# Lancelot Da CostaImperial College London | Imperial · Department of Mathematics

Lancelot Da Costa

MAst in Pure Mathematics Cambridge || MRes in Brain Sciences UCL

## About

36

Publications

6,527

Reads

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604

Citations

Citations since 2017

Introduction

Working towards the mathematical physics of intelligent systems @ Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London and Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London. Please contact me by email at l.da-costa@imperial.ac.uk

## Publications

Publications (36)

This paper considers the relationship between thermodynamics, information and inference. In particular, it explores the thermodynamic concomitants of belief updating, under a variational (free energy) principle for self-organization. In brief, any (weakly mixing) random dynamical system that possesses a Markov blanket—i.e. a separation of internal...

Active inference offers a first principle account of sentient behaviour, from which special and important cases can be derived, e.g., reinforcement learning, active learning, Bayes optimal inference, Bayes optimal design, etc. Active inference resolves the exploitation-exploration dilemma in relation to prior preferences, by placing information gai...

Active inference is a normative framework for generating behaviour based upon the free energy principle, a theory of self-organisation. This framework has been successfully used to solve reinforcement learning and stochastic control problems, yet, the formal relation between active inference and reward maximisation has not been fully explicated. In...

Active inference is a normative principle underwriting perception, action, planning, decision-making and learning in biological or artificial agents. From its inception, its associated process theory has grown to incorporate complex generative models, enabling simulation of a wide range of complex behaviours. Due to successive developments in activ...

This paper develops a Bayesian mechanics for adaptive systems. Firstly, we model the interface between a system and its environment with a Markov blanket. This affords conditions under which states internal to the blanket encode information about external states. Second, we introduce dynamics and represent adaptive systems as Markov blankets at ste...

Active inference is a probabilistic framework for modeling the behavior of biological and artificial agents, which derives from the principle of minimizing free energy. In recent years, this framework has been applied successfully to a variety of situations where the goal was to maximize reward, often offering comparable and sometimes superior perf...

The entropy production rate is a central quantity in non-equilibrium statistical physics, scoring how far a stochastic process is from being time-reversible. In this paper, we compute the entropy production of diffusion processes at non-equilibrium steady-state under the condition that the time-reversal of the diffusion remains a diffusion. We star...

This paper describes a path integral formulation of the free energy principle. The ensuing account expresses the paths or trajectories that a particle takes as it evolves over time. The main results are a method or principle of least action that can be used to emulate the behaviour of particles in open exchange with their external milieu. Particles...

How can artificial agents learn non-reinforced preferences to continuously adapt their behaviour to a changing environment? We decompose this question into two challenges: ($i$) encoding diverse memories and ($ii$) selectively attending to these for preference formation. Our proposed \emph{no}n-\emph{re}inforced preference learning mechanism using...

Humans constantly search for and use information to solve a wide range of problems related to survival, social interactions, and learning. While it is clear that curiosity and the drive for knowledge occupies a central role in defining what being human means to ourselves, where does this desire to know the unknown come from? What is its purpose? An...

The aim of this paper is to introduce a field of study that has emerged over the last decade, called Bayesian mechanics. Bayesian mechanics is a probabilistic mechanics, comprising tools that enable us to model systems endowed with a particular partition (i.e., into particles), where the internal states (or the trajectories of internal states) of a...

In this commentary, we respond to a technical analysis of the Free Energy Principle (hereafter: FEP) presented in "How particular is the physics of the Free Energy Principle" by Aguilera et al. In the target article, the authors analyzed certain sparsely coupled stochastic differential equations whose non-equilibrium steady-state densities are clai...

In this chapter, we identify fundamental geometric structures that underlie the problems of sampling, optimization, inference, and adaptive decision-making. Based on this identification, we derive algorithms that exploit these geometric structures to solve these problems efficiently. We show that a wide range of geometric theories emerge naturally...

Over the last 10 to 15 years, active inference has helped to explain various brain mechanisms from habit formation to dopaminergic discharge and even modelling curiosity. However, the current implementations suffer from an exponential (space and time) complexity class when computing the prior over all the possible policies up to the time-horizon. F...

In this chapter, we identify fundamental geometric structures that underlie the problems of sampling, optimisation, inference and adaptive decision-making. Based on this identification, we derive algorithms that exploit these geometric structures to solve these problems efficiently. We show that a wide range of geometric theories emerge naturally i...

Recent advances in neuroscience have characterised brain function using mathematical formalisms and first principles that may be usefully applied elsewhere. In this paper, we explain how active inference—a well-known description of sentient behaviour from neuroscience—can be exploited in robotics. In short, active inference leverages the processes...

