Complexity from Cells to Consciousness: Free Energy, Integrated Information, and Epsilon Machines



Complexity From Cells to Consciousness:
Free Energy, Integrated Information, and Epsilon Machines
Thessaloniki, Greece || Thursday, September 27, 2018
08:40 - 09:00
Introductory Remarks
Brennan Klein || Conor Heins
I would not be surprised
09:00 - 09:45
Keynote Talk
Karl Friston
I am therefore I think
09:45 - 10:30
Keynote Talk
Jessica Flack
Collective computation: Towards a “statistical mechanics” for
information processing systems
10:30 - 11:00 Coffee Break and Poster Viewing
11:00 - 11:30
Invited Talk
Rosalyn Moran
The Free Energy Principle plays Doom: a comparison with 
reward-based decision making in artificial intelligence environments
11:30 - 12:00
Invited Talk
Martin Biehl
The intrinsic motivation in active inference and possible alternatives
12:00 - 12:20
Contributed Talk
Kai Ueltzhöffer
Deep active inference
12:20 - 12:40
Contributed Talk
Christopher Lynn
Structure from noise: Mental errors yield abstract
representations of events
12:40 - 13:00
Contributed Talk
Thomas Parr
Frontoparietal connections and active inference
13:00 - 14:30
Lunch Break
14:30 - 15:00
Invited Talk
William Marshall
Integrated information: From consciousness to cells
15:00 - 15:30
Invited Talk
Erik Hoel
Quantifying emergence and reduction in complex systems
15:30 - 16:00
Invited Talk
Jayne Thompson
Causal asymmetry in a quantum world
16:00 - 16:30
Coffee Break and Poster Viewing
16:30 - 17:00
Invited Talk
Felix Pollock
Interference and inference: Quantum stochastic processes
and the Free Energy Principle
17:00 - 17:30
Invited Talk
Mile Gu
Quantum Simplicity: How quantum agents can witness
simpler reality
17:40 - 18:30 Panel Discussion
From Cells to Consciousness: 
Karl Friston, Jessica Flack, Mile Gu, & Rosalyn Moran, led by Jakob Hohwy
18:30 - 19:30 Poster Presentations Cocktail hour, discussion, and closing remarks



Speakers and Talks

Introductory Remarks: Brennan Klein || Conor Heins - I would not be surprised (8:40am - 9:00am)
Northeastern University || Max Planck Institute for Dynamics & Self-Organization


Keynote Talk: Karl Friston - I am therefore I think (9:00am - 9:45am)
University College London

This overview of the free energy principle offers an account of embodied exchange with the world that associates neuronal operations with actively inferring the causes of our sensations. Its agenda is to link formal (mathematical) descriptions of dynamical systems to a description of perception in terms of beliefs and goals. The argument has two parts: the first calls on the lawful dynamics of any (weakly mixing) system — from a single cell organism to a human brain. These lawful dynamics suggest that (internal) states can be interpreted as modelling or predicting the (external) causes of sensory fluctuations. In other words, if a system exists, its internal states must encode probabilistic beliefs about external states. Heuristically, this means that if I exist (am) then I must have beliefs (think). The second part of the argument is that the only tenable beliefs I can entertain about myself are that I exist. This may seem rather obvious; however, it transpires that this is equivalent to believing that the world — and the way it is sampled — will resolve uncertainty about the causes of sensations. We will consider the implications for functional anatomy, in terms of predictive coding and hierarchical architectures in the brain. We will conclude by looking at the epistemic behaviour that emerges using simulations of active inference.


Keynote Talk: Jessica Flack - Collective computation: Towards a “statistical mechanics” for information processing systems (9:45am - 10:30am)
Santa Fe Institute

Physics produces order though the minimization of energy. Adaptive systems produce order through the addition of information processing. Why do adaptive systems have this extra step and does it make them fundamentally subjective, uncharacterizable by laws and unamenable to prediction? A natural point of entry into this debate is to ask how nature overcomes subjectivity to produce ordered states. We propose adaptive systems overcome subjectivity by collectively computing slowly changing coarse-grained microstates that reduce uncertainty about the future. I will discuss these issues, introduce a framework for studying collective computation and micro to maps in information processing systems, propose some principles, and pose open questions including what the relationship is between the theory of collective computation and other theories for the origins of scale.


