Marzen, S. E.,Dedeo, S.

In complex environments, there are costs to both ignorance and perception. An organism needs to track fitness-relevant information about its world, but the more information it tracks, the more resources it must devote to perception. As a first step towards a general understanding of this trade-off, we use a tool from information theory, rate-distortion theory, to study large, unstructured environments with fixed, randomly drawn penalties for stimuli confusion ('distortions'). We identify two distinct regimes for organisms in these environments: a high-fidelity regime where perceptual costs grow linearly with environmental complexity, and a low-fidelity regime where perceptual costs are, remarkably, independent of the number of environmental states. This suggests that in environments of rapidly increasing complexity, well-adapted organisms will find themselves able to make, just barely, the most subtle distinctions in their environment.