Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, Vol. 19, Iss. 4, October, 2015, pp. 553-568
@2015 Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences


What is Optimum Variability?

David Schuldberg, The University of Montana, Missoula

Abstract: Guastello (2015a) opened the call for articles for this issue with Goldberger (1991) and colleagues” findings of chaotic variability in healthy heart rate, noting, ”the principle of healthy variability has extended to other biomedical and psychological phenomena.” He suggests a dialectical underpinning for optimal variability involving ”a combination of the minimum entropy or free energy principle that pushes in a downward direction, and Ashby”s Law of Requisite Variety that pushes in an upward direction.” Each of the papers in this issue addresses optimal variability across a variety of health-related areas. The present article surveys these seven papers in relation to five conceptual questions about optimal variability: (a) Is variability a positive or a negative, and how are positive things related to health? (b) How shall we define and measure variability? (c) What constitutes an optimum, and how do we locate one? (d) What is the relationship between optimum variability and health? Finally, it touches on (e) What are underlying principles and phenomena behind healthy variability, and can they inform our vocabulary for health? The paper concludes by discussing practical approaches to dealing with optimization.

Keywords: variability, optimality, health, complexity, chaos, homeostasis, nonlinear dynamics, time series