Publication details

Redrawing the Boundary between Organism and Environment

Tim Taylor

In this position paper, I argue that a fruitful, and as yet largely unexplored, avenue for artificial life research lies in modelling organisms (specifically, phenotypes) and environment as a single dynamical system. From this perspective, the origin and evolution of life is the progressive control of the dynamical system at a local level by constraints which are represented on an organism’s genome. Such an approach shifts the focus of artificial life models away from the design of individuals, towards the interaction of an individual with its dynamic environment. It also blurs the boundary between organism and environment; the most important modelling distinction is no longer between an organism’s body and its external environment, but rather between the genome (which is treated as an essentially symbolic structure) and phenotype-plus-environment combined. An evolutionary cellular automata system, called EvoCA, is introduced as a tool to explore these ideas. To demonstrate how this approach differs from traditional studies, two example applications of EvoCA are presented. One concerns sensor and effector evolution; the other concerns the origin of life, and in particular the evolution of genome-regulated self-stabilising dynamics. Advantages of the new approach are summarised, and some potential criticisms are considered. The paper concludes with a discussion of some implications of this shift in perspective.

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Taylor, T. (2004). Redrawing the Boundary between Organism and Environment. In J. Pollack, M. A. Bedau, P. Husbands, R. A. Watson, & T. Ikegami (Eds.), Artificial Life IX: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems (pp. 268–273). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


  author = {Taylor, Tim},
  title = {Redrawing the Boundary between Organism and Environment},
  booktitle = {Artificial Life IX: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems},
  year = {2004},
  editor = {Pollack, Jordan and Bedau, Mark A. and Husbands, Phil and Watson, Richard A. and Ikegami, Takashi},
  pages = {268-273},
  address = {Cambridge, MA},
  publisher = {{MIT} Press},
  category = {conference},
  keywords = {evoca, oee, meaning, agency}


Record on departmental database: EDI-INF-RR-0192

Supplementary materials and source code for the model discussed in this paper are available here.

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