Harnessing stochasticity: How do organisms make choices?
Noble (Raymond) & Noble (Denis)
Source: Chaos 28, 106309 (2018), Published Online: 09 October 2018
Paper - Abstract

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Authors' Abstract

  1. Choice in the behavior of organisms involves novelty, which may be unpredictable. Yet in retrospect, we can usually provide a rationale for the choice. A deterministic view of life cannot explain this. The solution to this paradox is that organisms can harness stochasticity through which they can generate many possible solutions to environmental challenges. They must then employ a comparator to find the solution that fits the challenge. What therefore is unpredictable in prospect can become comprehensible in retrospect. Harnessing stochastic and/or chaotic processes is essential to the ability of organisms to have agency and to make choices.
  2. Faced with unusual challenges in their environments, organisms have to make new choices to survive. The question addressed in this paper is how such choices can be creative and non-deterministic. We argue by analogy with the immune system, which faces a similar difficulty when a new antigen invades the organism, and for which it does not have the relevant DNA sequence to make an antibody with the correct shape. The immune system responds by rapidly mutating the variable part of the immunoglobulin sequence until, by chance, a cell evolves which does have the DNA sequence for an immunoglobulin with the correct shape. Stochasticity is therefore used to generate novelty. We speculate that by harnessing stochasticity in their nervous and other systems, organisms can similarly generate novel behavioral responses to meet the unusual challenge.


For the full text, see Noble & Noble - Harnessing stochasticity: How do organisms make choices?.

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