition, as the variables on either side of the blanket now share information not available from the current blanket state. This paper aims to resolve this paradox, and to demonstrate that conditional independence does not preclude memory. Our argument rests upon drawing a distinction between the dependencies implied by a steady state density, and the density dynamics of the system conditioned upon its configuration at a previous time. The interestingquestion then becomes: What determines the length of time required for a stochastic system to ‘forget’ its initial conditions? We explore this question for an example system, whose steady state density possesses a Markov blanket, through simple numerical analyses. We conclude with a discussion of the relevance for memory in cognitive systems like us.

Type: Article
Title: Memory and Markov Blankets
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3390/e23091105
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3390/e23091105
Language: English
Additional information: © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Markov blanket; memory; conditional dependence; stochastic; density dynamics; Laplace assumption
UCL classification: UCL
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/10133685
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