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You are on page 1of 12

Ed. Joseph D. Bronzino

Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC, 2000

59

Complexity, Scaling,

and Fractals in

Biomedical Signals

59.1

Complex Dynamics.

Overcoming the Limits of Newtonian Mathematics Critical

Phenomena: Phase Transitions An Illustration of Critical

Phenomena: Magnetism A Model for Phase Transitions:

Percolation Self-Organized Criticality Dynamics at the

Edge of Chaos

59.2

Drexel University

Joseph P. Cammarota

Naval Air Warfare Center,

Aircraft Division

Fractal Preliminaries Mathematical and Natural Fractals

Fractal Measures Power Law and 1/f Processes

Distributed Relaxation Processes Multifractals

Banu Onaral

59.3

in the Development of a Model of the Central

Nervous System

Complexity, a contemporary theme embraced by physical as well as social sciences, is concerned with the

collective behavior observed in composite systems in which long-range order is induced by short-range

interactions of the constituent parts. Complex forms and functions abound in nature. Particularly in

biology and physiology, branched, nested, granular, or otherwise richly packed, irregular, or disordered

objects are the rule rather than the exception. Similarly ubiquitous are distributed, broad-band phenomena that appear to fluctuate randomly. The rising science of complexity holds the promise to lead to

powerful tools to analyze, model, process, and control the global behavior of complex biomedical systems.

The basic tenets of the complexity theory rest on the revelation that large classes of complex systems

(composed of a multitude of richly interacting components) are reducible to simple rules. In particular,

the structure and dynamics of complex systems invariably exist or evolve over a multitude of spatial and

temporal scales. Moreover, they exhibit a systematic relationship between scales. From the biomedical

engineering standpoint, the worthwhile outcome is the ability to characterize these intricate objects and

processes in terms of straightforward scaling and fractal concepts and measures that often can be

translated into simple iterative rules. In this sense, the set of concepts and tools, emerging under the

rubric of complexity, complements the prediction made by the chaos theory that simple (low-order

deterministic) systems may generate complex behavior.

In their many incarnations, the concepts of complexity and scaling are playing a refreshingly unifying

role among diverse scientific pursuits; therein lie compelling opportunities for scientific discoveries and

technical innovations. Since these advances span a host of disciplines, hence different scientific languages,

cultures, and dissemination media, finding ones path has become confusing. One of the aims of this

presentation is to serve as a resource for key literature. We hope to guide the reader toward substantial

contributions and away from figments of fascination in the popular press that have tended to stretch

emerging concepts ahead of the rigorous examination of evidence and the scientific verification of facts.

This chapter is organized in three mains parts. The first part is intended to serve as a primer for the

fundamental aspects of the complexity theory. An overview of the attendant notions of scaling theories

constitutes the core of the second part. In the third part, we illustrate the potential of the complexity

approach by presenting an application to predict acceleration-induced loss of consciousness in pilots.

There exists a class of systems in which very complex spatial and temporal behavior is produced through

the rich interactions among a large number of local subsystems. Complexity theory is concerned with

systems that have many degrees of freedom (composite systems), are spatially extended (systems with

both spatial and temporal degrees of freedom), and are dissipative as well as nonlinear due to the interplay

among local components (agents). In general, such systems exhibit emergent global behavior. This means

that macroscopic characteristics cannot be deduced from the microscopic characteristics of the elementary components considered in isolation. The global behavior emerges from the interactions of the local

dynamics.

Complexity theories draw their power from recognition that the behavior of a complex dynamic system

does not, in general, depend on the physical particulars of the local elements but rather on how they

interact to collectively (cooperatively or competitively) produce the globally observable behavior. The

local agents of a complex dynamic system interact with their neighbors through a set of usually (very)

simple rules.

The emergent global organization that occurs through the interplay of the local agents arises without

the intervention of a central controller. That is, there is self-organization, a spontaneous emergence of

global order. Long-range correlations between local elements are not explicitly defined in such models,

but they are induced through local interactions. The global organization also may exert a top-down

influence on the local elements, providing feedback between the macroscopic and microscopic structures

[Forrest, 1990] (Fig. 59.1).

