How particular is the physics of the free energy principle?

Aguilera, Miguel, Millidge, Beren, Tschantz, Alexander and Buckley, Christopher L (2022) How particular is the physics of the free energy principle? Physics of Life Reviews, 40. pp. 24-50. ISSN 1571-0645

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Abstract

The free energy principle (FEP) states that any dynamical system can be interpreted as performing Bayesian inference upon its surrounding environment. Although, in theory, the FEP applies to a wide variety of systems, there has been almost no direct exploration or demonstration of the principle in concrete systems. In this work, we examine in depth the assumptions required to derive the FEP in the simplest possible set of systems – weakly-coupled non-equilibrium linear stochastic systems. Specifically, we explore (i) how general the requirements imposed on the statistical structure of a system are and (ii) how informative the FEP is about the behaviour of such systems. We discover that two requirements of the FEP – the Markov blanket condition (i.e. a statistical boundary precluding direct coupling between internal and external states) and stringent restrictions on its solenoidal flows (i.e. tendencies driving a system out of equilibrium) – are only valid for a very narrow space of parameters. Suitable systems require an absence of perception-action asymmetries that is highly unusual for living systems interacting with an environment. More importantly, we observe that a mathematically central step in the argument, connecting the behaviour of a system to variational inference, relies on an implicit equivalence between the dynamics of the average states of a system with the average of the dynamics of those states. This equivalence does not hold in general even for linear stochastic systems, since it requires an effective decoupling from the system's history of interactions. These observations are critical for evaluating the generality and applicability of the FEP and indicate the existence of significant problems of the theory in its current form. These issues make the FEP, as it stands, not straightforwardly applicable to the simple linear systems studied here and suggest that more development is needed before the theory could be applied to the kind of complex systems that describe living and cognitive processes.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Bayesian inference, Free energy principle, Linear non-equilibrium systems, Markov blanket, Automobile Driving, Bayes Theorem, Entropy, Existentialism, Physics
Schools and Departments: School of Engineering and Informatics > Informatics
SWORD Depositor: Mx Elements Account
Depositing User: Mx Elements Account
Date Deposited: 30 May 2022 11:07
Last Modified: 30 May 2022 11:15
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/106174

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