Intrinsic References

I have just read the following article that makes me think that the perception of novelty and related attraction to novel perceptual signals may indicate intrinsic reference signals. The article is: Zahra Z. Farahbakhsh abd Cody A. Sicilliano, “Neurobiology of novelty seeking,” Science, Vol. 372, Issue 6543, 14 May 2021, pp. 684-685. The article refers to the following research article summary in the same issue: Mehran Ahmadlou et al, “A cell type-specific cortico-subcortical brain circuit for investigatory and novelty-seeking behavior,” Science. Vol. 372, Issue 6543, 14 May 2021, p. 704.

I leave it up to persons more knowledgeable about neurology and PCT to consider if my thinking seems on target and may be worth further consideration.****

Do you have access to PDF renditions of these articles?

Hi Richard and others, here is attached the first mentioned article.

Interesting topic.

Richard, what you mean by “intrinsic reference signals” and what other kind of reference signals there are?

I have used to think that all reference signals of living beings are intrinsic.

Neurobiology of novelty seeking.pdf (715 KB)

All reference signals are endogenous, generated within the organism. Powers followed Ashby’s assumption that some corporeal states essential to survival are intrinsic, hence, intrinsic variables and their reference values. The usual suggestive examples include core temperature and blood oxygen level.

There follows also intrinsic error as a cause of reorganization. It may be that persistent error to other controlled variables can also initiate reorganization.

Because of evidence that changes in synapsing and brachiation are the default behavior of nerve cells, it may be more accurate to say that intrinsic error (& perhaps also persistent error) disinhibits reorganization. Perhaps systems that are controlling successfully maintain a local neurochemical environment that inhibits random changes to their structure.

Thanks for clarification, Bruce, that makes sense.

But one small problem or perhaps rather an apparent paradox yet:

Let’s assume that novelty or novelty seeking is an intrinsic variable with a reference value high. Then if an organism can seek and find novelties – for example in an changing environment – then there is no intrinsic error from this variable and reorganization does not take place. But if it is put in a homogenous environment where nothing happens ever, then there will be intrinsic error – boring – an it starts to reorganize.

In a way that makes sense: it can develop input functions to perceive earlier unperceivable changes in the environment or output functions which will cause interesting changes.

That leads us to one form of pedagogical paradox: If you want that someone learns something new, then make sure that she is not happy but has a sufficient amount of intrinsic errors.

(It also reminds about an old proverb that creativity flourishes from suffering…)

Here is the latter article

Ahmadlou+ circuit for investigatory and novelty-seeking.pdf (1.97 MB)

Rather than intrinsic control of novelty (which seems to me to be an unexplained ‘dormitive principle’), I would consider functions at the Planning level (a.k.a. Program level) wondering how this unfamiliar Configuration (it always seems to be an ‘object’ in the environment) might provide alternative environmental feedback paths within sequences leading to already established CVs.

The work of ‘planning’ is trial-and-error attempts to control a variable by a sequence of intermediate CVs, and where one of these CVs is poorly controlled (perhaps because of conflict) substituting another candidate.

Rather than ‘novelty’, then, why not ask about ‘familiarity’? When planning functions know well how to control a configuration superficial investigation establishes memory of its environmental location, should need arise. When they do not know how to control a configuration, in-depth investigation ensues to find out how to control it. Note that the ‘cortico-subcortical brain circuit’ in Ahmadiou et al. (2021) correlates to the ‘fight-flight-freeze-fawn’ stereotype of limbic functionality. (I’ll be talking about that at the meeting in October.)

The zona incerta (ZI) is a horizontally elongated region of gray matter in the subthalamus below the thalamus. Its connections project extensively over the brain from the cerebral cortex down into the spinal cord. … several potential functions related to ‘limbic–motor integration’ have been proposed. (Wikipedia)

Cortex, limbic system, thalamus & brain stem, and spinal cord. Pervasive connections everywhere! Perhaps best to think of the functions of these diverse regions as effected by connections traversing the ZI, rather than to look for curiosity-originating functions in the ZI.

