Separating the internal and external dynamics of complex systems
The observable behavior of a complex system reflects the mechanisms governing the internal interactions between the system’s components and the effect of external perturbations. Here we show that by capturing the simultaneous activity of several of the system’s components we can separate the internal dynamics from the external fluctuations. The method allows us to systematically determine the origin of fluctuations in various real systems, finding that while the Internet and the computer chip have robust internal dynamics, highway and Web traffic are driven by external demand. As multichannel measurements are becoming the norm in most fields, the method could help uncover the collective dynamics of a wide array of complex systems.