Adaptive Behavior (1996) Vol. 4, No. 3/4, 275-307, MIT Press.
This paper concerns the relationship between the detectable and useful structure in an environment and the degree to which a population can adapt to that environment. We explore the hypothesis that adaptability will depend unimodally on environmental variety, and we measure this component of environmental structure using the information-theoretic uncertainty (Shannon entropy) of detectable environmental conditions. We define adaptability as the degree to which a certain kind of population successfully adapts to a certain kind of environment, and we measure adaptability by comparing a population's size to the size of a non-adapting, but otherwise comparable, population in the same environment. We study the relationship between adaptability and environmental structure in an evolving artificial population of sensorimotor agents that live, reproduce, and die in a variety of environments. We find that adaptability does not show a unimodal dependence on environmental variety alone, although there is justification for preserving our unimodal hypothesis if we consider other aspects of environmental structure. In particular, adaptability depends not just on how much structural information is detectable in the environment, but also on how unambiguous and valuable this information is, i.e., whether the information accurately signals a difference that makes a difference. How best to measure and integrate these other components of environmental structure remains unresolved.