Linearity, as well as the inherent predictive ability, was an important factor in the success of Newtonian

mechanics. If a linear system is perturbed by a small amount, then the system response will change by

a proportionally small amount. In nonlinear systems, however, if the system is perturbed by a small

amount, the response could be no change, a small change, a large change, oscillations (limit cycle), or

FIGURE 59.1

chaotic behavior. The response depends on the state of the system at the time it was perturbed. Since

most of nature is nonlinear, the key to success in understanding nature lies in embracing this nonlinearity.

Another feature found in linear systems is the property of superposition. Superposition means that the

whole is equal to the sum of the parts. All the properties of a linear system can be understood through

the analysis of each of its parts. This is not the case for complex systems, where the interaction among

simple local elements can produce complex emergent global behavior.

Complexity theory stands in stark contrast to a purely reductionist approach that would seek to explain

global behavior by breaking down the system into its most elementary components. The reductionist

approach is not guaranteed to generate knowledge about the behavior of a complex system, since it is

likely that the information about the local interactions (which determine the global behavior) will not

be revealed in such an analysis. For example, knowing everything there is to know about a single ant will

reveal nothing about why an ant colony is capable of such complex behaviors as waging war, farming,

husbandry, and the ability to quickly adapt to changing environmental conditions. The approach that

complexity theory proposes is to look at the system as a whole and not merely as a collection of irreducible

parts.

Complexity research depends on digital computers for simulation of interactions. Cellular automata

(one of the principal tools of complexity) have been constructed to model sand piles, earthquakes, traffic

patterns, satellite communication networks, evolution, molecular autocatalysis, forest fires, and species

interactions (among others) [Toffoli & Margoulis, 1987]. We note here that complexity is building on,

and in some cases unifying, developments made in the fields of chaotic dynamics [Devaney, 1992], critical

phenomena, phase transitions, renormalization [Wilson, 1983], percolation [Stauffer & Aharony, 1992],

neural networks [Harvey, 1994; Simpson, 1990], genetic algorithms [Goldberg, 1989] and artificial life

[Langton, 1989; Langton et al., 1992].

For the purpose of this discussion, a phase transition can be defined as any abrupt change between the

physical and/or dynamic states of a system. The most familiar examples of phase transitions are between

the fundamental stages of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Phase transitions are also used to define

other changes in matter, such as changes in the crystalline structure or state of magnetism. There are

also phase transitions in the dynamics of systems from ordered (fixed-point and limit-cycle stability) to

disordered (chaos). Determining the state of matter is not always straightforward. Sometimes the apparent

state of matter changes when the scale of the observation (macroscopic versus microscopic) is changed.

A critical point is a special case of phase transitions where order and disorder are intermixed at all scales

[Wilson, 1983]. At criticality, all spatial and temporal features become scale invariant or self-similar.

Magnetism is a good example of this phenomenon.

The atoms of a ferromagnetic substance have more electrons with spins in one direction than in the

other, resulting in a net magnetic field for the atom as a whole. The individual magnetic fields of the

atoms tend to line up in one direction, with the result that there is a measurable level of magnetism in

the material. At a temperature of absolute zero, all the atomic dipoles are perfectly aligned. At normal

room temperature, however, some of the atoms are not aligned to the global magnetic field due to thermal

fluctuations. This creates small regions that are nonmagnetic, although the substance is still magnetic.

Spatial renormalization, or coarse graining, is the process of averaging the microscopic properties of the

substance over a specified range in order to replace the multiple elements with a single equivalent element.

If measurements of the magnetic property were taken at a very fine resolution (without renormalization), there would be some measurements that detect small pockets of nonmagnetism, although most

measurements would indicate that the substance was magnetic. As the scale of the measurements is

increased, i.e., spatially renormalized, the small pockets of nonmagnetism would be averaged out and

would not be measurable. Therefore, measurements at the larger scale would indicate that the substance

is magnetic, thereby decreasing its apparent temperature and making the apparent magnetic state dependent on the resolution of the measurements. The situation is similar (but reversed) at high temperatures.

That is, spatial renormalization results in apparently higher temperatures, since microscopic islands of

magnetism are missed because of the large areas of disorder in the material.

