TypeOnline Course
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Certificate60% of quiz marks

Nonlinear Systems Introduction

This course is a voyage into the extraordinary world of nonlinear systems and their dynamics, the primary focus of the course is to provide you with a coherent understanding of the origins and product of non-linearity and chaos. The course is designed as an intuitive and non-mathematical introduction, it explores a world of both extraordinary chaos where some small event like a butterfly flapping its wings can be amplified into a tornado, but also a world of extraordinary order in the form of fractals, self-similar structures that repeat themselves at various scales, one of nature’s most ingenious tools for building itself. Like quantum physics the world of non-linearity is inherently counter intuitive, it’s a world where our basic assumptions start to break down and we get extraordinary results, once the domain of obscure mathematics, the concepts from nonlinear systems theory are increasingly proving relevant to the world of the 21st century.This course covers all the key concepts from this domain, starting by looking at the origins of how and why we get nonlinear phenomena, we go on to talk about exponential growth, power laws, chaos theory, the butterfly effect, bifurcation theory, fractals and much more. The course requires no prior specific knowledge of mathematics or science, it is designed as an introduction presenting concepts in a non-mathematical and intuitive form that should be accessible to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Nonlinear Systems Overview

In this module we start the course by giving an overview to the model of a system that will form the foundations for future discussion, we talk about linear systems theory based upon what is called the superposition principles of additivity and homogeneity. We will go on to talk about why and how linear systems theory breaks down as soon as we have some set of relations within a system that are non-additive, we also look at how feedback loops over time work to defy the homogeneity principle with the net result being nonlinear behavior.

Feedback Loops & Relations

In this section we introduce the key sources of non-linearity as the type of relations between components within a system where these relations add or subtract some value to the overall system. We will talk about synergies and interference that make the system either greater or less than the simple sum of its components. We will then cover the second source of non-linearity, what are call feedback loops that allow for both exponential growth and decay.

Exponentials & Power laws

In this module we will discuss the dynamics of exponentials and their counterparts power laws that represent an exponential or power relation between two entities, we talk about long tail distributions, sometimes called the fat tail, so called because it results in there being an extraordinary large amount of small occurrences to an event and a very few very large occurrences with there being no real average or normal to the distribution.

Systems Dynamics & Chaos

For many centuries the idea prevailed that if a system was governed by simple rules that were deterministic then with sufficient information and computation power we would be able to fully describe and predict its future trajectory, the revolution of chaos theory in the latter half of the 20th century put an end to this assumption showing how simple rules could in fact lead to complex behavior. In this module we will describe how this is possible when we have the phenomena of what is called sensitivity to initial conditions.


We will have encountered many extraordinary phenomena by this stage in the course but fractals may top them all, self-similar geometric forms that repeat themselves on various scales, they can both contain infinite detail, as we zoom in and the very counter intuitive phenomena of infinite length within a finite form with this all being the product of very simple iterative rules.


Section 1Overview
Lecture 1Preliminaries
Lecture 2Systems Overview
Lecture 3Linear Systems
Lecture 4Nonlinear Systems
Section 2Feedback Interactions
Lecture 5Synergies & Interference
Lecture 6Feedback
Section Quiz
Section 3Exponents & Power Laws
Lecture 7Exponents & Power Laws
Lecture 8Long Tail Distributions
Lecture 9Long Tail Explained
Section 4Nonlinear Dynamics
Lecture 10Dynamical Systems Introduction
Lecture 11Nonlinear Dynamics & Chaos
Lecture 12The Butterfly Effect
Lecture 13Phase Transitions & Bifurcations
Section Quiz
Section 5Fractal Geometry
Lecture 14Fractals
Lecture 15Fractals In Pictures
Section 6Conclusion