Randall D. Beer

The Dynamics of Brain-Body-Environment Systems: A Status Report

Attempts to decipher the mechanisms of behavior and cognition face many difficulties. Chief among these challenges is a theoretical one: How can we understand the counterintuitive organizations that evolution often produces, especially when they consist of densely interconnected networks of nonlinear dynamical elements embodied in a complicated biomechanical periphery and situated in a complex natural environment? One approach to these difficulties is the careful study of idealized models of complete brain-body-environment systems in order to build intuition, theoretical concepts, and mathematical and computational tools. Specifically, we use genetic algorithms to evolve dynamical "nervous systems" for model agents, and then analyze in detail the operation of these evolved agents using the tools of dynamical systems theory. In this talk, I will summarize this research program and its accomplishments to date, with a particular emphasis on the most recent results. I will conclude with a discussion of some of the empirical and theoretical challenges that remain to be addressed by this research program if it is to do justice to the richness of biological behavior and human cognition.