Aug 31, 2023

Agency, Attractors, & Observer-Dependent Computation in Biology & Beyond

Posted by in categories: alien life, computing, engineering, ethics, genetics, quantum physics

Michael Levin discusses his 2022 paper “Technological Approach to Mind Everywhere: An Experimentally-Grounded Framework for Understanding Diverse Bodies and Minds” and his 2023 paper with Joshua Bongard, “There’s Plenty of Room Right Here: Biological Systems as Evolved, Overloaded, Multi-scale Machines.” Links to papers flagged 🚩below.

Michael Levin is a scientist at Tufts University; his lab studies anatomical and behavioral decision-making at multiple scales of biological, artificial, and hybrid systems. He works at the intersection of developmental biology, artificial life, bioengineering, synthetic morphology, and cognitive science.

❶ Polycomputing (observer-dependent)
1:59 Outlining the discussion.
3:50 My favorite comment from round 1 interview.
5:00 What is polycomputing?
8:50 An ode to Richard Feynman’s “There’s plenty of room at the bottom“
11:10 How/when was this discovered? Reductionism, causal power…
14:40 “It’s a view that steps away from prediction.“
16:20 From abstract: Polycomputing is the ability of the same substrate to simultaneously compute different things *but emphasis on the observer(s)*
17:05 What’s an example of polycomputing?
19:40 They took a different approach and actually did experiments with gene regulatory networks (GRNs)
23:18 Different observers extract different utility from the exact same system.
26:35 Spatial causal emergence graphs (determinism, degeneracy) | Erik Hoel’s micro/macro & effective information.
29:25 Inventiveness of John Conway’s Game of Life.

❷ Technological Approach to Mind Everywhere.
34:20 Tell me 3 things to determine intelligence (ball vs mouse on a hill)
39:50 Jeff Hawkins’ Thousand Brains Theory.
41:05 Agency is not binary, continuum of persuadability.
44:50 Where’s the bottom of agency? Plants & insects far off from 0
46:55 What is the absolute minimum amount of agency? Some degree of goal directed behavior & indeterminacy…
51:05 Life is a system good at scaling.
51:41 “To me, our world doesn’t have 0 agency anywhere.“
53:50 As an engineer, what can I take advantage of?
55:00 Surely you don’t think the weather has any intelligence to it…

❸ Attractor Landscapes.
58:35 Homeostatic loops, morphological spaces, attractor landscapes.
1:00:35 “Of course we’re living in a simulation!“
1:06:45 Attractor landscapes, topography, anatomical morphous space (D’Arcy Thompson)
1:12:28 Planaria stochastic, probability of head shape proportional to evolutionary distance between species.
1:15:15 What is the secret of the universe? Attractor landscapes, quantum fields, black holes.
1:19:05 We need a new system of ethics for unconventional minds.

🚾 Works Cited.
The Computational Boundary of a Self: Developmental Bioelectricity Drives Multicellularity and Scale-Free Cognition

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