At the Curie temperature there is long-range correlation in both the magnetic and nonmagnetic

regions. The distribution of magnetic and nonmagnetic regions is invariant under the spatial renormalization transform. These results are independent of the scale at which the measure is taken, and the

apparent temperature does not change under the renormalization transform. This scale invariance (selfsimilarity) occurs at only three temperatures: absolute zero, infinity, and the Curie temperature. The

Curie temperature represents a critical point (criticality) in the tuning parameter (temperature) that

governs the phase transition from a magnetic to a nonmagnetic state [Pietgen & Richter, 1986].

A percolation model is created by using a simple regular geometric framework and by establishing simple

interaction rules among the elements on the grid. Yet these models give rise to very complex structures

and relationships that can be described by using scaling concepts such as fractals and power laws. A

percolation model can be constructed on any regular infinite n-dimensional lattice [Stauffer & Aharony,

1992]. For simplicity, the example discussed here will use a two-dimensional finite square grid. In site

percolation, each node in the grid has only two states, occupied or vacant. The nodes in the lattice are

populated-based on a uniform probability distribution, independent of the sate of any other node. The

probability of a node being occupied is p (and thus the probability of a node being vacant is 1 p).

Nodes that are neighbors on the grid link together to form clusters (Fig. 59.2).

FIGURE 59.2

A percolation network.

Clusters represent connections between nodes in the lattice. Anything associated with the cluster can

therefore travel (flow) to any node that belongs to the cluster. Percolation can describe the ability of

water to flow through a porous medium such as igneous rock, oil fields, or finely ground Colombian

coffee. As the occupation probability increases, the clusters of the percolation network grow from local

connectedness to global connectedness [Feder, 1988]. At the critical occupation probability, a cluster that

spans the entire lattice emerges. It is easy to see how percolation could be used to describe such phenomena

as phase transitions by viewing occupied nodes as ordered matter, with vacant nodes representing

disordered matter. Percolation networks have been used to model magnetism, forest fires, and the

permeability of ion channels in cell membranes.

Self-Organized Criticality

The concept of self-organized criticality has been introduced as a possible underlying principle of

complexity [Bak et al., 1988; Bak & Chen, 1991]. The class of self-organized critical systems is spatially

extended, composite, and dissipative with many locally interacting degrees of freedom. These systems

have the capability to naturally evolve (i.e., there is no explicit tuning parameter such as temperature or

pressure) toward a critical state.

Self-organized criticality is best illustrated by a sand pile. Start with a flat plate. Begin to add sand one

grain at a time. The mound will continue to grow until criticality is reached. This criticality is dependent

only on the local interactions among the grains of sand. The local slope determines what will happen if

another grain of sand is added. If the local slope is below the criticality (i.e., flat) the new grain of sand

will stay put and increase the local slope. If the local slope is at the criticality, then adding the new grain

of sand will increase the slope beyond the criticality, causing it to collapse. The collapsing grains of sand

spread to adjoining areas. If those areas are at the criticality, then the avalanche will continue until local

areas with slopes below the criticality are reached. Long-range correlations (up to the length of the sand

pile) may emerge from the interactions of the local elements. Small avalanches are very common, while

large avalanches are rare. The size (and duration) of the avalanche plotted against the frequency of

occurrence of the avalanche can be described by a power law [Bak et al., 1988]. The sand pile seeks the

criticality on its own. The slope in the sand pile will remain constant regardless of even the largest

avalanches. These same power laws are observed in traffic patterns, earthquakes, and many other complex

phenomena.

The dynamics of systems can be divided into several categories. Dynamic systems that exhibit a fixedpoint stability will return to their initial state after being perturbed. A periodic evolution of states will

result from a system that exhibits a limit-cycle stability. Either of these systems may display a transient

evolution of states before the stable regions are reached. Dynamic systems also may exhibit chaotic

behavior. The evolution of states associated with chaotic behavior is aperiodic, well-bounded, and very

sensitive to initial conditions and resembles noise but is completely deterministic [Tsonis & Tsonis, 1989].

The criticality that lies between highly ordered and highly disordered dynamics has been referred to

as the edge of chaos [Langton, 1990] and is analogous to a phase transition between states of matter,

where the highly ordered system can be thought of as a solid and the highly disordered system a liquid.

