Dynamic patterns of information flow in complex networks

Nat Commun. 2017 Dec 19;8(1):2181. doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-01916-3.


Although networks are extensively used to visualize information flow in biological, social and technological systems, translating topology into dynamic flow continues to challenge us, as similar networks exhibit fundamentally different flow patterns, driven by different interaction mechanisms. To uncover a network's actual flow patterns, here we use a perturbative formalism, analytically tracking the contribution of all nodes/paths to the flow of information, exposing the rules that link structure and dynamic information flow for a broad range of nonlinear systems. We find that the diversity of flow patterns can be mapped into a single universal function, characterizing the interplay between the system's topology and its dynamics, ultimately allowing us to identify the network's main arteries of information flow. Counter-intuitively, our formalism predicts a family of frequently encountered dynamics where the flow of information avoids the hubs, favoring the network's peripheral pathways, a striking disparity between structure and dynamics.