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Article Dans Une Revue L'Encéphale Année : 2001

Dynamical paradigm in psychopathology : « Chaos theory », from physics to psychiatry


For the last thirty years, progress in the field of physics, known as "Chaos theory"--or more precisely: non-linear dynamical systems theory--has increased our understanding of complex systems dynamics. This framework's formalism is general enough to be applied in other domains, such as biology or psychology, where complex systems are the rule rather than the exception. Our goal is to show here that this framework can become a valuable tool in scientific fields such as neuroscience and psychiatry where objects possess natural time dependency (i.e. dynamical properties) and non-linear characteristics. The application of non-linear dynamics concepts on these topics is more precise than a loose metaphor and can throw a new light on mental functioning and dysfunctioning. A class of neural networks (recurrent neural networks) constitutes an example of the implementation of the dynamical system concept and provides models of cognitive processes (15). The state of activity of the network is represented in its state space and the time evolution of this state is a trajectory in this space. After a period of time those networks settle on an equilibrium (a kind of attractor). The strength of connections between neurons define the number and relations between those attractors. The attractors of the network are usually interpreted as "mental representations". When an initial condition is imposed to the network, the evolution towards an attractor is considered as a model of information processing (27). This information processing is not defined in a symbolic manner but is a result of the interaction between distributed elements. Several properties of dynamical models can be used to define a way where the symbolic properties emerge from physical and dynamical properties (28) and thus they can be candidates for the definition of the emergence of mental properties on the basis of neuronal dynamics (42). Nevertheless, mental properties can also be considered as the result of an underlying dynamics without explicit mention of the neuronal one (47). In that case, dynamical tools can be used to elucidate the Freudian psychodynamics (34, 35). Recurrent neuronal networks have been used to propose interpretation of several mental dysfunctions (12). For example in the case of schizophrenia, it has been proposed that troubles in the cortical pruning during development (13) may cause a decrease in neural network storage ability and lead to the creation of spurious attractors. Those attractors do not correspond to stored memories and attract a large amount of initial conditions: they were thus associated to reality distorsion observed in schizophrenia (14). Nevertheless, the behavior of these models are too simple to be directly compared with real physiological data. In fact, equilibrium attractors are hardly met in biological dynamics. More complex behaviors (such as oscillations or chaos) should thus to be taken into account. The study of chaotic behavior have lead to the development of numerical methods devoted to the analysis of complex time series (17). These methods may be used to characterise the dynamical processes at the time-scales of both the cerebral dynamics and the clinical symptoms variations. The application of these methods to physiological signals have shown that complex behaviors are related to healthy states whereas simple dynamics are related to pathology (8). These studies have thus confirmed the notion of "dynamical disease" (20, 21) which denotes pathological conditions characterised by changes in physiological rhythms. Depression has been studied within this framework (25, 32) in order to define possible changes in brain electrical rhythms related to this trouble and its evolution. It has been shown that controls' brain dynamics is more complex than depressive one and that the recovery of a complex brain activity depends on the number of previous episodes. In the case of the symptoms time evolution, several studies have demonstrated that non-linear dynamical process may be involved in the recurrence of symptoms in troubles such as manic-depressive illness (9) or schizophrenia (51). These observations can contribute to more parcimonious interpretation of the time course of these illnesses than usual theories. In the search of a relationship between brain dynamics and mental troubles, it has been shown in three depressed patients an important correlation between the characteristics of brain dynamics and the intensity of depressive mood (49). This preliminary observation is in accordance with the emergence hypothesis according which changes in neuronal dynamics should be related to changes in mental processes. We reviewed here some theoretical and experimental results related to the use of "physical" dynamical theory in the field of psychopathology. It has been argued that these applications go beyond metaphor and that they are empirically founded. Nevertheless, these studies only constitute first steps on the way of a cautious development and definition of a "dynamical paradigm" in psychopathology. The introduction of concepts from dynamics such as complexity and dynamical changes (i.e. bifurcations) permits a new perspective on function and dysfunction of the mind/brain and the time evolution of symptoms. Moreover, it offers a ground for the hypothesis of the emergence of mental properties on the basis of neuronal dynamics (42). Since this theory can help to throw light on classical problems in psychopathology, we consider that a precise examination of both its theoretical and empirical consequences is requested to define its validity on this topic.
Depuis une trentaine d’années, certains développements de la physique ont amélioré notre compréhension de la dynamique des systèmes complexes. Connues sous le nom de « Théorie du chaos » – ou plus sobrement : théorie des systèmes dynamiques non-linéaires –, ces avancées possèdent une généralité qui permet d’envisager leur utilisation dans des domaines autres que ceux dans lesquels elles ont vu le jour. Notre objectif est de montrer qu’elles peuvent devenir des outils importants dans des disciplines telles que les neurosciences et la psychiatrie où les phénomènes étudiés possèdent naturellement une inscription temporelle i.e. une dynamique. L’introduction des concepts de la dynamique non-linéaire dans ces disciplines dépasse la simple métaphore et peut fournir à terme un nouvel éclairage du fonctionnement mental et de ses dérèglements. À partir d’exemples tirés de la littérature, nous montrons comment ces nouveaux concepts permettent un renouvellement des façons d’envisager des problèmes classiques comme l’évolution temporelle des symptômes ou la relation entre le cérébral et le mental.
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Dates et versions

hal-03161794 , version 1 (15-04-2021)


  • HAL Id : hal-03161794 , version 1
  • PUBMED : 11488256


Laurent Pezard, Jean-Louis Nandrino. Dynamical paradigm in psychopathology : « Chaos theory », from physics to psychiatry. L'Encéphale, 2001, L'encéphale, 27 (3), pp.260-268. ⟨hal-03161794⟩
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