The edge of chaos is the critical boundary between order and chaos. If the system dynamics are stagnant

(fixed-point stability, highly ordered system), then there is no mechanism for change. The system cannot

adapt and evolve because new states cannot be encoded into the system. If the system dynamics are

chaotic (highly disordered), then the system is in a constant state of flux, and there is no memory, no

learning, and no adaptation (some of the main qualities associated with life). Systems may exhibit

transients in the evolution of states before settling down into either fixed-point or limit-cycle behavior.

As the dynamics of a complex system enter the edge of chaos region, the length of these transients quickly

grows. The chaotic region is where the length of the transient is infinite. At the edge of chaos (the

dynamic phase transition) there is no characteristic scale due to the emergence of arbitrarily long

correlation lengths in space and time [Langton, 1990]. The self-organized criticality in the sand piles of

Per Bak is an example of a system that exists at the edge of chaos. It is in this region that there is no

characteristic space or time scale. A single grain of sand added to the pile could cause an avalanche that

consists of two grains of sand, or it could cause an avalanche that spreads over the entire surface of the

sand pile.

Prior to the rise of complexity theories, the existence of a systematic relationship between scales eluded

the mainstream sciences. As a consequence, natural structures and dynamics have been commonly

dismissed as too irregular and complex and often rejected as monstrous formations, intractable noise,

or artifacts. The advent of scaling concepts [Mandelbrot, 1983] has uncovered a remarkable hierarchical

order that persists over a significant number of spatial or temporal scales.

Scaling theories capitalize on scale-invariant symmetries exhibited by many natural broadband (i.e.,

multiscale) phenomena. According to the theory of self-organized criticality (see Section 59.1), this scaling

order is a manifestation of dilation (compression) symmetries that define the organization inherent to

complex systems which naturally evolve toward a critical state while dissipating energies on broad ranges

of space and time scales. Long overlooked, this symmetry is now added to the repertoire of mathematical

modeling concepts, which had included approaches based largely on displacement invariances under

translation and/or rotation.

Many natural forms and functions maintain some form of exact or statistical invariance under transformations of scale and thus belong in the scaling category. Objects and processes that remain invariant

under ordinary geometric similarity constitute the self-similar subset in this class.

Methods to capture scaling information in the form of simple rules that relate features on different

scales are actively developed in many scientific fields [Barnsley, 1993]. Engineers are coping with scaling

nature of forms and functions by investigating multiscale system theory [Basseville et al., 1992], multiresolution and multirate signal processing [Akansu & Hadad, 1992; Vaidyanathan, 1993], subband coding,

wavelets, and filter banks [Meyer, 1993], and fractal compression [Barnsley & Hurd, 1993].

These emerging tools empower engineers to reexamine old data and to re-formulate the question at

the root of many unresolved inverse problemsWhat can small patterns say about large patterns, and

vice versa? They also offer the possibility to establish cause-effect relationships between a given physical

(spatial) medium and the monitored dynamic (temporal) behavior that constitutes the primary preoccupation of diagnostic scientists.

Fractal Preliminaries

In the broadest sense, the noun or adjective fractal refers to physical objects or dynamic processes that

reveal new details on space or time magnification. A staple of a truly fractal object or process is therefore

the lack of characteristic scale in time or space. Most structures in nature are broadband over a finite

range, covering at least a number of frequency decades in space or time. Scaling fractals often consist of

a hierarchy or heterarchy of spatial or temporal structures in cascade and are often accomplished through

recursive replication of patterns at finer scales. If the replication rule preserves scale invariance throughout

the entity, such fractals are recognized as self-similar in either an exact or a statistical sense.

A prominent feature of fractals is their ability to pack structure with economy of resources, whether

energy, space, or whatever other real estate. Fitting nearly infinite networks into finite spaces is just one

such achievement. These types of fractals are pervasive in physiology, i.e., the branching patterns of the

bronchi, the cardiovascular tree, and the nervous tissue [West and Goldberger, 1987], which have the

additional feature of being fault tolerant [West, 1990].

Despite expectations heightened by the colorful publicity campaign mounted by promoters of fractal

concepts, it is advisable to view fractals only as a starting approximation in analyzing scaling shapes and

2000 by CRC Press LLC

fluctuations in nature. Fractal concepts are usually descriptive at a phenomenologic level without pretense

to reveal the exact nature of the underlying elementary processes. They do not offer, for that matter,

conclusive evidence of whatever particular collective, coupled, or isolated repetitive mechanism that

created the fractal object.

