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Divergent Criticality – A Mechanism of Neural Function for Perception and Learning

Larkin, D (2020) Divergent Criticality – A Mechanism of Neural Function for Perception and Learning. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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The natural world presents opportunities to all organisms as they compete for the biological-value afforded to them through their ecological engagement. This presents two fundamental requirements for perceiving such opportunities: to be able to recognise value and learning how to access new value. Though many theoretical accounts of how we might achieve such selectionist ends have been explored – how ‘perception’ and ‘learning’ resonate with life’s challenges and opportunities, to date, no explanation has yet been able to naturalise such perception adequately in the Universal laws that govern our existence – not only for explaining the human experience of the world, but in exploring the true nature of our perception. This thesis explores our perceptions of engaging with the world and seeks to explain how the demands of our experiences resonate with the efficient functioning of our brain. It proposes, that in a world of challenge and opportunity, rather than the efficient functioning of our neural resources, it is, instead, the optimising of ‘learning’ that is selected for, as an evolutionary priority. Building on existing literature in the fields of Phenomenology, Free Energy and Neuroscience, this thesis considers perception and learning as synonymous with the cognitive constructs of an ‘attention’ tuned for learning optimisation, and explores the processes of learning in neural function. It addresses the philosophical issues of how an individual’s perception of subjective experiences, might provide some empirical objectivity in proposing a ‘Tolerance’ hypothesis. This is a relative definition able to coordinate a ‘perception of experience’ in terms of an learning-function, grounded in free-energy theory (the laws of physics) and the ecological dynamics of a spontaneous or ‘self- organising’ mechanism – Divergent Criticality. The methodology incorporated three studies: Pilot, Developmental and Exploratory. Over the three studies, Divergent Criticality was tested by developing a functional Affordance measure to address the Research Question – are perceptions as affective-cognitions made aware as reflecting the agential mediation of a self-regulating, optimal learning mechanism? Perception questionnaires of Situational Interest and Self-concept were used in Study One and Study Two to investigate their suitability in addressing the Research Question. Here, Factor Analysis and Structural Equation Modelling assessed the validity and reliability of these measures, developing robust questionnaires and a research design for testing Divergent Criticality. In Study Three, the Divergent Criticality hypothesis was found to be significant, supporting that a Divergent Criticality mechanism is in operation: When individuals are engaging with dynamic ecological challenges, perception is affective in accordance with Tolerance Optimisation, demonstrating that a Divergent Criticality mechanism is driving individuals to the limits of their Effectivity – an optimal learning state which is fundamental to life and naturalised in Universal laws.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ecological Dynamics; Free Energy; Self Organising Criticality; Affordance; Non Linear Dynamical Systems Theory; Attention; Perception; Learning
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: Education
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2020 11:36
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2022 13:55
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00012222
Supervisors: McIlroy, D, Lisboa, P, Richards, K and Stott, T
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/12222
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