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The Spirit of Chaos and the Chaos of Spirit

By Patricia Monaghan

One day, chaos grabbed me. I had actually studied chaos, scientically. I had been a science writer for years, rst specializing in geophysics and later in alternative energy. But science remained a fairly intellectual enterprise, especially when I was working on my doctorate in science and literature, examining connections between early quantum theory and post-modern literary theory. Then suddenly, my husband was diagnosed with cancer and was up against chaos in the non-technical sense. I already knew something about chaos, because I had grown up in chaotic family environment. My father was a highly decorated, but deeply damaged, Korean War veteran. He brought war home in his psyche, in a way that will become familiar to so many thousands of other families in the next decade and beyond. And we his children, growing up with violence, suffered from secondary posttraumatic stress syndrome. One of its manifestations is that the psyche can adapt to erratic behavior by investing heavily in attempts to control the environment. I was one of those people who had to have everything just right in order to feel safe enough to function. Nothing is just right when someone you love is terminally ill. I was blessed with having a strong, unconicted relationship with my husband, the novelist Robert Shea. Bob accepted cancer as a spiritual challenge. He once told me that the secret of happiness is to live like you have cancer, but not actually have cancer. It was a great spiritual challenge for me as well. Having life spiral out of control was more terrifying than anything I had ever previously experienced, and I experienced a spiritual void such as I had never known. And so, I began to study the science of chaos. Like most of us in western society today, my philosophy had been unconsciously inuenced by dualism. Much of that unconscious orientation was derived from the African philosopher Augustine of Hippo, who changed little of his philosophy when he changed his allegiance from Persian Manichaeism to Christianity in the

early fourth century. Following Saint Augustines lead, our culture describes opposition while other cultures see polarity. In Japanese Shinto, for example, good and evil are not opposites; evil, represented by the storm god Susano-o, is whatever is out of place, out of balance, rather than something permanently opposed to goodness. In Shinto, something can be good in one context and bad in another, depending on where it occurs and when it occurs. Our own language harbors a similar spiritual truth: our word evil derives from the word full, thus what is e full is excessive, beyond natural boundaries. The word is not related etymologically to the word good, which derives its roots from that which means to gather or to bond together. So even in our own language we have a different vision than the one that says that good and evil are opposite forces that can never interact. Augustine and his lot argued the soul and the body are separate, that they were at war. This persistent misapprehension was accompanied by other dualities: women as opposite to men, the head as opposite to heart, light opposite dark, and so on. Such visions encourage dualism and separation, rather than bonding and holism. They affect us, whether we will it or not. Today, Id like to talk about the order verses chaos duality. Its history begins with Plato, whose ideal world of abstract perfection leaves out most everything in our real world, which looks tattered and imperfect by comparison. In science, the Platonic tradition includes Euclid and Pythagoras, who imagined a world of perfect unalterable forms of triangles, circles, and squares, predictable and clear. But life is not that way. Life is messy, erratic, and unpredictable. Is life itself, nature herself, therefore decient? The philosophy with which I grew up with encouraged me to think so. And so, confronted by the erratic, messy, chaotic process of cancer, I had no philosophy to fall back upon for understanding. Chaos came to the rescue. There are two theories vital to understanding chaos. These are sensitive dependence upon initial conditions, also known as the buttery effect, and the self-similarity of fractal geometry. To illustrate these concepts, let me share with you poems that resulted from my many years of struggle to understand the chaos of my own life, poems published in my book, Dancing with Chaos.

Stepping aside from the science of chaos to reect on its literary heritage, we can nd descriptions of chaos in literature in such early writers as the Greek Hesiods Theogony and epics such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. To ancient writers, chaos was the great formless sea from which form emerged. Dancing with Chaos begins with my translation of one of my favorite classical writers Ovid, whose Metamorphosis is a series of tales of transformation: In The Beginning Before land, sea, sky, before all that: nature was chaos; our cosmos, all chaos; all the same enormity, all in one; there was no form, no moon to walk the night, no earth to dance with air, no ocean touching shimmeringly the fractal reefs and particulate sand; life and lifelessness the same, roughness, smoothness the same, heat falling into cold, cold into heat, dampness falling into drought, heaviness falling into weightlessness, yieldingness falling into adamant. Now let me tell you how things change, new rising endlessly out of old, everything altering, form unto form, let me be the voice of mutability, the only constant in this world. Mutability, change, chaosit is the only unchanging aspect of life on this plane, the only constant in this world. But it is not, as you might imagine, utter disorder. Chaos has its own rules, which science has been unfolding for us. The rst principle of chaossensitive dependence upon initial conditions, or the buttery effect are the subject of this somewhat whimsical poem I wrote: The Buttery Tattoo Effect Does the ap of a butterys wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

