Chaos theory is the idea that in absolute chaos, total randomness, eventually patterns will begin to emerge. Many things give credence to this, but I’ll get to that later. Basically I think that the universe gets more and more random and less predictable and less stable the more you zoom in, and that the properties of physics, the “laws” and constants that we observe (which are often found to be not as constant than we think) are just apparent properties that you get when you zoom out from total or near chaos.
To illustrate this point, lets use the example of the constant of gravity. Gravity seems like the ultimate stalwart, as far as we can tell it never, ever changes. But lets throw a little randomness into it and see if we can turn something semi-random into something universally constant. Lets say that instead of each particle exerting a constant amount of force on every particle around it (gravity), it exerts ten thousand times the force that it appears to. But there is a one in ten thousand chance that it will effect a given particle in a given instant. Gravity affects different particles different ways, effectively switching on and off at quantum speeds and is much more chaotic.
If this were the case we would observe… no difference. Gravity on an atomic level is insanely weak and therefore only really strong enough to be measured when you have the gravity of many, maaaaaany particles acting on something. In order for a pound of anything to actually weigh a pound it has to be near a planet like the earth and be acted on by about 133 quindecillion atoms, or
So if our measuring tools were about a quindecillion times more powerful than they are, and we could measure the exact effect of one particle on one specific other particle, we might very well find that we do not get an actual constant. But when we macro out it would still behave as thought it was a constant. So you have a universe which is both chaotic and orderly, depending on your level of magnification. For example, glass we think of as smooth, but if my little hypothesis is correct, perhaps it will seem less consistent and orderly the more we zoom in. I mean even shattered glass has smooth textures and sharply defined edges. But when we zoom in with an electron microscope we get this:
Looks more random, no?
This is similar to the concept of emergence, or emergent phenomenon. Basically when things behave in a consistent way, patterns eventually will emerge out of that un-guided, un-planned consistency. The most common example of this is water crystalization:
So for all we know if you had sub-quantum particles behaving in an absolutely random way (whatever that might be, it’s hard to imagine), but consistently behaving in that fashion, then it might macro out to a consistent or at least less random behavior, which could macro out into an even more stable behavior, which would macro out into an even more stable behavior and so on. The way a planet seems more serene from outer space, and gets fantastically more complicated the more you zoom in and see ecosystems and civilization and then even more complicated as you look at micro-organisms, the metabolisms of those creatures and so on. It is possible every quark or photon of light is akin to a planet, made of innumerable particles acting in a semi-random way which macro out to subatomic particles, which macro out to atoms, which then macro out to chemicals, which then macro out to things like a solid lump of metal, which macros out to a planet, getting more stable at different levels of magnification, while still remaining insanely random and unstable on a quantum level, the way a star is insanely powerful on the level of a, well, star, but is an insignificant speck of dust on the level of a galaxy.
We are very limited in what we can observe, we can observe the cosmic level and “everyday” macroscopic level (what is visible to the naked eye), and we indirectly observe everything smaller. So it’s possible that if the quantum, chemical macro and cosmological level of magnification are like rungs on a ladder, that there are levels above the cosmic level, and below the quantum that we have not yet discovered or can barely conceive of. And there could be two, ten, or a billion levels in either direction which we cannot observe. I think we will expand our vision in this respect to some degree, but we may never be able to unravel every level of the quantum world.
But anyway, getting back to the topic of order from chaos, emergent phenomenon are not limited to chemestry, or the quantum world, they even occur due to human nature. One such example was a bridge in london called the Millenium Bridge, which was designed to not be supported by vertical supports, but to be supported by metal beams from the side
The bridge was sound from an engineering perspective, but closed two days after it was opened to the public. What they didn’t take into consideration was emergent phenomenon in humans. Because the same way a snowflake can form those amazing patterns with no organizing intelligence whatsoever simply because the atoms are all behaving the same way, human reaction and balance is a mostly unconscious and pretty much universally consistent part of human nature. So when we trip over something or fall backwards, we all unconsciously compensate in pretty much the same ways just like the water molecules in a snowflake are acting the same way. So when the traffic from a charity walk across the bridge just after it was opened to public use caused the bridge to sway even the tiniest bit, all of the people on the bridge unconsciously compensated for it, which meant that thousands of people were acting the same way at the same time, which multiplies the force. That caused the bridge to sway a little harder in the opposite direction, which caused everyone to compensate the same way again, wobbling it in the opposite direction even harder, etc.
This continued and the effect multiplied until not only the bridge was swaying back and forth in unison, but all of the people, unconsciously and without realizing it, were all walking in unison across the bridge – thousands of right steps at the same time, thousands of left steps at the same time, and the bridge seemed to wobble dangerously. It was shut down and took them two years to fix the wobble, lol.
Here is a video of it.
Separate nations, languages, political affiliations, cultural shifts etc, all on some level can be seen as emergent phenomenon.
Some people may find this idea bleak, but I don’t think the idea that so much really interesting and amazing stuff can potentially come out of complete randomness is truly bleak. While it may be true that on some level the universe is un-guided and humanity has no rule book or guardian looking out for us, that there is no set one thing that we’re all supposed to be doing or set one place we’re all supposed to go – while that may frighten people, when I look at the grandeur it creates (which may be infinite), I think that feeling lost sometimes or uncertain or confused about the big questions is more than a fair trade for participating in such an amazing and beautiful system, at least for awhile. I don’t think that’s a bad deal at all. I think that we feel the desire for guidance and protection more out of the psychology of familial relationships than anything, and don’t think the universe is family oriented any more than it’s republican or democrat (at least not exclusively, thought these things all stem from the universe), I think the cosmos itself is bigger and grander than our local, conceptions about philosophy.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed this blog. Thank wikipedia, the science channel, eastern philosophy and modern physics for informing me about these various ideas and the caffeine gods for helping me put it together in a coherent (I hope) string of ideas. Rec’ if you enjoyed it, it took me awhile to write : )