Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chaos Theories

"Where chaos beings, classical science stops.  For as long as the world has had physicists inquiring into the laws of nature, it has suffered a special ignorance about disorder in the atmosphere, the turbulent sea, in the fluctuations of wildlife populations, in the oscillations of the heart and the brain.  The irregular side of nature, the discontinuous and erratic side--these have been puzzles to science, or worse, monstrosities."
-From "Chaos" by James Gleick (1987)

I've been thinking about the types of problems we consider worthy of attention and the types of questions we ask (individually and collectively).  I have been noticing that different people ask very different questions about the world (and argue for their limitations in being able to answer these questions--or, on the other hand, argue for the limitations of the questions themselves), and through these questions, we learn a lot about how people view the world.  There are those who deny chaos, who want to control it, and then there are those who want to step in and explore it.

I was reading about Oppenheimer's Los Alamos lab today and the "Theoretical Division" which included a group of physicists and mathematicians (working on questions that were directed toward something I'd rather not think about), BUT, I find this idea of a fully funded, truly valued, "Theoretical Division" to be particularly compelling.  I read about Mitchell Feigenbaum, who had published only one article, but was seen as "real smart," despite the fact that he spent his time walking darkened streets (during his experiment with shifting to a 26-hour day), taking airplane flights to view clouds from different views, and noticing, just noticing.  Where did his wanderings lead?  To places I don't understand:  fractals and bifurcation of something or another.  But the thing is, his wanderings led to something that probably couldn't have been arrived at in a more linear way.  Maybe I'm not quite brilliant enough to have my wanderings lead to such monumental discoveries, but what I know is that I'm sick of asking the same questions.  I'm sick of asking questions and then trying to fit the answers into someone's format for "productive contributions to the field."  And, frankly, I'm sick of interpersonal relations and navigating human egos, and I'm sick to death of my own.  I want new questions, and I want some new ways of exploring.

What if we each created, as a space in our lives, a "Theoretical Division" where we gave ourselves space to consider how clouds form, how they move, how light looks at different times of day, and we gave ourselves space to really notice...and to wonder?  And what if we allowed ourselves to note not only the patterns of our daily lives, but the turbulence, fluctuations, and erratic movements that make up this world?  And what if that helped us recognize how worthy the questions and the noticing is?  And what if that allowed us to expand our view of the world?  And to not feel quite so compelled to make everything linear, quantifiable, and wrought with the burden of one right answer?  And what if there was freedom there?  What if these universal characteristics that allow the study of chaos are only the beginning?

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