The brain is known to be active even when not performing any overt cognitive tasks, and often it engages in involuntary mind wandering. This resting state has been extensively characterized in terms of fMRI-derived brain networks. However, an alternate method has recently gained popularity: EEG microstate analysis. Proponents of microstates postulate that the brain discontinuously switches between four quasi-stable states defined by specific EEG scalp topologies at peaks in the global field potential (GFP). These microstates are thought to be “atoms of thought,” involved with visual, auditory, salience, and attention processing. However, this method makes some major assumptions by excluding EEG data outside the GFP peaks and then clustering the EEG scalp topologies at the GFP peaks, assuming that only one microstate is active at any given time. This study explores the evidence surrounding these assumptions by studying the temporal dynamics of microstates and its clustering space using tools from dynamical systems analysis, fractal, and chaos theory to highlight the shortcomings in microstate analysis. The results show evidence of complex and chaotic EEG dynamics outside the GFP peaks, which is being missed by microstate analysis. Furthermore, the winner-takes-all approach of only one microstate being active at a time is found to be inadequate since the dynamic EEG scalp topology does not always resemble that of the assigned microstate, and there is competition among the different microstate classes. Finally, clustering space analysis shows that the four microstates do not cluster into four distinct and separable clusters. Taken collectively, these results show that the discontinuous description of EEG microstates is inadequate when looking at nonstationary short-scale EEG dynamics.

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