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Chaos

By Ad astra

Instinctively, you know what is meant by ‘chaos’. No matter when you turn on the TV or radio, there it is in every bulletin of world news.

My dictionary defines chaos in this way: disorder, disarray, disorganisation, confusion, mayhem, bedlam, pandemonium, madness, havoc, turmoil, tumult, commotion, disruption, upheaval, furore, frenzy, uproar, hue and cry, babel, hurly-burly; a maelstrom, a muddle, a mess, a shambles, a mare’s nest; anarchy, entropy, lawlessness. There’s no room in that catalogue for confusion about its meaning.

Yet as we look at chaos unfolding before our eyes, we know instinctively that we are helpless to alter its course.

We accept chaos as a feature of contemporary life.

I suppose it was always so. As senior adults, our own experience reminds us that we have lived through two World Wars, with all the existential threats they posed. We have seen them come and go, and we are still in one piece. We recall the threats to our own country from our Japanese neighbours. I can remember my parents preparing to exit from Ipswich, where we lived when the Second World War began, to our grandparents in Victoria, if the threat from Japan became too great. And that’s what we did, living for many months in the protective environment of loving relatives.

We didn’t use the word ‘chaos’ then, but instinctively we knew we were living through chaotic times and what that meant for us.

Now, the concept of chaos assails us every day, many times a day, as we turn on the TV and witness the sheer destruction that’s occurring in Ukraine and nearby nations. Rubble strewn all over. Buildings destroyed, on fire, occupants weeping as their homes are demolished. Instinctively, we regard this spectacle as an example of chaos, defined by the term ‘chaos theory’.

But there are more mundane examples of what is termed ‘chaos theory’.

Weather patterns are an example. We can usually predict weather patterns pretty well when they are in the near future, but as time goes on, more factors influence the weather, and it becomes practically impossible to predict what will happen.

Wikipedia defines chaos theory as an interdisciplinary scientific theory and branch of mathematics focused on underlying patterns and deterministic laws highly sensitive to initial conditions in dynamical systems that were thought to have completely random states of disorder and irregularities. Chaos theory states that within the apparent randomness of complex systems, there are underlying patterns, interconnectedness, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, and self-organization. The butterfly effect, an underlying principle of chaos, describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state (meaning that there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions). A metaphor for this behaviour is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.

Small differences in initial conditions, such as those due to errors in measurements or due to rounding errors in numerical computation, can yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction of their behaviour impossible. This can happen even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behaviour follows a unique evolution and is fully determined by the initial conditions, with no random elements involved. In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable. This behaviour is known as deterministic chaos, or simply ‘chaos’. Chaos theory was summarised by Edward Lorenz as follows: “When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

Chaotic behaviour exists in many natural systems, including fluid flow, heartbeat irregularities, weather and climate. It also occurs spontaneously in some systems with artificial components, such as the stock market and road traffic. This behaviour can be studied through the analysis of a chaotic mathematical model, or through analytical techniques such as recurrence plots and Poincaré maps. Chaos theory has applications in a variety of disciplines, including meteorology, anthropology, sociology, environmental science, computer science, engineering, economics, ecology, and pandemic crisis management.

This short piece is not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on chaos, but we trust it provides some insight into this all-pervasive phenomenon, which has now entered the lexicon of contemporary political discourse.

 

Image from quotefancy.com

 

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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8 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Chaos follows Morrison’s lies, Joyce’s dicky and thirst, Trump’s utter stupidities, Johnson’s jokeless jaunts, wilful stupidity and my/our rambling ruminations. Even the future doesn’t have one…(a future)

  2. Kathryn

    C = Cynical conservative, corrupt, right wing governments (like the lying, conniving coal-loving psychopaths in the LNP)
    H = Have – and WILL
    A = Always
    O = Obfusgate, offend, obstruct, obliterate and defund
    S = So many things we value in our society …..

    INCLUDING our international reputation, economy, Medicare, our environment and our children’s education in order to enrich and empower THEMSELVES and their billionaire donors in the Top 1%

  3. Canguro

    Ad astra says, “I suppose it was always so”. Of course. Our limited sense of the span of experience is perhaps confined to our own lifetime, or maybe includes our sense of what our parents or their parents experienced, but humanity’s been kicking along for millennia, and chaos has always been a facet of humanity’s collective experience.