In many situations, the power of invoking fractal concepts resides in the fact that they bring the logic

of constraints, whether in the form of asymmetry of motion caused by defects, traps, energy barriers,

residual memories, irreversibility, or any other appropriate interaction or coupling mechanisms that

hinder free random behavior. As discussed earlier, the spontaneous or forced organization and the ensuing

divergence in correlations and coherences that emerges out of random behavior are presumably responsible for the irregular structures pervasive throughout the physical world.

More important, the versatility of fractal concepts as a magnifying tool is rooted in the facility to

account for scale hierarchies and/or scale invariances in an exact or statistical sense. In the role of a scale

microscope, they suggest a fresh look, with due respect to all scales of significance, at many structural

and dynamic problems deemed thus far anomalous or insoluble.

The history of mathematics is rife with pathologic constructions of the iterated kind which defy the

euclidian dimension concepts. The collection once included an assortment of anomalous dust sets, lines,

surfaces, volumes, and other mathematical miscellenia mostly born out of the continuous yet nondifferentiable category of functions such as the Weierstrass series.

The feature unifying these mathematical creations with natural fractals is the fractional or integer

dimensions distinct from the euclidian definition. Simply stated, a fractional dimension positions an

object in between two integer dimensions in the euclidian sense, best articulated by the critical dimension

in the Hausdorff-Besicovith derivation [Feder, 1988]. When this notion of dimension is pursued to the

extreme and the dimension reaches an integer value, one is confronted with the counterintuitive reality

of space-filling curves, volume-filling planes, etc. These objects can be seen readily to share intrinsic

scaling properties with the nearly infinite networks accomplished by the branching patterns of bronchi

and blood vessels and the intricate folding of the cortex.

A rewarding outcome afforded by the advent of scaling concepts is the ability to characterize such

structures in terms of straightforward scaling or dimension measures. From these, simple iterative

rules may be deduced to yield models with maximum economy (or minimum number) or parameters

[Barnsley, 1993]. This principle is suspected to underlie the succinct, coding adopted by nature in order

to store extensive information needed to create complex shapes and forms.

Fractal Measures

The measure most often used in the diagnosis of a fractal is the basic fractal dimension, which, in the

true spirit of fractals, has eluded a rigorous definition embracing the entire family of fractal objects. The

guiding factor in the choice of the appropriate measures is the recognition that most fractal objects scale

self-similarly; in other words, they can be characterized by a measure expressed in the form of a power

factor, or scaling exponent , that links the change in the observed dependent quantity V to the independent variable x as V(x) x [Falconer, 1990, p 36]. Clearly, is proportional to the ratio of the

logarithm of V(x) and x, i.e., = log V(x)/log x. In the case of fractal objects, is the scaling exponent

in the fractal sense and may have a fractional value. In the final analysis, most scaling relationships can

be cast into some form of a logarithmic dependence on the independent variable with respect to which

a scaling property is analyzed, the latter also expressed on the logarithmic scale. A number of dimension

formulas have been developed based on this observation, and comprehensive compilations are now

available [Falconer, 1990; Feder, 1988].

One approach to formalize the concept of scale invariance utilizes the homogeneity or the renormalization principle given by f () = f (a)/b, where a and b are constants and is the independent variable

[West & Goldberger, 1987]. The function f that satisfies this relationship is referred as a scaling function.

The power-law function f () is a prominent example in this category provided = log b/log a. The

usefulness of this particular scaling function has been proven many times over in many areas of science,

including the thermodynamics of phase transitions and the threshold behavior of percolation networks

[Schroeder, 1991; Stauffer & Aharony, 1992; Wilson, 1983].

The revived interest in power-law behavior largely stems from the recognition that a large class of noisy

signals exhibits spectra that attenuate with a fractional power dependence on frequency [West &

Shlesinger, 1989; Wornell, 1993]. Such behavior is often viewed as a manifestation of the interplay of a

multitude of local processes evolving on a spectrum of time scales that collectively give rise to the socalled 1/f or, more generally, the 1/f-type behavior. As in the case of spatial fractals that lack a characteristic length scale, 1/f processes such as the fractional brownian motion cannot be described adequately

within the confines of a characteristic time scale and hence exhibit the fractal time property [Mandelbrot, 1967].

