Paper: A Mathematical Model of the Collective Social Organization of Ancient Teotihuacan

Ever since I first visited the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan several years ago, I wanted to learn as much as possible about its unique culture. Here is one of the products of that quest: a paper combining complex systems modeling with Mesoamerican archaeology and the anthropology of ritual.

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson and Linda R. Manzanilla

Teotihuacan was the first urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is widely believed that the city’s origin and growth was controlled by a lineage of powerful individuals. However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology. Yet this alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned in principle. We therefore devised a mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of representatives as a formal proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner. In the model, decisions become self-organized into globally optimal configurations even though local representatives behave and modify their relations in a rational and selfish manner. This self-optimization crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and it is impeded when sections of the network are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community-wide rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109966

Section of a mural painting of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico

New paper: The past, present, and future of artificial life

Frontiers in Robotics and AI As part of the inauguration of the new section on “Computational Intelligence” of Frontiers in Robotics and AI we wrote this introduction to the field of artificial life.

The past, present, and future of artificial life

Wendy Aguilar, Guillermo Santamaría-Bonfil, Tom Froese and Carlos Gershenson

For millennia people have wondered what makes the living different from the non-living. Beginning in the mid-1980s, artificial life has studied living systems using a synthetic approach: build life in order to understand it better, be it by means of software, hardware, or wetware. This review provides a summary of the advances that led to the development of artificial life, its current research topics, and open problems and opportunities. We classify artificial life research into 14 themes: origins of life, autonomy, self-organization, adaptation (including evolution, development, and learning), ecology, artificial societies, behavior, computational biology, artificial chemistries, information, living technology, art, and philosophy. Being interdisciplinary, artificial life seems to be losing its boundaries and merging with other fields.

DOI: 10.3389/frobt.2014.00008

Talk: Putting the enactive theory of social cognition to the test

I was invited to give a talk as part of the seminar series organized by the project “Racionalidad, razonamiento, y cognición” at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas of UNAM.

Putting the Enactive Theory of Social Cognition to the Test

Dr. Tom Froese
Wednesday, October 15
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas

In this talk I will argue that the enactive approach to social interaction is the most promising contender among the variety of recent embodied and extended accounts of social cognition and philosophy of mind. It has the virtue of making specific predictions that can be experimentally evaluated. I will present a couple of studies we have conducted and whose results support the enactive approach. I will focus in particular on a psychological experiment about social awareness.

Froese - Putting the Enactive Theory of Social Cognition to the Test

Interactive development of social awareness

A study done with Hiro Iizuka and Takashi Ikegami about the recapitulation of the development of social awareness in pars of adults engaged in minimal embodied interaction.

Using minimal human-computer interfaces for studying the interactive development of social awareness

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka, and Takashi Ikegami

According to the enactive approach to cognitive science, perception is essentially a skillful engagement with the world. Learning how to engage via a human-computer interface (HCI) can therefore be taken as an instance of developing a new mode of experiencing. Similarly, social perception is theorized to be primarily constituted by skillful engagement between people, which implies that it is possible to investigate the origins and development of social awareness using multi-user HCIs. We analyzed the trial-by-trial objective and subjective changes in sociality that took place during a perceptual crossing experiment in which embodied interaction between pairs of adults was mediated over a minimalist haptic HCI. Froese 2014 - FrontiersSince that study required participants to implicitly relearn how to mutually engage so as to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be indications that the initial developmental stages of social awareness were recapitulated. Preliminary results reveal that, despite the lack of explicit feedback about task performance, there was a trend for the clarity of social awareness to increase over time. We discuss the methodological challenges involved in evaluating whether this trend was characterized by distinct developmental stages of objective behavior and subjective experience.

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01061

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns

Several lines of evidence suggest that resetting your mind once in a while can have beneficial effects. Here we show how this can be so.

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns: A self-optimizing spiking neural network model

Alexander Woodward, Tom Froese and Takashi Ikegami

The state space of a conventional Hopfield network typically exhibits many different attractors of which only a small subset satisfy constraints between neurons in a globally optimal fashion. It has recently been demonstrated that combining Hebbian learning with occasional alterations of normal neural states avoids this problem by means of self-organized enlargement of the best basins of attraction. However, so far it is not clear to what extent this process of self-optimization is also operative in real brains. Here we demonstrate that it can be transferred to more biologically plausible neural networks by implementing a self-optimizing spiking neural network model. In addition, by using this spiking neural network to emulate a Hopfield network with Hebbian learning, we attempt to make a connection between rate-based and temporal coding based neural systems. Heterosynaptic plasticityAlthough further work is required to make this model more realistic, it already suggests that the efficacy of the self-optimizing process is independent from the simplifying assumptions of a conventional Hopfield network. We also discuss natural and cultural processes that could be responsible for occasional alteration of neural firing patterns in actual brains.

Interviews on TV and radio

My research was recently featured on Mexican TV and radio:

FOROtv. (2014, August 22). Creadores Universitarios [TV broadcast]. Televisa. Retrieved from

Isita, R. (Host). (2014, August 24). Imagen en la ciencia. [Radio broadcast]. Mexico, DF: Imagen Radio 90.5 FM. Retrieved from

Conexión emocional: un fenómeno neuronal

UNAM has released an ad campaign about the values of innovation based on our research into embodied social interaction. The full page announcement has already appeared in the Mexican news magazines Impacto and Proceso.

Conexión emocional: un fenómeno neuronal. El Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en Sistemas de la UNAM comprobó con un modelo computacional que la conexión emocional entre dos personas que se identifican efectiva, sentimental o socialmente, no es sólo una sensación, sino una interacción real entre ambos cerebros.

The Enactive Torch in the news

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have started testing the Enactive Torch for use by people who are visually impaired. Here are two reports:

Robinette, T. (2014, August 11). ‘Seeing’ through virtual touch is believing. University of Cincinnati News. Retrieved from

Rivas, A. (2014, August 11). Visually impaired will benefit from new infrared device: Enactive Torch helps the blind to ‘see’ without canes. Medical Daily. Retrieved from

Talk at “The Connected Past London 2014″

Some of the research I have been doing in collaboration with my colleagues in Colombia will be presented by Nathalie Mezza-Garcia at The Connected Past London 2014. The title of our contribution is:

Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Tom Froese and Nelson Fernández

In this talk we will discuss the social organization of different pre-Hispanic polities in Colombia from the perspective of complexity theory. Here is the extended abstract.

Interview on Radio Formula

On the 28th of June I was invited to participate in the radio show “Ciencia hasta la Cocina” of Radio Formula to talk about my research on social interaction. Here is a recording of the show:

Figueroa, A. (Host). (2014, June 28). Ciencia hasta la Cocina. [Radio broadcast]. Mexico, DF: Radio Formula. Retrieved from

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