Edward Lorenz Charlene was fty when she got it: one small buttery, perched on her right shoulder, bright blue with stipples of pink. Everything in her life seemed safe by then: husband, children, house and dog. She wanted to be a little dangerous. When she left the Jade Dragon she called her oldest friend, Joanne, in Florida, with the news. A tattooed gal at fty, she bragged. I aint done yet. Joanne laughed that throaty laugh of hers. An hour later on her way to work, she stopped on a whim and bought a gallon of red paint for her door. That night, she didnt drive straight Home, but stopped for a drink at an old haunt from her more dangerous years. No one she knew was there, so she talked awhile to Flo, the bartender, told her about feng shui and red doors, and oh yes, she mentioned the tattoo just before she left. It rested in Flos mind all night as she She was warmer than usual, sassy and loud. Things got wild. There was dancing. A new woman stopped in and picked up one of the regulars. Washing up past midnight, Flo thought of her old friend Paula, who lived in California. It was still early there. Flo picked up the phone, right then, and called. Somehow the subject of Charlene's tattoo came up. Paula had been thinking of getting one too. Why not? Life marks us all, why cant we chose our scars just once? They talked till late. The next day Paula

walked into a dealership and bought the reddest car she saw. By nightfall she was driving fast, towards the sea. And the next morning the world awoke to news of seismic convulsions on every continent brought on by the simultaneous shifting into high gear of millions of women in sleek red cars. To understand sensitive dependence upon initial conditionsthe buttery effect we must hark back to the simpler days when Newtons physics gave us the perhaps overwhelming condence that if we knew the original position of any moving object, and the force and angle from which it was hit, we could trace its trajectory and nd out where it would land. The formula was great for baseball and for Newtons apple, so it seemed to scientists in the pre-chaos days that, if given enough information of where very sub-atomic particles were at the moment of the big bang, we would know the future. Simply do the math! Then, Edward Lorenz came to the forefront. But in order to explain Lorenzs discovery of the buttery effect, I need to go back to the turn of the twentieth century. Physicists at that timejust a few years before Einstein broke the news of relativitythought they had pretty much got their eld under total control. The prominent scientist Lord Kelvin even told a class of graduating physicists that they would have boring careers because pretty much everything was already known. Among the few problems still unsolved, Lord Kelvin admitted, was something called the Three Body Problem. Let me describe it in a poem that begins with an epigram from the man who nally solved it: The Three Body Problem

These things are so strange I cannot bear to contemplate them. Henri Poincar It was easy to gure out when there were just two: me, you. Easy, remember? The route between us, always starting here, ending there. Me to you. Never the other way: starting there, ending here. Pattern set, route established. We knew

what to expect, how to act. We thought we about the future. Ah, the future. It would be the same; route set, pattern established. We knew how everything moved, me to you, one of us a satellite and one a sun, one peripheral to the others center, me drawing the same circles around you, over and over. Easy. But then suddenly, as we were looping our usual loop, me to you, me to you suddenly, there was the other. A new body. A third. Me, you, the other. What would we do now? Where were the centers, how could the circles be drawn, who was to move how? Two bodies, then a third. This could have been many stories, even one as simple as two friends, having coffee one morning, who make space for someone to join them, after which their conversation falters. Each of us has many such stories. Two bodies, then a third. And everything is different after that. This is one of those stories. This is the story in which the third body is one with arms that reach and hold, eyes that gleam and smile, a body with all the parts a body needs to come between other bodies. That story. No one can predict what will happen when a third body joins a two-body system. Linear equations are useless. One thing is certain: things will change.

We could not go on as before, just another loop added, once an opening had been made for chaos When three bodies interact, everything becomes important. Huge changes are caused by the tiniest gestures: a glance, a whisper, the touch of ngertips on the inside of a wrist. Two bodies, then a third. And everything is different after that.

Everything was different after Poincar. He pointed out that linear equations cannot solve the three-body problem. Only non-linear equations could do the job. If you think algebra was hard, dont go anywhere near non-linear equations. In fact, when Poincar lived, nobody could solve a non-linear equation: even a lifetime was not enough time to do the math. The computer, however, brought us enough computational power to solve relatively simple non-linear equations (some are still too long to gure out). In 1960, when Edward Lorenz was a meteorologist at MIT, he was running some atmospheric models on a big mainframe computer. He faced the following problem: every time he plugged in data, the same answer kept coming out. Why then was weather so unpredictable if a model of weather was so predictable? One day, Lorenz arrived to nd out that the computer had malfunctioned in the middle of a run. So he started it over. But he rounded off the point at which the program had ceased, by merely a fraction. When he returned, the results were entirely different. All from a few decimal points! What Lorenz had discovered is that calculation must be based upon precise data. But the most minute change in the input can completely change the outcome. If an action is iterated and reiterated through a system, each action can create more than its equal and opposite reaction. Even a tiny action can cause a major upheaval. This poem addresses that signicant realization: The Poised Edge of Chaos Sand sifts down, one grain at a time,

