How critical is brain criticality?

Trends Neurosci. 2022 Nov;45(11):820-837. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2022.08.007. Epub 2022 Sep 9.


Criticality is the singular state of complex systems poised at the brink of a phase transition between order and randomness. Such systems display remarkable information-processing capabilities, evoking the compelling hypothesis that the brain may itself be critical. This foundational idea is now drawing renewed interest thanks to high-density data and converging cross-disciplinary knowledge. Together, these lines of inquiry have shed light on the intimate link between criticality, computation, and cognition. Here, we review these emerging trends in criticality neuroscience, highlighting new data pertaining to the edge of chaos and near-criticality, and making a case for the distance to criticality as a useful metric for probing cognitive states and mental illness. This unfolding progress in the field contributes to establishing criticality theory as a powerful mechanistic framework for studying emergent function and its efficiency in both biological and artificial neural networks.

Keywords: cognition; complexity; edge of chaos; neuronal avalanche; phase transition; scale-free.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans

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