A major challenge in neuroscience is the identification of brain states that optimize behavioral outcomes in complex and changing environments.  These states have to support at least two apparently contrary demands. On the one hand, subtle control of correlations is necessary for functionally directed computation, in both biological and artificial neural networks. On the other hand, a certain degree of disorder must be allowed to flexibly and rapidly adapt to changing environmental conditions through internal reconfigurations. Numerous empirical evidence has accumulated that the brain might solve these needs for reliable computation and flexible reconfiguration by operating either at or in the vicinity of a critical point.

Amongst those are: 

  • Power-law scaling of neuronal activity patterns over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales that are actively regulated by numerous neurotransmitter systems
  • Anomalous scaling of spatiotemporal correlations in neuronal activity creating fluctuation-dominated activity signatures that emerge at criticality
  • Optimization of numerous aspects of information processing and computation, in theory, modeling, and experiment in line with predictions from criticality
  • Deviations from markers of criticality outside wakefulness and during brain disease

The universality encountered in critical systems confers robustness to system operation and suggests computational principles based on a few fundamental ingredients. Recent advances in selective recording and perturbation approaches involving large populations of neurons offer unique opportunities to test these predictions, challenge current interpretations of large data sets and trigger novel theoretical developments.


Dietmar Plenz

Chief of the Section on Critical Brain Dynamics in the Intramural Research Program at the NIMH (Bethesda, MD).  His laboratory combines electrophysiological and imaging techniques and neural modeling to study the self-organization of neuronal networks.

Lucilla De Arcangelis

Professor of Statistical Physics at the University of Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli” (Aversa, Italy). Her research interests span from percolation, fractals, cellular automata to spin glass, models for fracture. Recently, she has focused on statistical properties of neuronal activity on complex networks.

Dante Chialvo

Professor at Universidad Nacional de San Martin. Together with Per Bak, he put forward concrete mathematical models considering the brain as a critical system. Further work provided experimental evidence for this conjecture both at macro- and micro-scale.

Demian Battaglia

CNRS Researcher at the Institute for Systems Neuroscience at Aix-Marseille University and visiting fellow at University of Strasbourg (France). His research focus on the analysis and modelling of relations between neuronal dynamics and flexible functional interactions.

Previous meetings

  • “Critical brain dynamics: 5th international workshop on criticality and the brain”, NIH Bethesda (MD), October 17th to 19th, 2016
  • “Complex Collective Dynamics: Brains and beyond”, Villa Orlandi, Capri, Italy, August 31st to September 4th, 2015.
  • “The Brain: Criticality, Dynamics, Network and Function”, HLR Labs, Malibu (CA), September 10th to 12th, 2014
  • “The Brain: Criticality, Dynamics, Networks and Function” at Villa Orlandi, Capri (Italy), September 2nd to 7th, 2013.
  • “Criticality in Neural Systems”, NIH Bethesda (MD), USA, 2012
  • “Brain Physics and Mind Dynamics”, Mar del Plata, Argentina, December 4th to 6th, 2006.