Multifractal Dynamics in the Emergence of Cognitive Structure


should be sent to Damian G. Stephen, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, 3 Blackfan Circle, Floor 5, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail:


The complex-systems approach to cognitive science seeks to move beyond the formalism of information exchange and to situate cognition within the broader formalism of energy flow. Changes in cognitive performance exhibit a fractal (i.e., power-law) relationship between size and time scale. These fractal fluctuations reflect the flow of energy at all scales governing cognition. Information transfer, as traditionally understood in the cognitive sciences, may be a subset of this multiscale energy flow. The cognitive system exhibits not just a single power-law relationship between fluctuation size and time scale but actually exhibits many power-law relationships, whether over time or space. This change in fractal scaling, that is, multifractality, provides new insights into changes in energy flow through the cognitive system. We survey recent findings demonstrating the role of multifractality in (a) understanding atypical developmental outcomes, and (b) predicting cognitive change. We propose that multifractality provides insights into energy flows driving the emergence of cognitive structure.