Informational architecture across non-living and living collectives

Hyunju Kim, Gabriele Valentini, Jake Hanson & Sara Imari Walker
Theory in Biosciences (2021)

Collective behavior is widely regarded as a hallmark property of living and intelligent systems. Yet, many examples are known of simple physical systems that are not alive, which nonetheless display collective behavior too, prompting simple physical models to often be adopted to explain living collective behaviors. To understand collective behavior as it occurs in living examples, it is important to determine whether or not there exist fundamental differences in how non-living and living systems act collectively, as well as the limits of the intuition that can be built from simpler, physical examples in explaining biological phenomenon. Here, we propose a framework for comparing non-living and living collectives as a continuum based on their information architecture: that is, how information is stored and processed across different degrees of freedom. We review diverse examples of collective phenomena, characterized from an information-theoretic perspective, and offer views on future directions for quantifying living collective behaviors based on their informational structure.

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