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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
2018 Awardees

2016 Physics of the Observer
2016 Awardees

2015 The Physics of What Happens
2015 Awardees

2013 Physics of Information
2013 Awardees

2010 The Nature of Time
2010 Awardees

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2008 Awardees

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
2006 Awardees

Kavan Modi
Monash University

Naotsugu Tsuchiya
Monash University

Jakob Hohwy
Monash University

Project Title

Emergent agency from collective dynamics

Project Summary

In physics, “agency” refers to a freedom to make random choices. In cognitive neuroscience, it refers to autonomous systems that make decisions without any supervisory influence from other entities, including humans. In philosophy, agency refers to autonomous action, implying concepts of free will. Despite these differences across disciplines, it is possible that the concept of agency is actually the same. If so, what is the underlying core concept? This project collects a unique and interdisciplinary research team, composed of a physicist (Modi), a neuroscientist (Tsuchiya) and a philosopher (Hohwy), to jointly explore and test the concept of agency across these diverse fields, with a view to derive a unified concept. We will first devise a measure of agency, and then test it with computer simulations and actual neural data, where we already have a good idea of how an agency measure should behave. Finally, our project will provide philosophical analysis of our measure by comparing it to various concepts of agency proposed in the literature. We seek a unifying and deeper notion of agency as it applies to various fields, including the identification of artificial autonomous agents, which are becoming an integral part of society.

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