Date: 03 Dec 2009

Bifurcations and state changes in the human alpha rhythm: Theory and experiment

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Despite many decades investigating scalp recordable 8–13-Hz (alpha) electroencephalographic activity, no consensus has yet emerged regarding its physiological origins nor its functional role in cognition. Here we outline a detailed, physiologically meaningful, theory for the genesis of this rhythm that may provide important clues to its functional role. In particular we find that electroencephalographically plausible model dynamics, obtained with physiological admissible parameterisations, reveals a cortex perched on the brink of stability, which when perturbed gives rise to a range of unanticipated complex dynamics that include 40-Hz (gamma) activity. Preliminary experimental evidence, involving the detection of weak nonlinearity in resting EEG using an extension of the well-known surrogate data method, suggests that nonlinear (deterministic) dynamics are more likely to be associated with weakly damped alpha activity. Thus rather than the “alpha rhythm” being an idling rhythm it may be more profitable to conceive it as a readiness rhythm.