forming a small hill. When it grows high enough, a tiny avalanche begins. Let sand continue to sift down, and avalanches will occur irregularly, in no predictable order, until there is a tiny mountain range of sand. Peaks will appear, and valleys, and as sand continues to descend, the relentless sand, piling up and slipping down, piling up and slipping down, piling upeventually a single grain will cause a catastrophe, all the hills and valleys erased, the whole face of the landscape changed in an instant. Walking yesterday, my heels crushed chamomile and released intoxicating memories of home. Earlier this week, I wrote an old love, ooded with need and desire. Last month I planted new owers in an old garden bed one grain at a time, a pattern is formed, one grain at a time, a pattern is destroyed, and there is no way to know which grain will build the tiny mountain higher, which grain will tilt the mountain into avalanche, whether the avalanche will be small or catastrophic, enormous or inconsequential. We are always dancing with chaos, even when we think we move too gracefully to disrupt anything in the careful order of our lives, even when we deny the choreography of passion, hoping to avoid earthquakes and avalanches, turbulence and elemental violence and pain. We are always dancing with chaos, for the grains sift down upon the landscape of our lives, one, then another, one, then another, one then another. Today I rose early and walked by the sea, watching the changing patterns of the light and the otters rising and the gulls descending,

and the boats steaming off into the dawn, and the smoke drifting up into the sky, and the waves drumming on the dock, and I sang. An old song came upon me, one with no harbor nor dawn nor dock, no woman walking in the mist, no gulls, no boats departing for the salmon shoals. I sang, but not to make order of the sea nor of the dawn, nor of my life. Not to make order at all. Only to sing, clear notes over sand. Only to walk, footsteps in sand. Only to live. Sensitive dependence upon initial condition did not displace Newtonian physics; it extended it. But it also complicated it. Chaos theory tells us we can calculate the trajectory of any baseballs arc through the air, so long as we know the exact location and angle from where it was thrown. But exact turns out to be an extremely hard thing to determine. Even the slightest difference between the angle of a pitchers arm between one pitch and another makes all the difference in the world of where the ball lands. Life is not wildly unpredictable. It is just very, very, very hard to measure. The second important part of chaos theory I want to discuss is fractal geometry. Again, I want to use a poem as illustration. When I began working on Dancing with Chaos as a book rather than a pile of poems, I looked for a narrative to help the reader understand process of chaos: rigid stasis, catastrophic dissolution, then re-emergent order. This is the process of life and other turbulent systems: nothing stays the same. Chaos science is based on the examining turbulence, which you can easily observe by watching a river. Just before its rapids, a river looks very sleek. This shiny spot is called laminar ow, and I think of it as being like those points in life where everything is peculiarly calmthe proverbial calm before the storm. Laminar Flow <A: A violent order is disorder, and B: A great disorder is an order. These two things are one.

Wallace Stevens

We were driving. You were silent. I had given up speaking and sat watching out the window as the hedgerows ew by. You wanted to drive to the top of a hill to see a chapel. Or perhaps it was I who wanted that. We were driving, in any case. In my memory, we are often that way: driving. Not speaking, just driving. That time I was remembering a farmer who had loved me. Loved me and sent me away, back to you. I missed his nakedness. You were never naked with me. Your eyes were always cloaked, your heart shrouded. There was some confusion, I remember. Something about a wrong turn along the way, at the bottom of the hill. Finally we found the chapel, a charming place beside a pleasant overlook above a river. Children ran laughing along the paths. There was nothing wrong. There was absolutely nothing wrong. Understanding turbulence means getting rid of that ideal world of Plato, Augustine, and his friends. It means getting our feet wet in the real world. One of the great innovations of chaos science has been the articulation of a new geometry that describes this bumpy, inexact world in which we live much better than the old geometry did. The old geometry which consisted of what we learned in high schoolnding the area of parallelograms, squares, rectangles, and trianglesthis was Euclid's geometry, used for over twenty-ve hundred years. Nobody really questioned it, because it worked. But it excluded some important aspects of our world. In the 1950s, about the time Lorenz was messing around with his computer simulations of weather, a brilliant mathematician named Benoit Mandelbrot set his mind to whether Euclids geometry was correct. For rst time in two and half millennia, someone looked at the world afresh. Mandelbrot realized that our

