Information-Theoretic Modeling of Sensory Ecology: Channels of Organism-Specific Meaningful Information

C.L. Nehaniv, D. Polani, L. Olsson, A.S. Klyubin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Information theory developed by C. Shannon and his followers in the mathematical theory of communication surprisingly but successfully abstracted away from two questions: (1) the origin and maintenance of information channels, and (2) the meaning of information. However, in understanding the evolutionary sensory ecology of the many information channels used by particular organisms, we are confronted with exactly these issues. What are the evolutionary and developmental origins of particular channels in an embodied organism? How do they benefit the organism? Why this type of sensor and not another? Sensors are costly to build, maintain, operate and carry. The costs and benefits of access to particular information have an impact on survival and reproductive success within a particular ecological context. We introduce a framework in which channels of information meaningful to an organism (sensors, actuators, and internal channels within it, and between it and other organisms, and/or between an organism and its environment) can each be treated using an extended Shannon information theory. Rigorous information metrics relate informational channels to organism-specific relevance and utility.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVienna Series in Theoretical Biology - Modeling Biology: Structures, Behaviors, Evolution
EditorsM.D. Laublicher, G.B. Muller
PublisherMIT Press
ISBN (Print)0-262-12291-X, 978-0-262-12291-7
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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