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CHAOS THEORY

By Tapesh Raghav

Life finds a way


Remember Jurassic Park? Handsome mathematician Doctor Malcom explaining to pretty Doctor Sattler why he thought it was unwise to have T-rexes romping around on an island! John Hammond, the annoying owner, promised that nothing could go wrong and that all precautions were taken to ensure the safety of visitors. Dr. Malcom did not agree. He said Life finds a way. Nature is highly complex, and the only prediction you can make is that she is unpredictable. The amazing unpredictability of nature is what Chaos Theory looks at. Why? Because instead of being boring and translucent, nature is marvelous and mysterious. And Chaos Theory has managed to somewhat capture the beauty of the unpredictable and display it in the most awesome patterns. Nature, when looked upon with the right kind of eyes, presents her as one of the most fabulous works of art ever.

What is Chaos Theory?


Chaos Theory is a mathematical sub-discipline that studies complex systems. Examples of these complex systems that Chaos Theory helped are earth's weather system, the behavior of water boiling on a stove, migratory patterns of birds, or the spread of vegetation across a continent. Chaos is everywhere, from nature's most intimate considerations to art of any kind.

Complex systems are systems that contain so much motion (so many elements that move) that computers are required to calculate all the various possibilities. That is why Chaos Theory could not have emerged before the second half of the 20th century. But there is another reason that Chaos Theory was born so recently, and that is the Quantum Mechanical Revolution and how it ended the deterministic era! Up to the Quantum Mechanical Revolution people believed that things were directly caused by other things, that what went up had to come down, and that if only we could catch and tag every particle in the universe we could predict events from then on. Entire governments and systems of belief were (and, sadly, are still) founded on these beliefs, and when Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis, he headed out from the idea that malfunctions in the mind are the results of traumas suffered in the past. Regression would allow the patient to stroll down memory lane, pinpoint the sore spot and rub it away with Freud's healing techniques that were again based on linear cause and effect. Chaos Theory however taught us that nature most often works in patterns, which are caused by the sum of many tiny pulses.

How Chaos Theory was born and why


It all started when in 1960 a man named Edward Lorentz created a weather-model on his computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lorentz' weather model consisted of an extensive array of complex formulas that kicked numbers around. Clouds rose and winds blew, heat scourged or cold came creeping up the breeches. Colleagues and students marveled over the machine because it never seemed to repeat a sequence; it was really quite like the real weather. Some even hoped that Lorentz had built the ultimate weather-predictor and if the input parameters were chosen identical to those of the real weather howling outside the building, it could mimic earth's atmosphere and be turned into a precise machine.

But then one day Lorentz decided to cheat a little bit. A while earlier he had let the program run on certain parameters to generate a certain weather pattern and he wanted to take a look at the outcome. But instead of letting the program run from the initial settings and calculate the outcome, Lorentz decided to start half way down the sequence by inputting the values that the computer had come up with during the earlier run. The computer that Lorentz was working with calculated the various parameters with an accuracy of six decimals. But the printout gave these numbers with a three decimal accuracy. So instead of inputting certain numbers (like wind, temperature etc.) as accurate as the computer had them, Lorentz settled for approximations; 5.123456 became 5.123 (for instance). And that puny little inaccuracy appeared to amplify and cause the entire system to produce an entirely different result. Exactly how important is all this? Well, in the case of weather systems, it's very important. Weather is the total behavior of all the molecules that make up earth's atmosphere. And in the previous topics I have established that a tiny particle cannot be accurately pin-pointed, due to the Uncertainty Principle! And this is the sole reason why weather forecasts begin to be bogus around a day or two into the future. We can't get an accurate fix on the present situation, just a mere approximation, and so our ideas about the weather are doomed to fall into misalignment in a matter of hours, and completely unpredictable. Nature will not let herself be predicted.

Butterfly Effect
The butterfly effect is a term used in chaos theory to describe how small changes to a seemingly unrelated thing or condition (also known as an initial condition) can affect large, complex systems. The term comes from the suggestion that the flapping of a butterfly's wings could affect the weather, meaning that the tiniest influence on one part of a system can have a huge effect on another part. Taken more broadly, the butterfly effect is a way of describing how, unless all factors can be accounted for, large systems

like the weather remain impossible to predict with total accuracy because there are too many unknown variables to track. The analogy goes somewhat like this: A butterfly flaps its wings near a horse in South America, causing the pollen in the air to stir, causing the horse to sneeze. The horse makes a commotion and causes a stampede of hundreds of horses, which slightly affects the wind currents. The wind currents, being altered, affect larger wind currents, and the global weather overall. Because the global weather system was affected, it rains in New York five minutes before it would have otherwise, in a place a few hundred kilometers away from where it would have begun raining otherwise. So, the butterfly in South America caused the rain in New York. This example may seem absurd, but it can easily be made into more tangible examples. You sneeze, and knock over a drink that is placed on your desk. This causes you to get up and get a paper towel from the bathroom, where you slip and fall on the tile floor. You hit your head, and end up in the hospital. While at the hospital, a nurse reads your chart wrong which causes the surgeon to amputate your right leg. So, your leg was amputated because you sneezed. Chaos theory has been mentioned in numerous movies and works of literature. For instance, it was mentioned extensively in Michael Crichtons novel Jurassic Park and more briefly in its sequel. Other examples include the film Chaos, The Butterfly Effect, the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia and the video games Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Assassin's Creed (video game). The influence of chaos theory in shaping the popular understanding of the world we live in was the subject of the BBC documentary High Anxieties The Mathematics of Chaos directed by David Malone. Chaos theory is also the subject of discussion in the BBC documentary "The Secret Life of Chaos" presented by the physicist Jim Al-Khalil.