Invited Talk: Rosalyn Moran - The Free Energy Principle plays Doom: a comparison with reward- based decision making in artificial intelligence environments (11:00am - 11:30am)
King's College London

Under Active Inference (Friston 2009), a decision — such as that to move one’s eyes — is driven by the imperative to minimise a bound on surprise known as the Free Energy. In the context of partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs), a model-based framework in which we can cast naturalistic decision-making tasks, the Free Energy of a policy (a sequence of actions) can be understood as a drive to both minimise cost (maximise the likelihood of achieving a goal) while maximising the information return from a given set of actions. This scheme has been used to model decision making in tasks such as ‘the urn task’ and also in reading. In my talk I will introduce the technical framework of Free Energy minimisation in the context of online gaming environments (designed to test artificial intelligence algorithms) and present data from decision-making simulations. Specifically I will present the game ‘Doom’ and compare agents trained under Active Inference to agents trained to maximise reward. Linking these simulations to putative neurobiological substrates I will describe the potential links from brain to computation. 


Invited Talk: Martin Biehl - The intrinsic motivation in active inference and possible alternatives (11:30am - 12:00pm)
Araya Inc.

Active inference as proposed by Karl Friston combines model updating due to experience and action selection according to the predicted consequences of actions in an optimization of a single functional. In the original formulation the consequences of actions are evaluated by the "expected free energy". This expected free energy satisfies the conditions of an intrinsic motivation. On the one hand, this means that it can be used in a reinforcement learning setup like other intrinsic motivations. On the other hand we find that other intrinsic motivations can also be used in active inference. In this talk I will present a formulation of active inference and show how the expected free energy can be replaced by other intrinsic motivation functions from the literature while keeping the rest of the active inference framework intact.


Contributed Talk: Kai Ueltzhöffer - Deep active inference (12:00pm - 12:20pm)
University of Heidelberg


Contributed Talk: Christopher Lynn - Structure from noise: Mental errors yield abstract representations of events (12:20pm - 12:40pm)
University of Pennsylvania


Contributed Talk: Thomas Parr - Frontoparietal connections and active inference (12:40pm - 13:00pm)
University College London


Invited Talk: William Marshall - Integrated information: From consciousness to cells (14:30pm - 15:00pm)
University of Wisconsin

Integrated information theory starts from the phenomenology and identifies five fundamental properties of every experience (axioms). It then postulates that there must be a reason for these properties and translates the axioms into a set of postulates about the physical substrate of consciousness. I will review two of the core mathematical ideas the derive from the postulates — integrated information and cause-effect structures. I will then outline how integrated information and cause-effect structures can be used as a measure of the complexity of a system from its own intrinsic perspective. As a demonstration, I will present results from applying the integrated information framework to a Boolean network model of the fission yeast (Schizosaccharomyces pombe) cell-cycle. Finally, I will discussion potential connections with control and artificial life.


Invited Talk: Erik Hoel - Quantifying emergence and reduction in complex systems (15:00pm - 15:30pm)
Tufts University

Many physical systems can be coherently described in terms of their function and causal structure at multiple different levels. How we can reconcile these seemingly disparate levels of description? This is especially problematic because the lower scales at first appear more fundamental in three ways: in terms of their causal work, in terms of the amount of information they contain, and their theoretical superiority in terms of model choice. However, recent research bringing information theory and causal analysis to bear on modeling systems at different scales significantly reframes the issue, revealing that higher scales can be "causal codes" that allow for the generation of additional information through error correction. This result has significant implications for causal model choice in science and engineering. The findings indicate how emergence and reduction can be identified, measured, and used to design optimally informative experiments.


Invited Talk: Jayne Thompson - Causal asymmetry in a quantum world (15:30pm - 16:00pm)
National University of Singapore

How can we observe an asymmetry in the temporal order of events when physics at the quantum level is time symmetric? The source of time’s barbed arrow is a longstanding puzzle in foundational science. Causal asymmetry offers a provocative perspective. It asks how Occam’s razor — the principle of assuming no more causes of natural things than are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances — can privilege one particular temporal direction over another. That is, if we want to model a process causally — such that the model makes statistically correct future predictions based only on information from the past - what is the minimum past information we must store? Are we forced to store more data if we model events in one particular temporal order over the other? Surprisingly most stochastic processes display non-zero causal asymmetry — implying that there is a privileged temporal direction when seeking the simplest causal model capable of explaining these events. Models running in the opposite temporal direction are penalized with an unavoidable memory overhead. This has been cited as a potential source of time's barbed arrow in complex processes. Here we examine what happens to this causal asymmetry in the quantum domain.


