I was wondering if there was an intuitive way to understand what a sequential Monte Carlo Markov Chain is. It also goes by the name of particle filtering. Is there an intuitive way to think about it/teach it to someone? Thanks!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Can you be more precise? For instance point out the entries you have read so far and explain why it is not sufficiently intuitive. I acknowledge the Wikipedia page is too advanced for most readers, but Nando de Freitas has Matlab codes on line that could help you. And the on-line course of Arnaud Doucet for the MLSS 2012 is quite accessible. $\endgroup$
    – Xi'an
    Sep 14, 2015 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ Did you perhaps mean 'sequential Monte Carlo' rather than 'sequential Monte Carlo Markov Chain'? Otherwise, do you have a reference for the term 'sequential Monte Carlo Markov Chain'? $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2015 at 9:59

1 Answer 1


The term is "Markov Chain Monte Carlo" and it is a technique used for approximating expectations/integrals involving probability distributions that are difficult to sample from.

Monte Carlo methods require sampling to approximate expectations. The Markov Chain is the tool used to sample. In particular this method is used when one has access to a non normalized probability mass/density function.

A Markov Chain is a probabilistic model for movement on a graph. I will let you look up the details. Consider a random walk on a Markov Chain with states $X_0, X_1, \dots$. Suppose we start the walk at state $s$. Now consider:

$$ P(X_n = t | X_0 = s). $$

When $n$ is small this depends greatly on the starting state, but as $n$ goes to infinity (under reasonable Markov Chain assumptions that I'll let you look up) this converges to a distribution that does not depend on $s$.

In MCMC we construct a Markov Chain whose stationary distribution is the distribution we're trying to sample from. Then a sufficiently long random walk on that Markov Chain closely resembles drawing samples from that distribution. The construction of this Markov Chain is too involved for this post, but you can look up Metropolis Hastings. I hope this helped with the intuition.


My apologies. The word sequential didn't give me the sense that this was a separate idea (there are many sequences in MCMC already). As it appears that MCMC is a common technique used in sequential MC, I will leave this answer up.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer does not seem to be related to particle filters / sequential Monte Carlo. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2015 at 9:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.