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Chapter 6. From Clockwork to Chaos

Extract

We have already seen a number of ways in which that pivotal year 1900 stood as the watershed between certainty and uncertainty. This chapter introduces yet another of these revolutions - the introduction of chaos into the heart of science. Today Chaos Theory, along with its associated notions of fractals, strange attractors and self-organizing systems, has been applied to everything from sociology to psychology, from business consulting to the neurosciences. As a metaphor it has found its way into contemporary novels. As a technique it is responsible for the special effects of so many movies.

Chaos theory has become ubiquitous, but to discover its origins we must go back to 1900 and a study made by the mathematician and philosopher Henri Poncaré. Poncaré was investigating another of those certainties, one that the human race had lived with since the beginning of time - "the sun will always rise in the morning and set in the evening." In questioning the inevitability of things he was asking if this certainty of earth's orbit around the sun continue to repeat itself? In his researcher Poncaré was touching something very deep, no less than civilizations' entire way of understanding time and what it means to live within a cyclical nature. In doing so he was touching the seeds of chaos, and maybe this is the reason that the term "chaos" and the notion of a Chaos Theory has proved to be so disturbing to a mind that seeks order, regularity and predictability.

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