Journal article

Variational ecology and the physics of sentient systems

Maxwell JD Ramstead, Axel Constant, Paul B Badcock, Karl J Friston

Physics of Life Reviews | ELSEVIER | Published : 2019


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 t..

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University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Wellcome Trust

Funding Acknowledgements

Work on this article was supported by the Wellcome Trust (K. Friston: Principal Research Fellowship; Ref: 088130/Z/09/Z), the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, awarded to McGill University for the Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative (M.J.D. Ramstead), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (M.J.D. Ramstead). We thank Casper Hesp, Samuel Veissiere, and Laurence Kirmayer for their insightful critical remarks on variational neuroethology in this journal, which prompted us to revisit our account, as well as Adam Safi-on for his helpful comments.