As a type of nonlinear system with complexity, mode-locked fiber lasers are known for their complex behaviour. It is a challenging task to understand the fundamental physics behind such complex behaviour, and a unified description for the nonlinear behaviour and the systematic and quantitative analysis of the underlying mechanisms of these lasers have not been developed. Here, we present a complexity science-based theoretical framework for understanding the behaviour of mode-locked fiber lasers by going beyond reductionism. This hierarchically structured framework provides a model with variable dimensionality, resulting in a simple view that can be used to systematically describe complex states. Moreover, research into the attractors' basins reveals the origin of stochasticity, hysteresis and multistability in these systems and presents a new method for quantitative analysis of these nonlinear phenomena. These findings pave the way for dynamics analysis and system designs of mode-locked fiber lasers. We expect that this paradigm will also enable potential applications in diverse research fields related to complex nonlinear phenomena.
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