Under the Bayesian brain hypothesis, behavioral variations can be attributed to different priors over generative model parameters. This provides a formal explanation for why individuals exhibit inconsistent behavioral preferences when confronted with similar choices. For example, greedy preferences are a consequence of confident (or precise) belief...

In this paper, we introduce a word repetition generative model (WORM), which when combined with an appropriate belief updating scheme is capable of inferring the word that should be spoken when presented with an auditory cue. Our generative model takes a deep temporal form, combining both discrete and continuous states. This allows a (synthetic) WO...

This paper provides a concise description of the free energy principle, starting from a formulation of random dynamical systems in terms of a Langevin equation and ending with a Bayesian mechanics that can be read as a physics of sentience. It rehearses the key steps using standard results from statistical physics. These steps entail (i) establishi...

This paper develops a Bayesian mechanics for adaptive systems. Firstly, we model the interface between a system and its environment with a Markov blanket. This affords conditions under which states internal to the blanket encode information about external states. Second, we introduce dynamics and represent adaptive systems as Markov blankets at ste...

Over the last 10 to 15 years, active inference has helped to explain various brain mechanisms from habit formation to dopaminergic discharge and even modelling curiosity. However, the current implementations suffer from an exponential (space and time) complexity class when computing the prior over all the possible policies up to the time-horizon. F...

Active inference, a corollary of the free energy principle, is a formal way of describing the behavior of certain kinds of random dynamical systems that have the appearance of sentience. In this chapter, we describe how active inference combines Bayesian decision theory and optimal Bayesian design principles under a single imperative to minimize ex...

In this treatment of random dynamical systems, we consider the existence—and identification—of conditional independencies at nonequilibrium steady-state. These independencies underwrite a particular partition of states, in which internal states are statistically secluded from external states by blanket states. The existence of such partitions has i...

Dissipative accounts of structure formation show that the self-organisation of complex structures is thermodynamically favoured, whenever these structures dissipate free energy that could not be accessed otherwise. These structures therefore open transition channels for the state of the universe to move from a frustrated, metastable state to anothe...

In theoretical biology, we are often interested in random dynamical systems—like the brain—that appear to model their environments. This can be formalized by appealing to the existence of a (possibly non-equilibrium) steady state, whose density preserves a conditional independence between a biological entity and its surroundings. From this perspect...

Biehl et al. (2021) present some interesting observations on an early formulation of the free energy principle. We use these observations to scaffold a discussion of the technical arguments that underwrite the free energy principle. This discussion focuses on solenoidal coupling between various (subsets of) states in sparsely coupled systems that p...

Under the Bayesian brain hypothesis, behavioural variations can be attributed to different priors over generative model parameters. This provides a formal explanation for why individuals exhibit inconsistent behavioural preferences when confronted with similar choices. For example, greedy preferences are a consequence of confident (or precise) beli...

The active visual system comprises the visual cortices, cerebral attention networks, and oculomotor system. While fascinating in its own right, it is also an important model for sensorimotor networks in general. A prominent approach to studying this system is active inference—which assumes the brain makes use of an internal (generative) model to pr...

Active inference is a normative framework for explaining behaviour under the free energy principle—a theory of self-organisation originating in neuroscience. It specifies neuronal dynamics for state-estimation in terms of a descent on (variational) free energy—a measure of the fit between an internal (generative) model and sensory observations. The...

Active inference offers a first principle account of sentient behavior, from which special and important cases-for example, reinforcement learning, active learning, Bayes optimal inference, Bayes optimal design-can be derived. Active inference finesses the exploitation-exploration dilemma in relation to prior preferences by placing information gain...

We formalize the Gaia hypothesis about the Earth climate system using advances in theoretical biology based on the minimization of variational free energy. This amounts to the claim that non-equilibrium steady-state dynamics-that underwrite our climate-depend on the Earth system possessing a Markov blanket. Our formalization rests on how the metabo...

Biehl et al (2020) present some interesting observations on an early formulation of the free energy principle in (Friston, 2013). We use these observations to scaffold a discussion of the technical arguments that underwrite the free energy principle. This discussion focuses on solenoidal coupling between various (subsets of) states in sparsely coup...

Active inference provides a biologically plausible process theory of brain function. It specifies neuronal dynamics for state-estimation in terms of a gradient descent on (variational) free energy -- a measure of the fit between an internal (generative) model and sensory observations. When formulated for discrete state-space generative models, the...

Active inference is a normative principle underwriting perception, action, planning, decision-making and learning in biological or artificial agents. From its inception, its associated process theory has grown to incorporate complex generative models, enabling simulation of a wide range of complex behaviours. Due to successive developments in activ...

## Projects

Project (1)

Explaining the free energy principle and active inference.