Tuesday, December 14, 2021

What is an Attractor?

Attractor is a set of states toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. System values that get close enough to the attractor values remain close even if slightly disturbed.

Attractors are portions or subsets of the phase space of a dynamical system. Until the 1960s, attractors were thought of as being simple geometric subsets of the phase space, like points, lines, surfaces, and simple regions of three-dimensional space.

More complex attractors that cannot be categorized as simple geometric subsets, such as topologically wild sets, were known of at the time but were thought to be fragile anomalies. Stephen Smale was able to show that his horseshoe map was robust and that its attractor had the structure of a Cantor set.

Two simple attractors are a fixed point and the limit cycle. Attractors can take on many other geometric shapes (phase space subsets). But when these sets (or the motions within them) cannot be easily described as simple combinations (e.g. intersection and union) of fundamental geometric objects (e.g. lines, surfaces, spheres, toroids, manifolds), then the attractor is called a strange attractor.

In finite-dimensional systems, the evolving variable may be represented algebraically as an n-dimensional vector.

The attractor is a region in n-dimensional space. In physical systems, the n dimensions may be, for example, two or three positional coordinates for each of one or more physical entities; in economic systems, they may be separate variables such as the inflation rate and the unemployment rate.

If the evolving variable is two- or three-dimensional, the attractor of the dynamic process can be represented geometrically in two or three dimensions, (as for example in the three-dimensional case depicted to the right).

An attractor can be a point, a finite set of points, a curve, a manifold, or even a complicated set with a fractal structure known as a strange attractor (see strange attractor below). If the variable is a scalar, the attractor is a subset of the real number line. Describing the attractors of chaotic dynamical systems has been one of the achievements of chaos theory.

A trajectory of the dynamical system in the attractor does not have to satisfy any special constraints except for remaining on the attractor, forward in time. The trajectory may be periodic or chaotic. If a set of points is periodic or chaotic, but the flow in the neighborhood is away from the set, the set is not an attractor, but instead is called a repeller (or repellor).

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