We formulate the computational processes of perception in the framework of the principle of least action by postulating the theoretical action as a time integral of the variational free energy in the neurosciences. The free energy principle is accordingly rephrased, on autopoetic grounds, as follows: all viable organisms attempt to minimize their sensory uncertainty about an unpredictable environment over a temporal horizon. By taking the variation of informational action, we derive neural recognition dynamics (RD), which by construction reduces to the Bayesian filtering of external states from noisy sensory inputs. Consequently, we effectively cast the gradient-descent scheme of minimizing the free energy into Hamiltonian mechanics by addressing only the positions and momenta of the organisms' representations of the causal environment. To demonstrate the utility of our theory, we show how the RD may be implemented in a neuronally based biophysical model at a single-cell level and subsequently in a coarse-grained, hierarchical architecture of the brain. We also present numerical solutions to the RD for a model brain and analyze the perceptual trajectories around attractors in neural state space.

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