Zhang, M., Kalies, W., Kelso, J., Tognoli, E. (2020). Topological portraits of multiscale coordination dynamics. Journal of Neuroscience Methods https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jneumeth.2020.108672
Living systems exhibit complex yet organized behavior on multiple spatiotemporal scales. To investigate the nature of multiscale coordination in living systems, one needs a meaningful and systematic way to quantify the complex dynamics, a challenge in both theoretical and empirical realms. The present work shows how integrating approaches from computational algebraic topology and dynamical systems may help us meet this challenge. In particular, we focus on the application of multiscale topological analysis to coordinated rhythmic processes. First, theoretical arguments are introduced as to why certain topological features and their scale-dependency are highly relevant to understanding complex collective dynamics. Second, we propose a method to capture such dynamically relevant topological information using persistent homology, which allows us to effectively construct a multiscale topological portrait of rhythmic coordination. Finally, the method is put to test in detecting transitions in real data from an experiment of rhythmic coordination in ensembles of interacting humans. The recurrence plots of topological portraits highlight collective transitions in coordination patterns that were elusive to more traditional methods. This sensitivity to collective transitions would be lost if the behavioral dynamics of individuals were treated as separate degrees of freedom instead of constituents of the topology that they collectively forge. Such multiscale topological portraits highlight collective aspects of coordination patterns that are irreducible to properties of individual parts. The present work demonstrates how the analysis of multiscale coordination dynamics can benefit from topological methods, thereby paving the way for further systematic quantification of complex, high-dimensional dynamics in living systems.