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Speaker: Randall D. Beer (Indiana University)

I will briefly describe two intertwined research programs.

The first concerns issues of embodiment, situatedness and dynamics in understanding how an animal's behavior arises from the interaction between its nervous system, its body and its environment. Specifically, we use genetic algorithms to evolve model brain-body-environment systems and then analyze their operation using the tools of dynamical systems theory and information theory. This approach has been applied to a wide variety of behaviors, including locomotion, action-switching, learning, categorization, selective attention, and referential communication.

The second concerns the organization of minimal living systems and its consequences. Specifically, we analyze  persistent spatiotemporal entities in cellular automata models from the perspective of autopoiesis and enaction. We identify the local processes that underlie these entities and show that they form self-producing and self-individuating networks. We then divide the environmental perturbations that such an entity can receive into destructive and nondestructive subclasses and characterize the structure of the entity's responses to all nondestructive perturbations. Finally, we derive the contingent structure of sequences of nondestructive perturbations, effectively mapping out all possible "lives" that such entities can live.

In addition to their common emphasis on understanding the operation of organisms as integrated wholes, these two research programs are united by their methodological focus on the analysis of toy models in order to gain insight into fundamental theoretical questions, develop the necessary mathematical and computational tools, and guide empirical investigation.

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