**Distinguishing Random From Chaotic Data**

It can be difficult to tell from data whether a physical or other observed process is random or chaotic, because in practice no time series consists of pure 'signal.' There will always be some form of corrupting noise, even if it is present as round-off or truncation error. Thus any real time series, even if mostly deterministic, will contain some randomness.

All methods for distinguishing deterministic and stochastic processes rely on the fact that a deterministic system always evolves in the same way from a given starting point. Thus, given a time series to test for determinism, one can:

- pick a test state;
- search the time series for a similar or 'nearby' state; and
- compare their respective time evolutions.

Define the error as the difference between the time evolution of the 'test' state and the time evolution of the nearby state. A deterministic system will have an error that either remains small (stable, regular solution) or increases exponentially with time (chaos). A stochastic system will have a randomly distributed error.

Essentially all measures of determinism taken from time series rely upon finding the closest states to a given 'test' state (e.g., correlation dimension, Lyapunov exponents, etc.). To define the state of a system one typically relies on phase space embedding methods. Typically one chooses an embedding dimension, and investigates the propagation of the error between two nearby states. If the error looks random, one increases the dimension. If you can increase the dimension to obtain a deterministic looking error, then you are done. Though it may sound simple it is not really. One complication is that as the dimension increases the search for a nearby state requires a lot more computation time and a lot of data (the amount of data required increases exponentially with embedding dimension) to find a suitably close candidate. If the embedding dimension (number of measures per state) is chosen too small (less than the 'true' value) deterministic data can appear to be random but in theory there is no problem choosing the dimension too large – the method will work.

When a non-linear deterministic system is attended by external fluctuations, its trajectories present serious and permanent distortions. Furthermore, the noise is amplified due to the inherent non-linearity and reveals totally new dynamical properties. Statistical tests attempting to separate noise from the deterministic skeleton or inversely isolate the deterministic part risk failure. Things become worse when the deterministic component is a non-linear feedback system. In presence of interactions between nonlinear deterministic components and noise, the resulting nonlinear series can display dynamics that traditional tests for nonlinearity are sometimes not able to capture.

The question of how to distinguish deterministic chaotic systems from stochastic systems has also been discussed in philosophy.It has been shown that they might be observationally equivalent.

Read more about this topic: Chaos Theory

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