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Yale J Biol Med. 2002 Sep-Dec;75(5-6):247-60.

Nonlinear systems in medicine.

Author information

  • 1Cardiology Section, Noninvasive Cardiac Laboratories, VA Boston Healthcare System, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02132, USA. John.Higgins@med.va.gov

Abstract

Many achievements in medicine have come from applying linear theory to problems. Most current methods of data analysis use linear models, which are based on proportionality between two variables and/or relationships described by linear differential equations. However, nonlinear behavior commonly occurs within human systems due to their complex dynamic nature; this cannot be described adequately by linear models. Nonlinear thinking has grown among physiologists and physicians over the past century, and non-linear system theories are beginning to be applied to assist in interpreting, explaining, and predicting biological phenomena. Chaos theory describes elements manifesting behavior that is extremely sensitive to initial conditions, does not repeat itself and yet is deterministic. Complexity theory goes one step beyond chaos and is attempting to explain complex behavior that emerges within dynamic nonlinear systems. Nonlinear modeling still has not been able to explain all of the complexity present in human systems, and further models still need to be refined and developed. However, nonlinear modeling is helping to explain some system behaviors that linear systems cannot and thus will augment our understanding of the nature of complex dynamic systems within the human body in health and in disease states.

PMID:
14580107
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2588816
Free PMC Article
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