    Philip Ball’s excellent book, The Water Kingdom, a Secret History of China, expatiates on the recurrence of the floods of the Yellow River & the Yangtze, and of the enormous toll those two rivers exacted, over millennia, on the peoples of that great country. He cites first-hand witnessing of the tens of thousands of people being swept along in floodwaters, doomed, crying out in terror in their last moments. Chaos, societal collapse.

    Another of his writings, Critical Mass, delineates in its outset the toll on the European and English societies in the mid 16th and early 17th C of the Civil and Thirty Years wars; utter chaos.

    The advent of European colonialism, whether Spanish, Portuguese, Germanic, British, French or Belgian, spelt irredeemable chaos for the indigenous nations subjected to the conquerers’ attentions. Within our own boundaries, Aboriginals were subjected to a genocidal slaughter on behalf of white mans’ occupation of their lands. Imagine yourself belonging to one of the 700+ indigenous communities, and dealing with the unremitting brutality of the white devils in your midst. If that’s not a definition of chaos, I don’t know what is.

    The Nazi push into eastern Europe and Russia, with its Blitkreig policy; Stalingrad, Leningrad…

    The Japanese occupation of Manchuria and their subsequent southern movement; the Rape of Nanjing…

    THe decline & collapse of the Incan, Mayan, Aztec civilizations…

    The contemporary decline of American society, as an inevitable function of the skewed outcomes of an oligarchically-inclined politic that supports a martial economy along with a corporate structure that aids & abets war-making and rewards the sociopathic who prosper at the expense of those who lack the tools or power and influence is also, by definition, a chaotic process, as demonstrated by the ever-increasing degrees of dysfunction within that society; sad, as the Trumpster might aver.

    There’s a sort of inevitability in all of this. If we compare & contrast contemporary society with some of the more enlightened eras that humanity has enjoyed, as exemplified perhaps in artistic or architectural creativity, it’s somewhat sobering to reflect that rather than progress what we’re undergoing is its antithesis, a regression. Chaos seems to be a lawful and inevitable component, given our incapacity to see what needs to be done and act accordingly.
    Ad astra says, “I suppose it was always so”. Of course. Our limited sense of the span of experience is perhaps confined to our own lifetime, or maybe includes our sense of what our parents or their parents experienced, but humanity’s been kicking along for millennia, and chaos has always been a facet of humanity’s collective experience.

    Philip Ball’s excellent book, The Water Kingdom, a Secret History of China, expatiates on the recurrence of the floods of the Yellow River & the Yangtze, and of the enormous toll those two rivers exacted, over millennia, on the peoples of that great country. He cites first-hand witnessing of the tens of thousands of people being swept along in floodwaters, doomed, crying out in terror in their last moments. Chaos, societal collapse.

    Another of his writings, Critical Mass, delineates in its outset the toll on the European and English societies in the mid 16th and early 17th C of the Civil and Thirty Years wars; utter chaos.

    The advent of European colonialism, whether Spanish, Portuguese, Germanic, British, French or Belgian, spelt irredeemable chaos for the indigenous nations subjected to the conquerers’ attentions. Within our own boundaries, Aboriginals were subjected to a genocidal slaughter on behalf of white mans’ occupation of their lands. Imagine yourself belonging to one of the 700+ indigenous communities, and dealing with the unremitting brutality of the white devils in your midst. If that’s not a definition of chaos, I don’t know what is.

    The Nazi push into eastern Europe and Russia, with its Blitzkreig policy; Stalingrad, Leningrad…

    The Japanese occupation of Manchuria and their subsequent southern movement; the Rape of Nanjing…

    The decline & collapse of the Incan, Mayan, Aztec civilizations…

    The contemporary decline of American society, as an inevitable function of the skewed outcomes of an oligarchically-inclined politic that supports a martial economy along with a corporate structure that aids & abets war-making and rewards the sociopathic who prosper at the expense of those who lack the tools or power and influence is also, by definition, a chaotic process, as demonstrated by the ever-increasing degrees of dysfunction within that society; sad, as the Trumpster might aver.

