Modelling the dynamics of genetic algorithms using statistical mechanics

  • Magnus Rattray

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


A formalism for modelling the dynamics of Genetic Algorithms (GAs) using methods from statistical mechanics, originally due to Prugel-Bennett and Shapiro, is reviewed, generalized and improved upon. This formalism can be used to predict the averaged trajectory of macroscopic statistics describing the GA's population. These macroscopics are chosen to average well between runs, so that fluctuations from mean behaviour can often be neglected. Where necessary, non-trivial terms are determined by assuming maximum entropy with constraints on known macroscopics. Problems of realistic size are described in compact form and finite population effects are included, often proving to be of fundamental importance. The macroscopics used here are cumulants of an appropriate quantity within the population and the mean correlation (Hamming distance) within the population. Including the correlation as an explicit macroscopic provides a significant improvement over the original formulation. The formalism is applied to a number of simple optimization problems in order to determine its predictive power and to gain insight into GA dynamics. Problems which are most amenable to analysis come from the class where alleles within the genotype contribute additively to the phenotype. This class can be treated with some generality, including problems with inhomogeneous contributions from each site, non-linear or noisy fitness measures, simple diploid representations and temporally varying fitness. The results can also be applied to a simple learning problem, generalization in a binary perceptron, and a limit is identified for which the optimal training batch size can be determined for this problem. The theory is compared to averaged results from a real GA in each case, showing excellent agreement if the maximum entropy principle holds. Some situations where this approximation brakes down are identified. In order to fully test the formalism, an attempt is made on the strong sc np-hard problem of storing random patterns in a binary perceptron. Here, the relationship between the genotype and phenotype (training error) is strongly non-linear. Mutation is modelled under the assumption that perceptron configurations are typical of perceptrons with a given training error. Unfortunately, this assumption does not provide a good approximation in general. It is conjectured that perceptron configurations would have to be constrained by other statistics in order to accurately model mutation for this problem. Issues arising from this study are discussed in conclusion and some possible areas of further research are outlined.
Date of AwardOct 1996
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Manchester


  • modelling
  • genetic algorithms
  • statistical mechanics
  • formalism
  • trajectory
  • macroscopic statistics

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