Algorithmic and Neural Basis of Decision Making

A game that illustrates some key ideas in our new work Spatial planning with long visual range benefits escape from visual predators in complex naturalistic environments. German Espinosa created the game and Alex Lai made the artwork for it.

Some key findings of the paper is that a combination of visual range and a certain level of habitat complexity—only occurring on land—creates a gradient of benefit for the evolution of brain circuitry to plan. Open water, coral reef, and jungle all favor reactive mode decision making rather than planning.

You are the prey. You move using the arrow keys on your keyboard, each key press moves you through the environment with some speed (if you stop pressing a key, the prey will stop). In the Easy mode, despite having a visual range you will be able to see a silhouette of the predator. In the Natural mode, the predator is only able to see you when you see it. In the Hard mode if there is clutter the predator is only able to see you when you see it, however, if there is no clutter (e.g. Open Waters) the predator always sees you. If the predator sees you it will aggresively pursue you. The game is over if you reach safety (middle-top) or if you get eaten by the predator.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Ugurcan's talk title: How visual sensory ecology affects the utility of planning at Cognitive Computational Neursocience Conference in Philedelphia on September 6, 2018.

Malcolm's talk titled: Terrestrial sensory ecology provides a selective benefit to planning. at the COSYNE Workshop in Cascais, Portugal on March 5, 2019.

Malcolm's podcast interview on Sean Caroll's Mindscape: Sensing, Consciousness, and the Imagination

Our short-sighted inner fish

A video developed for our 2017 study titled Massive increase in visual range preceded the origin of terrestrial vertebrates to explore why our fish ancestors made the leap on to land.

General coverage of research on why our fish ancestors headed for terra firma 350 million years ago: in The Atlantic by Ed Yong, and in Quanta by Jennifer Ouellette.

Neuromechanics of Prey Capture

Bio-Inspired Art

Scale, 2010

Malcolm MacIver, Marlena Novak, and Jay Alan Yim

Body Electric, 2003

Malcolm MacIver and Simon Penny

Sponsored and funded by the National Science Foundation, the Northwestern University's Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Office of the Dean. Exhibited at Eindhoven Holland, Nov 18-28 2010, at the STRP Festival. scale was subsequently presented at the TransLife Triennial at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, 27 July-17 August 2011 (New York Times Review).

Sponsored and funded by Caltech and the National Science Foundation. Exhibited at the Williamson Art Gallery in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena CA, April 15-June 29 2003.