    There’s a sort of inevitability in all of this. If we compare & contrast contemporary society with some of the more enlightened eras that humanity has enjoyed, as exemplified perhaps in artistic or architectural creativity, it’s somewhat sobering to reflect that rather than progress what we’re undergoing is its antithesis, a regression. Chaos seems to be a lawful and inevitable component, given our incapacity to see what needs to be done and act accordingly.

  4. B Sullivan

    Katherine,

    A cynic is a person who happily chooses to possess less than a Buddhist monk, who will go to extraordinary lengths in pursuit of honesty and who values enlightenment above all else. A cynic wants for nothing except as simple and humble a life as is possible. Cynics are happier than the Dalai Lama, because they don’t have to concern themselves with all the material baggage that comes with the lifestyle that he has to cope with.

    C=Cynical conservative doesn’t sound right.

    C=Christian conservative would be more appropriate for your breakdown of the word CHAOS, alluding to the willfully blind faith that despised and suppressed the light of science and reason so much that its subjects were plunged into a time of fearful ignorance and suffering that we now call the Dark Ages.

    The Aim Network,

    Dictionaries reflect misuse as well as correct use of language. Anarchy should not be in that list of definitions. It doesn’t really mean chaos at all. It means no leader, like monarchy means one leader. It is a only a historically biased political misinterpretation that implies that anarchy is chaotic, based on the false belief that people can’t be expected to live their lives responsibly without a leader to tell them what is the right and proper way they should behave. The traffic on the road has been anarchic since the law requiring motor cars to be led by a man with a red flag was repealed, yet it is not chaotic. It is orderly and requires no leader to function in an orderly fashion. Anarchy is a form of rule and order that gets along without some authority telling it where it has to go.

    History is full of evidence that following a leader is no guarantee you will not be led into chaos.

    Our language is very political biased. I hope you don’t mind me pointing out how using it can sometimes steer you to the right without you being aware of it.

  5. Arnd

    Thanks, B Sullivan!

    I first explored anarchism as a (the only?) viable perspective on perennial problems of political philosophy exactly thirty years ago – during the northern spring of 1992, in the run-up to the Rio 92 Earth Summit that was to put us on the road to environmental sustainability. Ha!

    The facile and ubiquitous conflation of anarchy (an+Archos = no ruler) with anomie (a+nomos = no rules) has been a constant irritation ever since.

    Already Aristotle reflected on the “question of whether it was better to be ruled by the best man or the best laws”, and considered the latter advantageous.

    The banal linguistic confusion that invariably derails discussion of these foundational issues of political philosophy still now, almost two and a half thousand years later, is profoundly dispiriting!

  6. New England Cocky

    Did you really mean to describe ”chaos” in this article or were you really describibg the present state of Australian politics under Scummo?

    “My dictionary … disorder, disarray, disorganisation, confusion, mayhem, bedlam, pandemonium, madness, havoc, turmoil, tumult, commotion, disruption, upheaval, furore, frenzy, uproar, hue and cry, babel, hurly-burly; a maelstrom, a muddle, a mess, a shambles, a mare’s nest; anarchy, entropy, lawlessness. There’s no room in that catalogue for confusion about its meaning.”

    It’s time! ….. AGAIN!!

  7. Josephus

    B Sullivan, your dictionary should distinguish anarchy and anarchism. The former does mean chaos, lack of order, unpredictability as in chaos theory.
    Anarchism is a political theory and blueprint for a just society, modern versions being outlined in the 19thc by eg Proudhon, Kropotkin and Bakunin. The Paris Commune for example had its anarchist activists. Wikipedia’s thorough analysis might be of possible interest.

  8. wam

    Agree, NEC,
    Chaos, a word that Ad Astra lists 38 dictionary words and finish with “There’s no room… for confusion about its meaning.” is almost as worthy as bully.
    Hopefully albo can capitalise on scummo’s disarray without displaying a chaotic campaign?
    ps
    Chaos and entropy gave me a headache a million years ago. Perhaps the bandit will weigh in to explain???

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