Information Field Theory

Information field theory (IFT) is information theory, logic under uncertainty, applied to fields. A field can be any quantity defined over some space, such as the air temperature over Europe, the magnetic field strength in the Milky Way, or the matter density in the Universe. IFT describes how data and knowledge can be used to infer field properties. Mathematically it is a statistical field theory and exploits many of the tools developed for such. Practically, it is a framework for signal processing and image reconstruction. IFT is fully Bayesian. How else can infinitely many field degrees of freedom be constrained by finite data? It can be used without the knowledge of Feynman diagrams. There is a full toolbox of methods. It reproduces many known well working algorithms. This should be reassuring. And, there were certainly previous works in a similar spirit, like Bayesian Field Theory (BFT). See below for IFT & BFT publications and previous works. Anyhow, in many cases IFT provides novel rigorous ways to extract information from data.


The embarrassment of false predictions -
How to best communicate probabilities?

Complex predictions such as election forecasts or the weather reports often have to be simplified before communication. But how should one best simplify these predictions without facing embarrassment? In astronomical data analysis, researchers are also confronted with the problem of simplifying probabilities. Two researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics now show that there is only one mathematically correct way to measure how embarrassing a simplified prediction can be. According to this, the recipient of a prediction should be deprived of the smallest possible amount of information.

Galactic anatomy with gamma rays

The anatomy of the Milky Way as seen in gamma light is full of mysteries. For example, there are gigantic bubbles of unknown origin above and below the center of the Milky Way that emit a lot of this high-energy radiation. A new method for imaging, developed at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, now divided the Galactic gamma-radiation into three fundamental components: radiation from point sources, radiation from reactions of energetic protons with dense cold gas clouds, and radiation from electrons scattering light in the thin, hot, Galactic gas. The anatomic insights gained unravel some Galactic mysteries. Thus, it appears that the gamma-ray bubbles are simply outflows of ordinary, hot gas from the central region of the Milky Way.

New all-sky map shows the magnetic fields of the Milky Way with the highest precision

With a unique new all-sky map, scientists at MPA have made significant progress toward measuring the magnetic field structure of the Milky Way in unprecedented detail. Specifically, the map is of a quantity known as Faraday depth, which among other things, depends strongly on the magnetic fields along a particular line of sight. To produce the map, data were combined from more than 41,000 individual measurements using a novel image reconstruction technique. The work was a collaboration between scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), who are specialists in the new discipline of information field theory, and a large international team of radio astronomers. The new map not only reveals the structure of the galactic magnetic field on large scales, but also small-scale features that provide information about urbulence in the galactic gas.

D³PO: Denoising, Deconvolving, and Decomposing Photon Observations

A common problem for scientists analysing astronomical images is the separation of diffuse and point-like components. This analysis has now become easier: scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have recently published the D³PO algorithm, which removes noise effects and instrumental artefacts from the observed images, while simultaneously separating diffuse and point-like contributions.

Resolving the radio sky

Radio astronomers obtain extremely high resolution sky images by using interferometers, instruments where several single radio telescopes are linked together. However, optimal data analysis procedures for such an instrument are significantly more involved than for a single telescope. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have now developed the algorithm RESOLVE which solves a number of outstanding problems in radio imaging.

Data analysis and steam engines

As astronomical telescopes become more and more sensitive, the analysis techniques become ever more sophisticated. But do we need a new theoretical approach for a modern image reconstruction method? Not necessarily, a well-known theory, originally developed for a better understanding of steam engines, does the trick: thermodynamics. Two researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics have now shown that the so called Gibbs energy in thermodynamics, known for more than a century, can be applied to the development of new, optimal imaging techniques.

Mathematics of digital senses: Information Field Theory for signal recognition

The correct interpretation of signals through our senses is not only an essential problem of living creatures, but also of fundamental scientific relevance. Scientists at the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics have shown that mathematical methods from particle physics can be used for developing image reconstruction techniques. These yield optimal results even for incomplete, defective, and distorted data. Information Field Theory, which is used to develop such image reconstruction techniques, provides us with algorithms, i.e. mathematical instructions, for computing complicated perception processes in engineering and science, such as in cosmology.

IFT Introduction

IFT Publications

IFT Applications

IFT Tools

NIFTY, “Numerical Information Field Theory”,

is a versatile library designed to enable the development of signal inference algorithms that operate regardless of the underlying spatial grid and its resolution. Its object-oriented framework is written in Python, although it accesses libraries written in Cython, C++, and C for efficiency.
NIFTY offers a toolkit that abstracts discretized representations of continuous spaces, fields in these spaces, and operators acting on fields into classes. Thereby, the correct normalization of operations on fields is taken care of automatically without concerning the user. This allows for an abstract formulation and programming of inference algorithms, including those derived within information field theory. Thus, NIFTY permits its user to rapidly prototype algorithms in 1D and then apply the developed code in higher-dimensional settings of real world problems. The set of spaces on which NIFTY operates comprises point sets, n-dimensional regular grids, spherical spaces, their harmonic counterparts, and product spaces constructed as combinations of those.

Secondary literature