The Emerging Science of Chaos and its Theories
Chaos, making a NEW science? Now, wait, you might be thinking now that you are very familiar with chaos. Well, it’s been in your room for as long as you can think back and some might even admit that it’s in their minds… So what’s so very new and amazing about it???? Don’t we encounter chaos everywhere in our everyday lives, for example, if we repeatedly curse the poor weather forecaster on TV for the wrong prediction and in fact, it can’t be more than a prediction or have you ever wondered who designs the beautifully complex snowflakes???? And what about the column of smoke from a cigarette which first rises steadily, but then breaks into wild swirls???
And have you ever thought of chaos as a science or theory like the quantum theory or Einstein’s theory of relativity? Probably not and this is exactly what scientists still thought just 20 years ago because the problem of chaos is a deep problem.
Author: James Gleick, the author of this truly captivating book, has actually created an account or a kind of collection of all the research on chaos done by more than a hundred scientists since the Sixties. He was born in New York City and graduated from Harvard College. Furthermore, he was an editor and reporter at the New York Times for ten years and currently lives in New York with his wife and son.
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“Chaos, making a new science” or “The amazing science of the unpredictable” was a 1987 National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee, the famous prize for journalism and letters.
The laws of chaos can be understood in so many ways that not even scientists could agree on them, but I will try my best at introducing you to this new scientific world step by step in the presentation to come.
One way of putting it is to say that “where chaos begins, classical science stops”. But what does chaos in this new scientific sense mean?
Let’s start with how this idea of chaos arose!
For as long as the world has had physicists inquiring into the laws of nature it has seen a special ignorance about disorder in the universe, like the turbulent sea of clouds that seem to chase each other over the sky, just to name two. These were highly nonlinear problems and therefore strictly avoided or ignored by any sensible scientist. Can you remember our physics teachers telling us to ignore the small irregularities when measuring a pendulum’s behaviour, about a year ago? Well, this is exactly what physicists did too when confronted with a nonlinear equation because they didn’t want to get into hot water. Can this science of chaos suddenly explain the erratic side of nature and solve all these problems that have been puzzles to scientists for so long? The answer is yes!!!!!
The most passionate believers in chaos even go so far as to say that 20th century science will be remembered for just three things: relativity, quantum mechanics and CHAOS.
It was only in the 1970s, just thirty years ago, that a few scientists in the United States and Europe began to find a way through disorder. They were mathematicians, physicists, biologists, chemists and physiologists and this is another characteristic of CHAOS: universality which means that chaos breaks across the lines that separate scientific disciplines and is the science of the global nature of systems. Big words now that only convinced a few scientists in the late Sixties. It is also no coincidence that the rise of computers and the emergence of chaos fall into the same decade, this new era humorously called the keypunch era.
I would now like to draw your attention to my selection of the different theories presented in this book:
It dawned on the scientists in the 60s that tiny differences in input can quickly become great differences in output and this phenomenon was given the name “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. Sounds really complicated now, but let me give you THE paradigm, the Butterfly Effect. This is the belief that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking, for example, can turn into a tornado next month in New York.
This means that small changes, in the beginning, can cause a system to collapse and not stay regular.
Simple systems can do complicated things. Another realization of chaos theorists that leads to images of chaos like these. You probably won’t believe me now that all these terrific pictures can be created by only one simple nonlinear equation, like the one on the blackboard. This particular set here is called the Mandelbrot set and has become a kind of public symbol for chaos and I’m sure you have already seen it on magazine covers or on the Internet.
So simple systems give rise to complex behaviour which is very contrary to what we used to think, namely that simple systems have simple causes.
Now let me play a simple, yet fascinating game with you, just to prove that the laws of chaos really are universal and can be applied to everything. The game I’m going to explain to you is called the – can you guess it?? – chaos game. All you need is a piece of paper, a coin, a pencil and two rules which you invent. You choose a starting point on the sheet of paper and throw the coin. Let’s say the head stays on top. Then you take your first rule, which is for example “ Move 4 cm to the left” and mark the point. Flip the coin again and again and according to what stays on top, head or tail, you use your two rules and mark the points. The important bit now is to throw away the first fifty points or so and you will find that the chaos game will not produce a random field of dots but a shape. Well, this is what we would call an order in chaos.
Chaos also means health like the beating of the heart. Just assume that you give a linear process a push and it will always stay slightly offtrack. This would be fatal for the heart which means that it is a highly nonlinear process that, given the same push, tends to return to the starting point again.
Consider this: Chaos is the creation of information. Take a string of information like leftright leftrightleftright leftrightleftright. Except for the information that right comes after left you don’t get anything, but now imagine a chaotic series of lefts and rights. Suddenly you are confronted with an avalanche of information.
Scientists didn’t have any tools to measure irregularities or explain complex mathematical objects like the Mandelbrot set, but now they have them and suddenly the transitions from regularity to chaos can be explained. Look at the water flowing at a steady speed, but if you increase the velocity just a little it suddenly reaches the point where it turns chaotic.
Chaos is all around us, as you can see.
Personal evaluation:
 “An exceedingly readable introduction to a new intellectual world” The Observer
 “Gleick’s Chaos is not only enthralling and precise but full of beautifully strange and strangely beautiful ideas.”
 “An aweinspiring book. Reading chaos gave me the impression that someone had just found the light switch.”
 “After reading chaos you will never look at the world in quite the same way again.”
Now, this is what I first read on the blurb of this book and to be honest, I considered it no more but the usual descriptions used for advertising books. Meanwhile I of course think differently and I have to admit that I had completely underestimated this book in the first place. It presents a totally new way of looking at the world and it might sound absurd but the only confusing thing in this book are all the names of the scientists. It certainly changes your view of the world as it’s like changing into another gear of understanding.
There is a lot of maths in this book and it can’t be read like a novel, but not to shriek in horror because reading chaos in fact gave ME the feeling that I had really understood maths and physics for the first time and what’s even more significant, that all these differential equations, complex numbers and whatever seems to complicate our mathematical thoughts can be of use in what we call reality.
There is nothing left to say except that I can recommend chaos – the amazing science of the unpredictable to everyone who really wants to know how rumors spread and what the weather will be like tomorrow.
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