The growth of cognition: free energy minimization and the embryogenesis of cortical computation

J.J. Wright1 P.D. Bourke2
Physics of Life Reviews.
In press. 1 June 2020.
DOI: 10.1016/j.plrev.2020.05.004.

1Centre for Brain Research, and Department of Psychological Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.
2School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Business, Law and Education, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.

Pre-Press manuscript


The assumption that during cortical embryogenesis neurons and synaptic connections are selected to form an ensemble maximising synchronous oscillation explains mesoscopic cortical development, and a mechanism for cortical information processing is implied by consistency with the Free Energy Principle and Dynamic Logic.A heteroclinic network emerges, with stable and unstable fixed points of oscillation corresponding to activity in symmetrically connected, versus asymmetrically connected, sets of neurons. Simulations of growth explain a wide range of anatomical observations for columnar and non-columnar cortex, superficial patch connections, and the organization and dynamic interactions of neurone response properties. An antenatal scaffold is created, upon which postnatal learning can establish continuously ordered neuronal representations, permitting matching of co-synchronous fields in multiple cortical areas to solve optimization problems as in Dynamic Logic. Fast synaptic competition partitions equilibria, minimizing “the curse of dimensionality”, while perturbations between imperfectly partitioned synchronous fields, under internal reinforcement, enable the cortex to become adaptively self-directed. As learning progresses variational free energy is minimized and entropy bounded.


Free energy principleCortical embryogenesisSynchronous oscillationNeuronal representationDynamic logicPhysics of the mind