world is not composed of parallelograms, squares, and triangles. Nothing is quite as regular as that. The sun is a sphere only if viewed from a long distance; closer up, all sorts of bumpy things jut out of it. Everything in the natural world is this way, fractured and fractioned. So Mandelbrot coined the word fractal to describe the real geometry of our world. One of Mandelbrots foundation principles is self-similarity. To understand this, imagine two trees of different species standing side by side. Look at one tree and you will notice that a certain angle is repeated throughout the tree. The large branches come out at an angle, the smaller branches come out at the same angle; if you pick up a leaf, you will notice it also contains the same angle in the smaller veins emerging from the central vein. Look at the tree next to it and you can observe a completely different angle, repeated over and over again, down from the overall shape to the veins in the leaves. This is called iteration, rather than repetition, because forms are not repeated precisely, but with subtle variations. Mandelbrot, dubbing this iteration of patterns at various scales selfsimilarity, found that the same pattern system appears in both organic and inorganic life: in glaciers as well as in trees, the striated forms of limestone as well as the spiraling petals of the rose. Because I had decided that the theme of Dancing with Chaos would be love, the most chaotic of emotions, I wrote the following poem to exemplify Mandelbrot's theories: The Fractal Geometry of Love Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line. Benoit Mandelbrot

1. Iteration There is a kind of hunger that satisfaction intensies:

I touch you, I touch you again, and again, and again, and again, and with each touch I want to touch you more, I am caught in this feedback loop of touching and touching and touching and touching 2. Self-Similarity The smallest gesture is the same as the largest: when you placed your hand on mine in that caf, it was the same as when you place your hand on mine in bed and when you look into my eyes for a ashing instant, it is the same as when you hold them until we both burst into ame. 3. Measurement The eye is not a sphere. My breasts are not cones. Your nipples are not circles. Your face is not smooth, and nothing between us travels in a straight line. If I were to attempt to outline your sweet body, I would be unable to do so: if I touch it closely enough, so

closely that I trace each cell, each cells boundary, each cells connection to other cells, I would be measuring your outline until the end of time. And that is what I am doing, lying here, next to you in the sun, trying to move beyond time, beginning my journey to the innite, my hand slowly, slowly, slowly, tracing the vast outline of your body. Building on the work of Lorenz and Mandlebrot, chaos theory has yielded insights in elds as diverse as the stock market analysis and arrhythmia of the heart. It also offers us a new vocabulary for spiritual insight. For, to return to my own story, I had to face the major philosophical questions when I was widowed. The mind-body problem I had struggled with as an undergraduate was suddenly no longer an abstraction. And what was I to make of a lifemy ownthat had become so unruly, so chaotic? Chaos theory came to my rescue by teaching me that we do not live in some abstract perfection, but in a pulsing changeful world. Chaos offered me a vocabulary in a conceptual framework for exploring ways to interpret life that ies in the face of Platonic-Manichean-Augustinian dualism, that message from the past that kept me for so many years from truly embracing the ow of life. The spiritual message of chaos is so well-expressed by that ancient pagan sage, Ovid: that change is the only constant in our world, the one thing we can be certain of. I would like to end with two paired poems. The rst is a poem, I composed from actual questions from physics tests. The second is my own answers to the questions. Examination ! 1.! Describe disruption of laminar ow. ! 2.! Is uncertainty random? ! 3.! Are unpredictable instabilities chaotic?

! 4.! Distinguish between noise and chaos. ! 5.! Is chance further reducible? ! 6.! Are all attractors strange? ! 7.! vDraw a basin of attraction. ! 8.! Name a useful dissipative system. ! 9.! Can a stable equilibrium last? ! 10.! How turbulent is the heart? ANSWER SHEET

! 1.! In the wilderness between center and edge the vortex is born. ! 2.! Distinguish between not knowing and not knowing: one at the root of all, one an order so immense we have to stand in another universe to glimpse its outline.

! 3.! Wait. Long. Enough. ! 4.! A: Distantly I hear water dropping onto porcelain. B: Inside explosions are instants of silence.

! 5.! The weakness of the theory: the constancy of chance, Einstein said, which does not get us any closer. ! 6.! A boulder. Two gold pins. Three feathers. And then: an owl, ying, ying away, ying far away. ! 7.! My hands tracing the hollow of your throat. ! 8.! Abandoned to the dance. ! 9.! Instead, recurrence: never the same thing exactly, never exactly the same, but repeating the same thing, never exactly the same thing, but repeating, recurring, repeating.

! 10.! As any instrument that translates noise, chaos into music, order.