Since the later part of the nineteenth century, the fractional power function dependence of the frequency

spectrum also has been recognized as a macroscopic dynamic property manifested by strongly interacting

dielectric, viscoelastic, and magnetic materials and interfaces between different conducting materials

[Daniel, 1967]. More recently, the 1/f-type dynamic behavior has been observed in percolating networks

composed of random mixtures of conductors and insulators and layered wave propagation in heterogeneous media [Orbach, 1986]. In immittance (impedance or admittance) studies, this frequency dispersion

has been analyzed conventionally to distinguish a broad class of the so-called anomalous, i.e., nonexponential, relaxation/dispersion systems from those which can be described by the ideal single exponential

form due to Debye [Daniel, 1967].

The fractal time or the multiplicity of times scales prevalent in distributed relaxation systems necessarily

translates into fractional constitutive models amenable to analysis by fractional calculus [Ross, 1977] and

fractional state-space methods [Bagley & Calico, 1991]. This corresponds to logarithmic distribution

functions ranging in symmetry from the log-normal with even center symmetry at one extreme to singlesided hyperbolic distributions with diverging moments at the other. The realization that systems that do

not possess a characteristic time can be described in terms of distributions renewed the interest in the

field of dispersion/relaxation analysis. Logarithmic distribution functions have been used conventionally

as means to characterize such complexity [West, 1994].

Multifractals

Fractal objects and processes in nature are rarely strictly homogeneous in their scaling properties and

often display a distribution of scaling exponents that echos the structural heterogeneities occurring at a

myriad of length or time scales. In systems with spectra that attenuate following a pure power law over

extended frequency scales, as in the case of Davidson-Cole dispersion [Daniel, 1967], the corresponding

distribution of relaxation times is logarithmic and single-tailed. In many natural relaxation systems,

however, the spectral dimension exhibits a gradual dependence on frequency, as in phenomena conventionally modeled by the Cole-Cole type dispersion. The equivalent distribution functions exhibit doublesided symmetries on the logarithmic relaxation time scale ranging from the even symmetry of the lognormal through intermediate symmetries down to strictly one-sided functions.

The concept that a fractal structure can be composed of fractal subsets with uniform scaling property

within the subset has gained popularity in recent years [Feder, 1988]. From this perspective, one may

view a complicated fractal object, say, the strange attractor of a chaotic process, as a superposition of

simple fractal subsystems. The idea has been formalized under the term multifractal. It follows that

each individual member contributes to the overall scaling behavior according to a spectrum of scaling

exponents or dimensions. The latter function is called the multifractal spectrum and summarizes the

global scaling information of the complete set.

Development of a Model of the Central Nervous System

Consciousness can be viewed as an emergent behavior arising from the interactions among a very large

number of local agents, which, in this case, range from electrons through neurons and glial cells to

networks of neurons. The hierarchical organization of the brain [Churchland & Sejnowski, 1992; Newell,

1990], which exists and evolves on a multitude of spatial and temporal scales, is a good example of the

scaling characteristics found in many complex dynamic systems. There is no master controller for this

emergent behavior, which results from the intricate interactions among a very large number of local

agents.

A model that duplicates the global dynamics of the induction of unconsciousness in humans due to

cerebral ischemia produced by linear acceleration stress (G-LOC) was constructed using some of the

tenets of complexity [Cammarota, 1994]. It was an attempt to provide a theory that could both replicate

historical human acceleration tolerance data and present a possible underlying mechanism. The model

coupled the realization that an abrupt loss of consciousness could be thought of as a phase transition

from consciousness to unconsciousness with the proposed neurophysiologic theory of G-LOC [Whinnery,

1989]. This phase transition was modeled using a percolation network to evaluate the connectivity of

neural pathways within the central nervous system.

