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Do fruitflies have free will? (ICN 2007)
AuthorBjörn Brembs, Alexander Maye, Chih-Hao Hsieh and George Sugihara
Author email bjoern©
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DescriptionEver since the ancient Greeks animals in general and insects in particular have been considered automata or robots: if one only knew all their input variables one could predict the motor output they would produce. Modern neuroscience today still describes brains as input/output systems: they transform sensory input into motor output. However the motor output of brains (behavior) is notoriously variable even under identical sensory conditions. The question of whether this behavioral variability merely reflects residual deviations due to extrinsic random noise in such otherwise deterministic systems or an intrinsic adaptive indeterminacy trait is central for the basic understanding of brain function. Instead of random noise we find a fractal order (resembling Lévy flights) in the temporal structure of spontaneous flight maneuvers in tethered Drosophila fruit flies. Lévy-like probabilistic behavior patterns are evolutionarily conserved suggesting a general neural mechanism underlying spontaneous behavior. Drosophila can produce these patterns endogenously without any spatial cues using brain circuits which control the behavior by operating as a nonlinear system with unstable dynamics far from equilibrium. These findings suggest that both general models of brain function and autonomous agents ought to include biologically relevant nonlinear endogenous behavior-initiating mechanisms if they strive to realistically simulate biological brains or out-compete other agents.
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