Analysis of magnetoencephaoographic data as a nonlinear dynamical system

  • Wei L. Woon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis presents the results from an investigation into the merits of analysing Magnetoencephalographic (MEG) data in the context of dynamical systems theory.
MEG is the study of both the methods for the measurement of minute magnetic flux variations at the scalp, resulting from neuro-electric activity in the neocortex, as well as the techniques required to process and extract useful information from these measurements. As a result of its unique mode of action - by directly measuring neuronal activity via the resulting magnetic field fluctuations - MEG possesses a number of useful qualities which could potentially make it a powerful addition to any brain researcher's arsenal. Unfortunately, MEG research has so far failed to fulfil its early promise, being hindered in its progress by a variety of factors.
Conventionally, the analysis of MEG has been dominated by the search for activity in certain spectral bands - the so-called alpha, delta, beta, etc that are commonly referred to in both academic and lay publications. Other efforts have centred upon generating optimal fits of "equivalent current dipoles" that best explain the observed field distribution. Many of these approaches carry the implicit assumption that the dynamics which result in the observed time series are linear. This is despite a variety of reasons which suggest that nonlinearity might be present in MEG recordings. By using methods that allow for nonlinear dynamics, the research described in this thesis avoids these restrictive linearity assumptions.
A crucial concept underpinning this project is the belief that MEG recordings are mere observations of the evolution of the true underlying state, which is unobservable and is assumed to reflect some abstract brain cognitive state. Further, we maintain that it is unreasonable to expect these processes to be adequately described in the traditional way: as a linear sum of a large number of frequency generators. One of the main objectives of this thesis will be to prove that much more effective and powerful analysis of MEG can be achieved if one were to assume the presence of both linear and nonlinear characteristics from the outset. Our position is that the combined action of a relatively small number of these generators, coupled with external and dynamic noise sources, is more than sufficient to account for the complexity observed in the MEG recordings.
Another problem that has plagued MEG researchers is the extremely low signal to noise ratios that are obtained. As the magnetic flux variations resulting from actual cortical processes can be extremely minute, the measuring devices used in MEG are, necessarily, extremely sensitive. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that even commonplace phenomena such as the earth's geomagnetic field can easily swamp signals of interest. This problem is commonly addressed by averaging over a large number of recordings. However, this has a number of notable drawbacks. In particular, it is difficult to synchronise high frequency activity which might be of interest, and often these signals will be cancelled out by the averaging process. Other problems that have been encountered are high costs and low portability of state-of-the- art multichannel machines. The result of this is that the use of MEG has, hitherto, been restricted to large institutions which are able to afford the high costs associated with the procurement and maintenance of these machines. In this project, we seek to address these issues by working almost exclusively with single channel, unaveraged MEG data.
We demonstrate the applicability of a variety of methods originating from the fields of signal processing, dynamical systems, information theory and neural networks, to the analysis of MEG data. It is noteworthy that while modern signal processing tools such as independent component analysis, topographic maps and latent variable modelling have enjoyed extensive success in a variety of research areas from financial time series modelling to the analysis of sun spot activity, their use in MEG analysis has thus far been extremely limited. It is hoped that this work will help to remedy this oversight.
Date of AwardMar 2002
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Lowe (Supervisor)


  • magnetoencephaoographic data
  • nonlinear dynamical system

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