1-Sentence-Summary: Chaos is a scientific piece of writing that presents the principles behind the Chaos Theory, which was popularized in the late 20th century and represents a monumental step forward in the area of scientific knowledge and the universe’s evolution overall.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Science is a fascinating subject not just for researchers from fields like physics, mathematics, or other such areas. But also for the everyday human who finds it interesting to learn about the universe. For this reason, Chaos by James Gleick presents the most captivating aspects of science – the randomness and the disorder.
Most scientists focus primarily on discovering the natural order of things and providing explanations for everything that’s happening in the world. But a group of researchers from the 1970s decided to pursue the opposite. They looked at the exceptions from the ordinary, the inexplicable, the flukes in the system. As such, the Theory of Chaos emerged.
Here are the three most interesting lessons from the book:
- The butterfly effect is a beautiful, yet weird mechanism.
- Chaos is not only a mathematical concept but a law of nature.
- The Dynamical System Collectives popularized the Chaos theory.
Now, we’re going to put our geek glasses on and study these lessons in-depth one by one. Let’s see what they really mean!
Lesson 1: Minuscule changes in a system can perturb its entire course through the butterfly effect
While studying the weather and coming up with formulas to predict it for months ahead, Edward Lorenz stumbled upon something spectacular. To begin with, he started with the premise that all scientists had at the time. In theory, small values can’t affect a bigger system unless they’re relevant enough.
In practice, things were a lot different. Lorenz noticed that by omitting something as insignificant as a third decimal point, the whole study would turn out completely different. How could something so small affect the bigger picture?
Through the butterfly effect! The Theory of Chaos supports the idea that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings in Beijing could cause a huge storm in New York eventually. Although mysterious, this theory proved to be true in Lorenz’s studies on the weather.
In other words, a small act today has a large effect in the long run. Multiply that by all the small acts you do in a day – that’s crazy! It can be challenging to wrap your head around such large concepts. But picturing these scenarios can help you better understand this effect and the existence of chaos.
The butterfly effect is not only a way to interpret weather forecasts, but it’s a theory applicable to life and the universe in general. In science, it helped researchers understand how unpredictable and chaotic systems really are, and how minor fluctuations affect large-scale structures.
Lesson 2: Nonlinear systems are a characteristic of the universe
Some scientists have opposed the Theory of Chaos, while some have embraced it once they’ve seen proof. This hypothesis focused mostly on the field of..science! However, once the community started to pay more attention to these nonlinear fluctuations in each system they were encountering, it all became clear.
Chaos is a characteristic of the whole system of the world and the universe. We live in chaos just as much as we live by the laws of nature. There’s a point to which we can predict fluctuations, but chaos will always leave room for misinterpretations and unexplainable occurrences.
Moreover, these will shift the predicted structure of the studied system to a point no scientific research can determine. It was when scientists decided to apply the Theory of Chaos to more areas of life, such as nature, that they realized that its occurrence is inevitable.
It seems that scientists considered animal population growth as follows: animals breed significantly and grow in large numbers at first. Then, they stop. When there are too many of them, the population collapses overall.
However, observing more of the same studies and considering even one extra factor at the time, such as limited food supplies, the subjects behaved completely different. The result? Chaos. At the time scientists chose to overlook these aspects, whereas today chaos is studied in-depth and taken very seriously.
Lesson 3: The Dynamic System Collective was a group of men who liked to test the Chaos Theory and make sense of it
By now, you should already know two basic principles of the Theory of Chaos. Some systems never find equilibrium and small fluctuations can alter a whole system. However, unlike you, not all scientists believed that in the late ’80s.
The Chaos Theory was gaining ground, but the Dynamic System Collective popularized this concept. With a computer on hand, they could study the theory in depth by altering small factors at the beginning of a system.
Then, they were observing how it behaves once a small fluctuation occurs and how the course of the entire system changes in time. Much like the domino effect, this theory showed how these fluctuations do create chaos. They tried to find patterns in the inexplicable, but they couldn’t find substantial evidence.
Soon, everyone realized that not all systems are created equal and that physics can only take us so far. Chaos exists in the workplace you go to, it happens when a flag snaps in the wind when someone decides to switch their usual route on their way to work, and it changes the initial course of the system altogether, every day.
Science is a fascinating field, as it offers answers for many of humanity’s questions over time. However, as seems to be the case, not all systems follow the pattern we think they will, and small fluctuations will change the entire course of a structure.
Chaos presents the idea that the universe isn’t always predictable, that there’s beauty in the mystery of not knowing, and that chaotic fluctuations that don’t follow patterns are a natural part of life. Reading this book is a must if you want to improve your overall knowledge about the world.
Who would I recommend the Chaos summary to?
The 50-year-old scientist who loves a good non-fiction book, the 30-year-old person who just loves to read about science, or the 17-year-old student who loves science and reads a lot in their free time.
Last Updated on October 6, 2022