HBBL member Mengsen Zhang successfully defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “the Coordination Dynamics of Multiple Agents” on October 12th 2018.
Abstract: A fundamental question in Complexity Science is how numerous dynamic processes coordinate with each other on multiple levels of description to form a complex whole — a multiscale coordinative structure (e.g. a community of interacting people, organs, cells, molecules etc.). This dissertation includes a series of empirical, theoretical and methodological studies of rhythmic coordination between multiple agents to uncover dynamic principles underlying multiscale coordinative structures. First, a new experimental paradigm was developed for studying coordination at multiple levels of description in intermediate-sized (N = 8) ensembles of humans. Based on this paradigm, coordination dynamics in 15 ensembles was examined experimentally, where the diversity of subjects movement frequency was manipulated to induce different grouping behavior. Phase coordination between subjects was found to be metastable with inphase and antiphase tendencies. Higher frequency diversity led to segregation between frequency groups, reduced intragroup coordination, and dispersion of dyadic phase relations (i.e. relations at different levels of description). Subsequently, a model was developed, successfully capturing these observations. The model reconciles the Kuramoto and the extended Haken-Kelso-Bunz model (for large- and small-scale coordination respectively) by adding the second-order coupling from the latter to the former. The second order coupling is indispensable in capturing experimental observations and connects behavioral complexity (i.e. multistability) of coordinative structures across scales. Both the experimental and theoretical studies revealed multiagent metastable coordination as a powerful mechanism for generating complex spatiotemporal patterns. Coexistence of multiple phase relations gives rise to many topologically distinct metastable patterns with different degrees of complexity. Finally, a new data-analytic tool was developed to quantify complex metastable patterns based on their topological features. The recurrence of topological features revealed important structures and transitions in high-dimensional dynamic patterns that eluded its non-topological counterparts. Taken together, the work has paved the way for a deeper understanding of multiscale coordinative structures.