My view of ‘chaos’

I thought that the word chaos was used only to describe situations that are or will have a negative outcome. That view changed completely after I stumbled upon Tom Wessel‘s The Myth of Progress. What ended up happening wasn’t simply learning a new meaning of a word that I already know, but an understanding of a different view of the world surrounding me.

Being thought to see the world through equations or simplifications they offer, I think I missed how nature works in my early adult years. My education simplified the world, trying to express or approximate its complexity in linear terms where 2+2=4. Can we ever speak of the weather with such mathematical precision? Or can we define the workings of a society and its culture with a set of equations?

I believe that the ability to reduce complex problems into approximated/simplified versions is the pinnacle of human ingenuity, but it’s at the cost of understanding chaotic systems, which is what we’re basically surrounded with every day; climate, our economic and political systems, pandemic, the human brain, etc. I also believe that trying to look at the world through a reductionistic view is either limiting our possible actions if not creating a feeling of hopelessness.

For a long time, I used to think that whatever my actions are, I am one of eight billion and they won’t really change anything. This put me in a state of despair living in a country with democracy falling apart and a world with a destabilizing climate.

I don’t know if either of the problems above will improve during my lifetime, and to be honest I’m not hopeful. But I believe that my actions could cause change, and this is not like a spiritual thing I arrived at. It’s more from the scientific understanding of how chaotic systems work. Just to give an example, you and I share %99.9 DNA that is exactly the same, yet that tiny fraction is enough to have such diversity. How come?

Hope this short post creates more questions than answers 🙂 Below is the experiment Wessels uses to explain chaos.

Leave a Reply