Journal article

The hierarchically mechanistic mind: an evolutionary systems theory of the human brain, cognition, and behavior

Paul B Badcock, Karl J Friston, Maxwell JD Ramstead, Annemie Ploeger, Jakob Hohwy

Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience | SPRINGER | Published : 2019


The purpose of this review was to integrate leading paradigms in psychology and neuroscience with a theory of the embodied, situated human brain, called the Hierarchically Mechanistic Mind (HMM). The HMM describes the brain as a complex adaptive system that functions to minimize the entropy of our sensory and physical states via action-perception cycles generated by hierarchical neural dynamics. First, we review the extant literature on the hierarchical structure of the brain. Next, we derive the HMM from a broader evolutionary systems theory that explains neural structure and function in terms of dynamic interactions across four nested levels of biological causation (i.e., adaptation, phylo..

View full abstract

University of Melbourne Researchers


Awarded by Wellcome Trust

Funding Acknowledgements

The authors express sincere thanks to Nicholas Allen for assistance with earlier drafts of this manuscript and for the many discussions that have helped to shape these ideas. They are deeply grateful to Lucy Morrish, Luke Badcock, Nathaniel Daw, Barbara Finlay, Willem Frankenhuis, Fred Hasselman, Casper Hesp, Sarah Whittle, Christopher Davey, Axel Constant, and numerous reviewers for their valuable insights and suggestions. Karl Friston is funded by a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship (Ref: 088130/Z/09/Z). Maxwell Ramstead is supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, awarded to McGill University for the Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.