Chaotic Butterflies

In ordinary life chaos means disorder – random, disorganised confusion.  In science it means something entirely different – it means apparent randomness. In other words, things that appear to be random and disorganised but actually obey an order that we either can’t see or don’t understand.

The physicist, David Bohm believed everything was governed by a hidden – or as he termed it – implicate – order.  He demonstrated this using a very simple but graphic experiment copied from a BBC Children’s TV programme.

Take a vessel composed of two glass cylinders, put glycerine (or other viscous fluid) in the space between the cylinders, then put a drop of insoluble ink into the glycerine and turn the outer cylinder.  As the cylinder turns, the ink is drawn out into a thread that eventually becomes so thin it disappears from view as it is enfolded in the solution.

But if the cylinder is then turned in the opposite direction, the thread form reappears and retraces its steps until the original droplet is reconstituted.

Bohm offered this as a visual example of how order exists even when it is hidden and not obvious to us.

But David Bohm is far from the only scientist to suggest that the seeming ‘chaos’ that surrounds us may not be as haphazard as it appears.

In the 1960s, Edward Lorenz, a MIT meteorologist and the originator of the Butterfly Effect theory, tried to explore why it is so hard to make good weather forecasts and as a result chaos theory was born.  Lorenz was the first to recognize what is now called chaotic behaviour in the mathematical modelling of weather systems.

Soon, many other scientists – including social scientists – were attempting to use chaos theory to search for the hidden order in everything.

Nowadays, chaos theory (and it’s offspring, complexity theory) provides us with models we can apply to everything from epilepsy to social problems.

So, organised chaos is not a contradiction after all – who knew?


  1. Great video . . . “Shit happens.”

    The “what is” . . . is.

    How we relate to the issue IS the issue.
    We do not see things as they are . . . we see things as we are.

    When we relinquish the desire to control . . . we regain our inner equilibrium.

  2. I feel like we’re discussing something along the lines of LOST’s alternate reality. These experiments are hard to swallow, let alone comprehend at times. Have you heard of the experiment where the quantum theory is demonstrated and non observed electrons take different particle paths than observed electrons? It really blows my mind.

    1. I do know about that and I think it’s great! But if you think It’s a wave/it’s a particle is weird – have you ever looked at non-locality? I’m not a physicist so apologies for the explanation but as I understand it, where entangled particles – electrons – are separated if Particle A is measured and found to have a certain spin (e.g. up), its entangled partner – Particle B – will spin down and vice-versa – no matter how great the distance between the particles! There appears to be a lot of speculation (most of which I don’t pretend to understand!) and there’s a pile of mathematics proving it – including a theorem called Bell’s theorem (Mr. Bell was Irish I’m proud to say even if I don’t understand his theorem!) but there isn’t really any explanation as the particles react to each other faster than the speed of light with no obvious mode of communication. I love that I have to admit!

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