Medial ZI (ZIm) neurons

receive excitatory input from the prelimbic cortex [a.k.a. dorsomedial prefrontal cortex] to signal the initiation of exploration. This signal is modulated in the ZIm by the level of investigatory motivation. Increased activity in the ZIm instigates deep investigative action by inhibiting the periaqueductal gray region. A subpopulation of inhibitory ZIm neurons expressing tachykinin 1 (TAC1) modulates the investigatory behavior.

Within the limbic system, the periaqueductal gray region (PAG)

is a brain region that plays a critical role in autonomic function, motivated behavior and behavioural responses to threatening stimuli. PAG is also the primary control center for descending pain modulation. It has enkephalin-producing cells that suppress pain. (Wikipedia)

How interesting, that the focus on a given CV, whether to identify it as familiar or to investigate deeply and make it familiar, is accomplished by inhibiting neural activity elsewhere. This suggests that exploratory scanning of the environment is default behavior.

But boredom is important to consider. Fromm (in his masterful survey The anatomy of human destructiveness) correlated diverse evidence that boredom occurs frequently (perhaps exclusively) in a ‘zoo’ environment, either a literal zoo or within the constraints of human ‘civilization’ (‘city-fication’), zoo conditions for concentrated populations of humans since the invention of cities and hierarchical-dominance social structures. (Contrary to Hobbes, the Social Darwinists, and other inventers of ‘Just So Stories’ to justify their privileged status amid deplorable social conditions, hierarchical-dominance social structures do not prevail in the wild, nor in indigenous foraging societies, nor is there evidence for them in paleoanthropology.) I suspect that boredom is an effect of thwarted control, including limited availability of variables to control. If you like folk maxims, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ might be apt. And ‘the devil makes work for idle hands.’

More specifically, boredom results from inability to control at the System and Principle levels of the hierarchy which motivate the search at the Planning level for Sequence means of controlling them. Incoherence at the System Concept level interferes with identifying CVs and reference values (long-term goals) at those higher levels.

Cities insatiably subordinate and exploit their surrounding countryside for resources, and greater city-states made lesser ones colonies and tributary vassals, disrupting the System Concepts of foraging and herding societies. (The story of Cain the sophisticate and Abel the herdsman.) See F. Braudel Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. The System Concepts of the city-state were disrupted by Alexander and then by Rome as more and more legalistic and bureaucratic modulations of feudalism with a place and role for more or less everyone fixed by inheritance, with ambition most feasible only for fawning courtiers and successful generals who might become Emperor. Merchants and then capitalists (two very distinct classes!) opened the possibilities of ambition wider — wealth and power were controllable by more people, though still only observed and imagined perceptions for most. People have been quilting together jostling fragments of System Concepts from all these historical strata. Science seems a recent System Concept (Vico, Bacon, et al.). Its roots in what are confusedly called prehistoric and early religion are obscured by its rejection of religious institutions and their claims to authority and elite privilege. But I digress.

To the immediate point, boredom is not found in indigenous foraging societies, even though (pace Hobbes) they are among the most leisured people in the world; while, as John Fowles observed in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the great problem of the wealthy classes in contemporary society is boredom.

So what looks like novelty seeking emerges from the reorganisation occurring as an organisms trials new control system parameters and functions, to find and experience new environments as it attempts to reduce other intrinsic errors (e.g. dehydration)?

The reported animals were not subjected to the ‘experimental condition’ of starvation or dehydration.

Not having a transparent, nonreinforced, and easily replicable paradigm is one of the main causes of this uncertainty. Therefore, we chose a simple solution to conduct our research: giving the mouse freedom to choose what it wants—double freeaccess choice.

(Henry does this with his mice.)

No need to propose that intrinsic error is involved. What is required to become familiar with a new configuration in the environment?

Suppose plural input functions for recognizing and controlling a given x. Such structural redundancy is known. We too easily read our control diagrams with glib literalness. Each arrow in a diagram represents a complex bundle of biological dendrites or axons. The comparator is unlikely to be a single point. The nerve fibers of the afferent bundle carrying p probably do not synapse together with the nerve fibers of the efferent bundle carrying r at one point in the brain.

Differentiation of kinds is a natural consequence, as well as association of similars.

Martin is probably developing this in his big book. How I wish I had time to read it! Well, now with the cataract surgery done I can get new glasses, and then I’ll be more able to.