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The Chaos Theory- Meaning in the Meaningless

We cannot predict randomness; to do so would be strangely paradoxical. However, mankind is not satiated with this irony. With the countless revelations and discoveries that have been made over the millenia, understanding how it all connects together seems to be the trending obsession. As the name suggests, the chaos theory, put simply, aims to study and organize randomness. It believes that the working of the entire universe has an underlying pattern, one which is unobvious to the human eye and immensely complicated to the extent that it may never be solved; but a pattern nevertheless.

Our cosmos thrives on one constant, which is chaos or uncertainty. Innumerable variables interact with each other randomly to create countless galaxies, constellations and space debris, either coincidentally or in lieu of some grand plan. On a less grand scale, we discover new facts and evidence in multiple fields, with no idea how they contribute to a gestalt whole or how the interplay between them works. Science and simple curiosity have helped humanity observe the stars, understand the process behind it and to an extent, create stars of our own in the form of satellites. However, no amount of intellect could ever answer the question- “What next?”

The Unpredictable

The chaos theory studies the non-linear and unpredictable nature of sciences involving human thought or consciousness and the possible future. It can be considered an antithesis to the more classically set approach of physical constants and measurable entities. It sounds almost absurd and fictional to think that such a thing can be practically possible. Philosophically, many determinists and religious philosophers accept the idea of a Grand Being, one that obviously follows some plan which results in our existence, indirectly implying that what comes next is set in some figurative stone. The chaos theory does not acknowledge this view and instead advocates that events tend to follow a pattern which can be traced in order to understand irregularities.

The underlying principle of the chaos theory is that everything we observe is in some way connected. This can be best understood with the well known Butterfly Effect, wherein one infinitesimally small action can snowball into an exponentially large event which seems to be unrelated on the surface level. In Edward Lorenz’s words, “The flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado.”

Some naturally occurring phenomena do support this claim of interconnectedness. For example, fractals, designs that are repeated on different scales, can be seen in lightning patterns, snowflakes, some cauliflower species and so on. To an extent, fractals have even been noticed on the surface of black holes in space.

Another example is that of the Golden Ratio which can be seen in the geometry of the eyes, fins and tail of a dolphin and also in sea urchins. The Fibonacci sequence can also be seen in the arrangement of growing branches in some species of trees, phyllotaxis and the arrangement of bracts on a pine cone.

The chaos theory borders on science fiction in its claim that such a pattern can be studied. If successful, one would, with absolute precision, calculate the turbulence in the weather, the probability of natural disasters and so on. To an extent, these things can be calculated using seismographs and doppler radar but the real challenge lies in predicting the mundane. If chaos itself can be quantified and studied, does that mean one can know ahead of time about a road accident? Or about a surprise test? Assuming all of chaos theory’s postulates hold true, one could even predict the exact thought that enters the next person’s mind when exposed to some stimulus, hence the designation of science fiction.

The Human Factor

Owing to its extraordinary nature, many critics question the possibility of the chaos theory. While extensive mathematical literature has been formulated in support of the theory, its base philosophy is questionable. The existence of this pattern, as mentioned before, cannot be proven as it is too complicated, and the rare evidence seen in nature can be chalked up to coincidence.

Yet, the biggest flaw comes from the human need for the pattern to exist in the first place. It is human fallacy to see a deeper meaning in meaningless things as a mechanism to support our beliefs. This phenomenon was termed apophenia by Klaus Conrad in 1958. A good example of the same is pareidolia or the tendency to see a human face in an ambiguous visual pattern. You might have experienced the same when the swirls in your coffee mug sometimes look like a frown or the plane in the image below looks like it’s laughing.

Pareidolia only goes to prove that our imaginations can sometimes cloud our perception. If we can see an expression in an inanimate object, who is to say we can’t also see a sequence connecting events on a grand scale?

We see faces in scenery and meaning in randomness because in a way, we are programmed to see this bigger picture, regardless of whether it is real. You might find yourself assigning a greater meaning to a bad day or memory as ‘compensation’ for the good days, or blaming irrelevant factors as the reason for your failure or success. We like to think certain things exist in a certain manner because they were ‘fated’ or ‘destined’ to be in that way. This thought is both satisfying and comforting and its absence would probably spark a lengthy existential dread. Weighing both sides of the argument, we must logically ask ourselves- is there a greater secret to the universe yet to be discovered or is this just human desire?

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