On the Self-Organizing Origins of Agency

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56 Citations (Scopus)


The question of agency and directedness in living systems has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. What principles and mechanisms underlie the emergence of agency? Analysis and dynamical modeling of experiments on human infants suggest that the birth of agency is due to a eureka-like, pattern-forming phase transition in which the infant suddenly realizes it can make things happen in the world. The main mechanism involves positive feedback: when the baby's initially spontaneous movements cause the world to change, their perceived consequences have a sudden and sustained amplifying effect on the baby's further actions. The baby discovers itself as a causal agent. Some implications of this theory are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490-499
Number of pages10
JournalTrends in Cognitive Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished online - 18 May 2016


  • coordination dynamics
  • collective variables
  • Phase transition
  • positive feedback
  • emergence
  • Agent
  • Consciousness
  • Synchrony
  • metastability


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