A simple method for detecting chaos in nature.

Toker, D, Sommer FT, D'Esposito M.  2020.  A simple method for detecting chaos in nature., 2020. Communications biology. 3:11.


Chaos, or exponential sensitivity to small perturbations, appears everywhere in nature. Moreover, chaos is predicted to play diverse functional roles in living systems. A method for detecting chaos from empirical measurements should therefore be a key component of the biologist's toolkit. But, classic chaos-detection tools are highly sensitive to measurement noise and break down for common edge cases, making it difficult to detect chaos in domains, like biology, where measurements are noisy. However, newer tools promise to overcome these limitations. Here, we combine several such tools into an automated processing pipeline, and show that our pipeline can detect the presence (or absence) of chaos in noisy recordings, even for difficult edge cases. As a first-pass application of our pipeline, we show that heart rate variability is not chaotic as some have proposed, and instead reflects a stochastic process in both health and disease. Our tool is easy-to-use and freely available.