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An adaptive system is a set of interacting or interdependent entities, real or abstract, forming an integrated whole that together are able to respond to environmental changes or changes in the interacting parts, in a way analogous to either continuous physiological homeostasis or evolutionary adaptation in biology. Feedback loops represent a key feature of adaptive systems, such as ecosystems and individual organisms; or in the human world, communities, organizations, and families. Adaptive systems can be organized into a hierarchy.

Artificial adaptive systems include robots with control systems that utilize negative feedback to maintain desired states.

The law of adaptation can be stated informally as:

Every adaptive system converges to a state in which all kind of stimulation ceases.

Formally, the law can be defined as follows:

Given a system $S$ , we say that a physical event $E$ is a stimulus for the system $S$ if and only if the probability $P(S\rightarrow S'|E)$ that the system suffers a change or be perturbed (in its elements or in its processes) when the event $E$ occurs is strictly greater than the prior probability that $S$ suffers a change independently of $E$ :

$P(S\rightarrow S'|E)>P(S\rightarrow S')$ Let $S$ be an arbitrary system subject to changes in time $t$ and let $E$ be an arbitrary event that is a stimulus for the system $S$ : we say that $S$ is an adaptive system if and only if when t tends to infinity $(t\rightarrow \infty )$ the probability that the system $S$ change its behavior $(S\rightarrow S')$ in a time step $t_{0}$ given the event $E$ is equal to the probability that the system change its behavior independently of the occurrence of the event $E$ . In mathematical terms:

1. - $P_{t_{0}}(S\rightarrow S'|E)>P_{t_{0}}(S\rightarrow S')>0$ 2. - $\lim _{t\rightarrow \infty }P_{t}(S\rightarrow S'|E)=P_{t}(S\rightarrow S')$ Thus, for each instant $t$ will exist a temporal interval $h$ such that:

$P_{t+h}(S\rightarrow S'|E)-P_{t+h}(S\rightarrow S') How do various types of adaptations interact in a living system? Practopoiesis, a term due to its originator Danko Nikolić, is a reference to a hierarchy of adaptation mechanisms answering this question. The adaptive hierarchy forms a kind of a self-adjusting system in which autopoiesis of the entire organism or a cell occurs through a hierarchy of allopoietic interactions among components. This is possible because the components are organized into a poietic hierarchy: adaptive actions of one component result in creation of another component. The theory proposes that living systems exhibit a hierarchy of a total of four such adaptive poietic operations:

   evolution (i) → gene expression (ii) → non gene-involving homeostatic mechanisms (anapoiesis) (iii) → final cell function (iv)


As the hierarchy evolves towards higher levels of organization, the speed of adaptation increases. Evolution is the slowest; the final cell function is the fastest. Ultimately, practopoiesis challenges current neuroscience doctrine by asserting that mental operations primarily occur at the homeostatic, anapoietic level (iii) — i.e., that minds and thought emerge from fast homeostatic mechanisms poietically controlling the cell function. This contrasts the widespread belief that thinking is synonymous with neural activity (i.e., with the 'final cell function' at level iv).

Sharov proposed that only Eukaryote cells can achieve all four levels of organization.

Each slower level contains knowledge that is more general than the faster level; for example, genes contain more general knowledge than anapoietic mechanisms, which in turn contain more general knowledge than cell functions. This hierarchy of knowledge enables the anapoietic level to directly activate concepts, which are the most fundamental ingredient for the emergence of the mind. The theory also has implications for understanding the limitations of Deep Learning.

Empirical tests of practopoiesis require learning on double-loop tasks: One needs to assess how the learning capability adapts over time, i.e., how the system learns to learn (adapts its adapting skills).