Space emerges from what we know - spatial categorisations induced by information constraints

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Seeking goals carried out by agents with a level of competency requires an “understanding” of the structure of their world. While abstract formal descriptions of a world structure in terms of geometric axioms can be formulated in principle, it is not likely that this is the representation that is actually employed by biological organisms or that should be used by biologically plausible models. Instead, we operate by the assumption that biological organisms are constrained in their information processing capacities, which in the past has led to a number of insightful hypotheses and models for biologically plausible behaviour generation. Here we use this approach to study various types of spatial categorizations that emerge through such informational constraints imposed on embodied agents. We will see that geometrically-rich spatial representations emerge when agents employ a trade-off between the minimisation of the Shannon information used to describe locations within the environment and the reduction of the location error generated by the resulting approximate spatial description. In addition, agents do not always need to construct these representations from the ground up, but they can obtain them by refining less precise spatial descriptions constructed previously. Importantly, we find that these can be optimal at both steps of refinement, as guaranteed by the successive refinement principle from information theory. Finally, clusters induced by these spatial representations via the information bottleneck method are able to reflect the environment’s topology without relying on an explicit geometric description of the environment’s structure. Our findings suggest that the fundamental geometric notions possessed by natural agents do not need to be part of their a priori knowledge but could emerge as a byproduct of the pressure to process information parsimoniously.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1179
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2020


  • Geometric rate-distortion
  • Information bottleneck
  • Information theory
  • Spatial cognition
  • Successive refinement


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