Foundations of Physics

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 307–336 | Cite as

Chaos and algorithmic complexity

  • Robert W. Batterman
  • Homer White


Our aim is to discover whether the notion of algorithmic orbit-complexity can serve to define “chaos” in a dynamical system. We begin with a mostly expository discussion of algorithmic complexity and certain results of Brudno, Pesin, and Ruelle (BRP theorems) which relate the degree of exponential instability of a dynamical system to the average algorithmic complexity of its orbits. When one speaks of predicting the behavior of a dynamical system, one usually has in mind one or more variables in the phase space that are of particular interest. To say that the system is unpredictable is, roughly, to say that one cannot feasibly determine future values of these variables from an approximation of the initial conditions of the system. We introduce the notions of restrictedexponential instability and conditionalorbit-complexity, and announce a new and rather general result, similar in spirit to the BRP theorems, establishing average conditional orbit-complexity as a lower bound for the degree of restricted exponential instability in a dynamical system. The BRP theorems require the phase space to be compact and metrizable. We construct a noncompact kicked rotor dynamical system of physical interest, and show that the relationship between orbit-complexity and exponential instability fails to hold for this system. We conclude that orbit-complexity cannot serve as a general definition of “chaos.”


Dynamical System Phase Space General Result General Definition Algorithmic Complexity 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert W. Batterman
    • 1
  • Homer White
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbus
  2. 2.Division of Science and MathematicsPikeville CollegePikeville

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