In order to construct the model, several hypotheses had to be formulated to account for the unobservable interplay among the local elements of the central nervous system. The inspiration for the

characteristics of the locally interacting elements (the nodes of the percolation lattice) was provided by

the physiologic mechanism of arousal (the all-or-nothing aspect of consciousness), the utilization of

oxygen in neural tissue during ischemia, and the response of neural cells to metabolic threats. The

neurophysiologic theory of acceleration tolerance views unconsciousness as an active protective mechanism that is triggered by a metabolic threat which in this case is acceleration-induced ischemia. The

interplay among the local systems is determined by using a percolation network that models the connectivity of the arousal mechanism (the reticular activating system). When normal neuronal function is

suppressed due to local cerebral ischemia, the corresponding node is removed from the percolation

network. The configuration of the percolation network varies as a function of time. When the network

is no longer able to support arousal, unconsciousness results.

The model simulated a wide range of human data with a high degree of fidelity. It duplicated the

population response (measured as the time it took to lose consciousness) over a range of stresses that

varied from a simulation of the acute arrest of cerebral circulation to a gradual application of acceleration

stress. Moreover, the model was able to offer a possible unified explanation for apparently contradictory

historical data. An analysis of the parameters responsible for the determination of the time of LOC

indicated that there is a phase transition in the dynamics that was not explicitly incorporated into the

construction of the model. The model spontaneously captured an interplay of the cardiovascular and

neurologic systems that could not have been predicted based on existing data.

The keys to the models success are the reasonable assumptions that were made about the characteristics

and interaction of the local dynamic subsystems through the integration of a wide range of human and

animal physiologic data in the design of the model. None of the local parameters was explicitly tuned to

produce the global (input-output) behavior. By successfully duplicating the observed global behavior of

humans under acceleration stress, however, this model provided insight into some (currently) unobservable inner dynamics of the central nervous system. Furthermore, the model suggests new experimental

protocols specifically aimed at exploring further the microscopic interplay responsible for the macroscopic

(observable) behavior.

Defining Terms

1/f process: Signals or systems that exhibit spectra which attenuate following a fractional power dependence on frequency.

Cellular automata: Composite discrete-time and discrete space dynamic systems defined on a regular

lattice. Neighborhood rules determine the state transitions of the individual local elements (cells).

Chaos: A state the produces a signal that resembles noise and is aperiodic, well-bounded, and very

sensitive to initial conditions but is governed by a low-order deterministic differential or difference

equation.

Complexity: Complexity theory is concerned with systems that have many degrees of freedom (composite systems), are spatially extended (systems with both spatial and temporal degrees of freedom),

and are dissipative as well as nonlinear due to the rich interactions among the local components

(agents). Some of the terms associated with such systems are emergent global behavior, collective

behavior, cooperative behavior, self-organization, critical phenomena, and scale invariance.

Criticality: A state of a system where spatial and/or temporal characteristics are scale invariant.

Emergent global behavior: The observable behavior of a system that cannot be deduced from the

properties of constituent components considered in isolation and results from the collective (cooperative or competitive) evolution of local events.

Fractal: Refers to physical objects or dynamic processes that reveal new details on space or time

magnification. Fractals lack a characteristic scale.

Fractional brownian motion: A generalization of the random function created by the record of the

motion of a brownian particle executing random walk. Brownian motion is commonly used to

model diffusion in constraint-free media. Fractional brownian motion is often used to model

diffusion of particles in constrained environments or anomalous diffusion.

Percolation: A simple mathematical construct commonly used to measure the extent of connectedness

in a partially occupied (site percolation) or connected (bond percolation) lattice structure.

Phase transition: Any abrupt change between the physical and/or the dynamic states of a system,

usually between ordered and disordered organization or behavior.

Renormalization: Changing the characteristic scale of a measurement though a process of systematic

averaging applied to the microscopic elements of a system (also referred to as coarse graining).

Scaling: Structures or dynamics that maintain some form of exact or statistical invariance under

transformations of scale.

Self-organization: The spontaneous emergence of order. This occurs without the direction of a global

controller.

Self-similarity: A subset of objects and processes in the scaling category that remain invariant under

ordinary geometric similarity.

References

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Bagley R, Calico R. 1991. Fractional order state equations for the control of viscoelastic damped structures.

J Guidance 14(2):304.

Bak P, Tang C, Wiesenfeld K. 1988. Self-organized criticality. Phys Rev A 38(1):364.

Bak P, Chen K. 1991. Self-organized. Sci Am Jan:45.

Barnsley MF. 1993. Fractals Everywhere, 2d ed. New York, Academic Press.

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