Chaos theories

Today’s post is a meditation on the theme of chaos. Chaos is the constantly inconsistent undefinable force that weaves the universe together while trying with all it’s might to rip the universe apart atom by atom. What is chaos? By the very nature of the thing it resists an overarching classification. Linnaeus’ taxonomies and the Dewey decimal system are no help here: chaos is, by definition, something unpredictable with no discernible pattern. Chaos has negative connotations: a tornado is chaotic, a messy room is chaotic, an over-committed schedule is chaotic. Chaos is associated with human tragedy, large- or small-scale.

This gentleman met a chaotic end
Mt. St. Helens caused her share of chaos
These guys and gals have too

And yet…water’s motion down a river is chaotic,   the energy of a crowd at a REALLY great concert is chaotic, and some of the most beautiful art in the world is chaotic. Could it be that chaos sometimes can cause human joy?

beautiful chaos
Furthur New Year’s Eve concert 2K12…some of the finest three hours of chaos I have ever experienced
Dale Chihuly is the very definition of colorful chaos

The third law of thermodynamics states, in no uncertain terms, that the overall disorder of the universe is always increasing. Forget about destiny, there’s simply no escaping ENTROPY. The proteins in our cells all exist in a state that toes the line between stable folding and a jumbled mess. The atoms that make up the molecules we’re made of are chaotic clouds of subatomic quanta with identity issues: a swarm of mathematical entities that just can’t decide if they are particles or waves.

Chaos itself isn’t a good or bad thing, chaos simply IS. Everything else is human perception and human reaction.

In the face of chaos, it is comfortable to cling to that which is ordered and predictable. This can be a healthy coping strategy: sometimes a well-groomed yard or the familiarity of a favorite running route can offer a welcome respite from the dizzying disarray we find ourselves in daily.

I have a million things on my to-do list, but those weeds have been WHACKED
I have a million things on my to-do list, but those weeds have been WHACKED

However, I would argue that flat out rejecting the unfamiliar is a recipe for unhappiness in the long term. The only thing that is truly certain is that uncertainty rules: it’s entropy in action. We cannot hide from chaos and entropy forever; we can’t run away from reality, no matter how many energy gels we eat or running shoes we own.

If I eat ALL the Gu, I never have to organize my desk
If I eat ALL the Gu, I never have to organize my desk
I think the Mizunos will definitely let me outrun reviewer # 3's comments
I think the Mizunos will definitely let me outrun reviewer # 3’s comments

Chaos drives change and forward progress. Evolution is driven by random mutations. The pathway from Protozoa to Pat Sajak was paved over time by ancient mistakes in DNA.

"Give us a few million years and some single-nucleotide polymorphisms and we'll take on the world!
“Give us a few million years and some single-nucleotide polymorphisms and we’ll take on the world!
Wheel of destiny or Wheel of Fortune?

This is not to say that chaos cannot cause setbacks: a six foot snowstorm or a sudden deadline at work can both throw off your plans for the weekend.

Looks like we’re not driving anywhere

Even though mutations drive evolution, the majority of mutations are deleterious; the adaptive mutations just happened, by chance, to confer an advantage to the lucky mutant in that particular time and place. Chaos itself is not innately good nor innately bad–it simply is….chaotic. It is not our place as teeny-tiny-humans in the big-giant-universe to accept or reject chaos. It is only our responsibility to respond to chaos in the most productive way possible. I’m not advocating anarchy: order can have intrinsic value. Even though our atoms may be teeny-tiny whirlwinds of wild undulating energy, they do associate together in ordered patterns.

Really PRETTY patterns

Traffic laws prevent fatalities, and a yard that is kept in chaos pisses off the neighbors.

It's a jungle out here!
It’s a jungle out here!


I’m advocating open-mindedness in the face of chaos. Be open to the fact that life is sometimes uncomfortable and disruptive. The winds of change will blow your way; however, with open mindedness and creativity the winds of change might blow you someplace totally unexpected and great!



Of course, this isn’t to say that we should abandon our routines entirely, and get swept away in the face of chaos. Even a hurricane has a calm eye in the center of the storm. Constantly giving yourself over to chaos can be a recipe for disaster. The key is to find an anchor when the winds of change reach gale-force.



Chaos will happen. It is up to us how we react to it. Rather than abandoning ourselves to the vortex we can make the choice to let the vortex work for us. If we face our challenges with an open mind and a modicum of creativity, we can harness that chaotic energy and turn it into something great. If six feet of snow falls, do you wait until spring to leave your house? Or do you strap on your skis and be thankful for the AWESOME new trails you get to forge?

I don’t pretend to have any answers. I’m not a psychiatrist or a life-coach. I’m a PhD candidate who likes to run around a lot. My life is often chaotic, but I’m trying to make it work for me. Maybe I need to go back to my post on the vernal equinox and finding balance. Regardless, I hope that everyone is able to find some calm in their personal chaos.



11 thoughts on “Chaos theories

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  1. The warrior walks out into the world with a clear plan: slay the dragon; get the girl. The wanderer walks out and responds to what the world lays at his feet. Both have a sense of control, because they have chosen their paths. While the wanderer embraces chaos, the warrior will fail if he doesn’t understand that chaos is afoot. He is likely to meet an orc or a hobbit or two on the way to the dragon.

    The orphan sits alone in the meadow paralyzed by the howls of wolves in the distance. Unless the orphan gets up and picks a path, it’s going to be a long night. Chaos will reign.


  2. What if chaos was thrown into the stew of infinite living mind for the purpose of universal self amusement ???? The universal mind had been churning along for an eternity creating this and that out of light energy and a few of its elemental,microbio buddies and a little boredom sets in so what are you going to do with infinity now??? Take your giant universal butt and make cannon ball history!!!!!! Out of the pool with symmetry I know Jane Sibbery tells us you CAN’T chop down the symmetry,symmetry , butt frankly order gets old and so do we. Soo if we get nostalgic we can always remember ” anything that ever was always will be, and anything that ever will be always will be.”


  3. Oops,that last bit of prattle was to be “anything that ever was always will be and any thing that ever will be always was!!!!


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