Integrated Information as Maximally Irreducible Causation

  • TWCF Number:


  • Project Duration:

    November 1, 2013 - October 31, 2016

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

  • Region:

    North America

  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Professor Giulio Tononi

Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Information and causation are two vital domains of science—and they are in need of unification. The project aims to develop a theory of information as maximally irreducible causation. Fundamental to this approach is the integrated information theory of consciousness; that is, experience as a fundamental property of reality.

First, this project explores intrinsic causal information as “differences that make a difference.” It examines this notion both from the intrinsic perspective of a system in a given state (causal power, i.e., potential causes and effects), and from the perspective of an outside observer who takes into account the transitions between system states (causal action, i.e., actual causes and effects). This theory considers mechanisms in a state, the effects of causal interventions, and various facets of mechanisms. In this framework, causal information leads to a definition of emergence, meaning that the maxima of causal power can occur at a macro-level, causally superseding the micro-level.

Second, this project addresses causal information during evolutionary adaptation to a complex world. The aim is to show that, under selective pressure, the causal information structure of simulated organisms will increasingly “match” the causal structure of the environment. In turn, this leads to the prediction that as organisms evolve to better understand and control their environment, their causal power will increase.

One objective is to establish this evaluation of causal information as a standard tool for the analysis of complex adaptive systems.


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