Cognition in dynamical systems




Hall, John Wendell

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Cognition is the process of knowing. As carried out by a dynamical system, it is the process by which the system absorbs information into its state. A complex network of agents cognizes knowledge about its environment, internal dynamics and initial state by forming emergent, macro-level patterns. Such patterns require each agent to find its place while partially aware of the whole pattern. Such partial awareness can be achieved by separating the system dynamics into two parts by timescale: the propagation dynamics and the pattern dynamics. The fast propagation dynamics describe the spread of signals across the network. If they converge to a fixed point for any quasi-static state of the slow pattern dynamics, that fixed point represents an aggregate of macro-level information. On longer timescales, agents coordinate via positive feedback to form patterns, which are defined using closed walks in the graph of agents. Patterns can be coherent, in that every part of the pattern depends on every other part for context. Coherent patterns are acausal, in that a) they cannot be predicted and b) no part of the stored knowledge can be mapped to any part of the pattern, or vice versa. A cognitive network's knowledge is encoded or embodied by the selection of patterns which emerge. The theory of cognition summarized here can model autocatalytic reaction-diffusion systems, artificial neural networks, market economies and ant colony optimization, among many other real and virtual systems. This theory suggests a new understanding of complexity as a lattice of contexts rather than a single measure.


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