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Neuroscience. 1994 Jun;60(3):587-605.

The brain as a dynamic physical system.

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  • 1Division of Cognitive and Neural Sciences, Office of Naval Research, Arlington, VA 22217.


The brain is a dynamic system that is non-linear at multiple levels of analysis. Characterization of its non-linear dynamics is fundamental to our understanding of brain function. Identifying families of attractors in phase space analysis, an approach which has proven valuable in describing non-linear mechanical and electrical systems, can prove valuable in describing a range of behaviors and associated neural activity including sensory and motor repertoires. Additionally, transitions between attractors may serve as useful descriptors for analysing state changes in neurons and neural ensembles. Recent observations of synchronous neural activity, and the emerging capability to record the spatiotemporal dynamics of neural activity by voltage-sensitive dyes and electrode arrays, provide opportunities for observing the population dynamics of neural ensembles within a dynamic systems context. New developments in the experimental physics of complex systems, such as the control of chaotic systems, selection of attractors, attractor switching and transient states, can be a source of powerful new analytical tools and insights into the dynamics of neural systems.

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