How sensory ecology affects the utility of planning

TitleHow sensory ecology affects the utility of planning
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsMugan, U., and M. A. MacIver
Conference NameConference on Cognitive Computational Neuroscience
Date Published09/2018
Keywordsevolution; planning; partial observability; Markov decision processes; predator-prey interactions

Prior to the vertebrate invasion of land, aquatic vision provided short range sensing with low contrast scenes. Once on land, aerial vision provided a 100-fold increase in range with high contrast scenes. This change in sensory ecology due to emergence onto land may have provided a selective advantage to those animals that were able to imagine alternative action sequences toward distant goals. To explore the relationship between sensory ecology and the utility of planning, we developed a simulation of predator-prey dynamics where we controlled visual range, planning depth, and environmental complexity. Simulations show that for prey with short visual range, increased planning results in a negligible change in survival rate with increased environmental complexity. However, at longer visual ranges, survival rate is strongly correlated with planning depth and environmental complexity, with peak survival rate occurring at high complexity and planning depth. These data suggest that planning is an adaptation to long range sensing enabled by terrestrial habitats 385 million years ago. Our results point to future research into the limitations on our temporal and spatial range of prospective cognition, a possible result of environments in which we have evolved, to raise awareness and create circumventions for looming existential threats.

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