Invited Talk: Felix Pollock - Interference and inference: Quantum stochastic processes and the Free Energy Principle (16:30pm - 17:00pm)
Monash University

Friston's free energy principle follows as a direct consequence of the stochastic evolution of any system with a Markov blanket (under some very loose assumptions). However, to the best of our knowledge, it is quantum mechanics that fundamentally underpins the behaviour of all physical systems, with the deterministic Schrödinger equation governing evolution. Using a new framework for describing quantum stochastic processes, I will show that the notion of a Markov blanket naturally emerges in composite quantum systems, before exploring how this could lead to a more general free energy principle that emerges from deterministic quantum physics.


Invited Talk: Mile Gu - Quantum Simplicity: How quantum agents can witness simpler reality (17:00pm - 17:30pm)
Nanyang Technological University

To thrive in the complex environments, intelligent agents must be capable for anticipating future events, based on observations and actions they made in the past. The more complex this environment, the more memory an agent must devote to tracking the past, to generate statistically correct future predictions. In this presentation, I explore the question: Could an agent capable of harnessing quantum information processing have an operational advantage over classical counterparts? I outline our recent works showing how one can construct quantum agents, that are capable of exhibit the same degree of complex adaptive behaviour as classical counterparts, while using less memory than classical counterparts. I then  discuss how these results challenging current views of what is complex, and highlight scenarios where quantum agents could exhibit extreme operational advantage.


Closing Panel Discussion: The Complex Systems future of the free energy principle, integrated information theory, and epsilon machines (17:40pm - 18:30pm) 
with Karl Friston, Jessica Flack, Mile Gu, Rosalyn Moran, moderated by Jakob Hohwy (Monash University).


Poster Presentations: Cocktail hour, discussion, and closing remarks (18:30pm)


Poster Presentations

Thijs van de Laar
ForneyLab: A toolbox for biologically plausible free energy minimization in dynamic neural models

Shervin Safavi
From optimal efficient coding to criticality

Tim Verbelen
Deep active inference for state estimation by learning from demonstration

Sergio Rubin
Does Gaia minimize free energy?

Genji Kawakita
The impact of network structures on the dynamics of decision-making processes

Dobromir Dotov (presented by Carlos Gershenson)
What is the causal depth of generative models in learning of complex dynamics?


Call for submissions

The Organizing Committee of Complexity from Cells to Consciousness is pleased to announce the Call for Submissions for this satellite at this year’s Conference on Complex Systems. We have a packed schedule of invited speakers and will try to highlight as many interdisciplinary submissions as possible. We are now accepting submissions for Poster Presentations and a limited number of Contributed Talks.

The goal of this workshop is to bring together researchers studying fundamental questions around information, complexity, emergence and scale. In this full-day satellite, we will hear talks about unifying frameworks that aim to account for the structure and dynamics of complex systems across scales and domains. In particular, we are emphasizing the ability of frameworks like the Free Energy Principle and Integrated Information Theory to explain the emergent teleology of complex systems. In addition, we will hear talks exploring the application of new modeling tools from information theory and complexity, such as Epsilon Machines.

Particular attention will be given to the following topics:

• Connections between statistical physics and causality, prediction, consciousness, and control

• Artificial intelligence, artificial life, exploration/exploitation, and agent-based models

• Emergent behavior in complex networks, large-scale social/political systems, or crowds

• Nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, climate science

• Philosophy of science, falsifiablility, epistemics

The satellite format will include frequent breaks for conversation and discussion around the various poster presentations. We encourage submissions that describe novel applications or interpretations of these information-thermodynamical frameworks. We are excited to hear about the ways these principles might manifest in different domains (like yours!). We are therefore happy to invite interested researchers from any discipline of Complex Systems research to submit.

Important Details

Abstract Submission Deadline: June 30, 2018 

Abstract Submission Guidelines: PDF format, max. 500 words, 1 figure, submitted via email to:

- Brennan Klein ( *at* & Conor Heins (conor.heins *at* Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions.

Organizing Committee

Brennan Klein, Northeastern University || Conor Heins, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics & Self-Organization || Rosalyn Moran, King’s College London || Timothy Bayne, Monash University || Jakob Hohwy, Monash University || Kavan Modi, Monash University || Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Monash University

This event is possible with support from the Monash University Network of Excellence for Causation & Complexity in the Conscious Brain.


The official Hotel of the Conference is
Makedonia Palace.

Conference Organiser: NBEvents

The official travel agency of the Conference is: Air Maritime

Photo of Thessaloniki seafront courtesy of Juli Bellou
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