Me and My Markov Blanket
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Abstract: This presentation offers a heuristic proof (and simulations of a primordial soup) suggesting that life—or biological self-organization—is an inevitable and emergent property of any (weakly mixing) random dynamical system that possesses a Markov blanket. This conclusion is based on the following arguments: if a system can be differentiated from its external milieu, heat bath or environment, then the system’s internal and external states must be conditionally independent. These independencies induce a Markov blanket that separates internal and external states. This separation means that internal states will appear to minimize a free energy functional of blanket states – via a variational principle of stationary action. Crucially, this equips internal states with an information geometry, pertaining to probabilistic beliefs about something; namely external states. Interestingly, this free energy is the same quantity that is optimized in Bayesian inference and machine learning (where it is known as an evidence lower bound). In short, internal states (and their Markov blanket) will appear to model—and act on—their world to preserve their functional and structural integrity. This leads to a Bayesian mechanics, which can be neatly summarised as self-evidencing.
Key words: active inference ∙ autopoiesis ∙ cognitive ∙ dynamics ∙ free energy ∙ epistemic value ∙ self-organization.
Bio: Karl Friston is a theoretical neuroscientist and authority on brain imaging. He invented statistical parametric mapping (SPM), voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and dynamic causal modelling (DCM). These contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning, formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia. Mathematical contributions include variational Laplacian procedures and generalized filtering for hierarchical Bayesian model inversion. Friston currently works on models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions. His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a free-energy principle for action and perception (active inference). Friston received the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping (1996) and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999). In 2000 he was President of the international Organization of Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 he was awarded the Minerva Golden Brain Award and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. In 2008 he received a Medal, College de France and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York in 2011. He became of Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2012, received the Weldon Memorial prize and Medal in 2013 for contributions to mathematical biology and was elected as a member of EMBO (excellence in the life sciences) in 2014 and the Academia Europaea in (2015). He was the 2016 recipient of the Charles Branch Award for unparalleled breakthroughs in Brain Research and the Glass Brain Award, a lifetime achievement award in the field.