The rapidly accelerating discoveries of Chaos are overtaking our worldview. They teach us that Newton, and indeed almost all of the pre-chaos scientists, were dead wrong in their basic view of the Universe. They thought that there was a predictable cause and effect for everything, and that everything happened according to fixed physical laws. They believed in certainties, not probabilities. Their fundamental image of the Universe was a big clock. The presence of a divine being was only necessary to make the clock and wind it up. After He created the Universe, all God had to do was sit back and watch. The laws would operate in a predictable causal fashion.
Old science actually used to think that if you only knew all of the initial conditions, how the clock worked, you could predict what would happen at any point in time. Science assumed that everything could be known and eventually predicted. The Universe was ruled by a detailed system of unchanging laws. Cosmos and causality reigned supreme. There was no room for chaos and so it was conveniently swept under the rug.
The inevitable outcome of the ordered machine view was the complete winding down of the clock, the end of time in complete entropy – the second law of thermodynamics where everything tends to breakdown, to dissipate. This big picture of science naturally spawned the “God is dead” philosophies, nihilism, the life nausea of existentialism, behavioralism, communism and the like. Now with the Chaos theories this paradigm is itself dead. A whole new scientific view has been born, one much more in accord with an organic view, the common law, and philosophies of hope and spirit.
The cosmic clock image of establishment science first began to crumble at the turn of the century when physicists found that at the nuclear level the causal laws of physics didn’t hold true. The behavior of the atom and individual electron could not be predicted. Still, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence of quantum physics, old ideas die hard. The static civil law mind set would not die easily. Even Einstein could not believe that God would play dice with theUniverse. He searched in vain for a unified field theory that would explain away the chance and unpredictability so obvious in the subatomic world. Science struggled to maintain its centuries old view. The belief in a causal cosmos was now on shaky ground because it lacked a subatomic foundation. Still it prevailed because the rest of the world of physics seemed to follow linear, orderly and predictable clock like processes. Besides no one had articulated a different view to replace it. The subatomic world was considered an insignificant anomaly, an exception that proved the rule.
Then along came the Science of Chaos in the last part of this century to show that causality did not apply everywhere else as thought. In fact close measurements revealed that the unpredictable appeared in what was previously believed to be the most ordered and predictable of systems, the swinging of a simple pendulum – the very heart of a clock. As James Gleick’s book Chaos shows the brave early explorers of Chaos found that Science had been fooling itself for centuries by ignoring tiny deviations in its data and experiments. If a number was slightly off what the causal laws predicted, the pre-chaos scientists simply assumed there was an error in measurement in order to uphold the sanctity of the law itself. In order to preserve their pseudo-cosmos, scientists limited their investigation to closed and artificial systems, avoiding the turbulence of open systems like the plague.
Causality was the prime assumptionbehind all pre-chaos science and it never occurred to anyone to questionit. This conceptual bias created a blind spot of enormous proportions. Butthe reality of open systems, the Chaos lurking behind all order, would notbe denied. The charade of perfect order and fudged experimental data couldnot last forever. By the nineteen seventies it began to crumble, the conceptualblinders were falling from the eyes of more and more scientists. By the nineteeneighties the fly in the ointment, the unpredictable results in what shouldhave been perfect predictability, could no longer be denied. The Scienceof Chaos was born. Our understanding of the world will never be the same.
After nearly two decades nowof work by Chaoticians made up of the leading scientists and mathematiciansin a wide variety of fields, the evidence is overwhelming. The world is nota gigantic clock where everything happens in an ordered and predictable manner.The real world is fundamentally disordered, free. Chaos reigns over predictability.Simple, linear systems which are causal and predictable are the exceptionin the Universe, not the rule. Most of the Universe works in jumps, in anon-linear fashion that can not be exactly predicted. It is infinitely complex.Freedom and free will – the Strange Attractors – prevail over rules and determinacy.
Yet Chaos is no enemy anddestroyer of Cosmos, for from out of Chaos a higher order always appears,but this order comes spontaneously and unpredictably. It is “self-organized.”The creation of the Universe is an ongoing process, not just a one time eventat the beginning. All and everything – and everyone – is part of this creativeprocess. Over time all systems – from molecules, to life, to galactic clusters- are continually creating new organizations and patterns from out of featurelessnessand chaos. The world is not a Clock, it is a Game, a Game of Chance and Choice. In the game random processes – chance and serendipity – allow room forfree will, individuality and unpredictable creativity.
The Universe is governed bylaws, but the laws are of a different kind than previously thought. Likethe common law system, the Laws of Wisdom are inherently flexible. They are not written in stone, they are general. They leave infinite room for creativity within certain general parameters. A few fundamental principals exist to establish the parameters, but the Law governs much more loosely than previously thought. The Laws are subject to changes and modifications over time and depend upon the particular facts. Like the common law, the Laws of Nature appear to have flexibility; many thingsare decided on a case by case basis. Self organization is the rule, not theexception. Everything is not pre-determined by a rigid and complex systemof detailed laws which specify exactly how everything works. There is nodetailed blueprint of the universe, just a general set of Laws.
In the words of physicist Paul Davies in his book The Cosmic Blueprint (1988):
There is no detailed blue print, only a set of laws with an inbuilt facility for making interesting things happen. The universe is free to create itself as it goes along. The general pattern of development is “predestined,” but the details are not. Thus, the existence of intelligent life at some stage is inevitable; it is, so to speak, written into the laws of nature. But man as such is far from preordained.
The image of God playing dicewith the Universe was threatening and fearful to the old scientists, eventhe great ones like Einstein, who incidently grew up in a civil law system.But that was only because they did not understand the order lurking in Chaos,the great beauty inherent in chance. For we now know that it is only throughchance that new and unpredictable relationships can be created, entitiescan self organize to further evolution and create entirely new symmetriesand coherence. With the image of the machine clock gone, the insights ofrelativity can finally be appreciated. Time is not mechanical, it dependson space. Time is flexible, essentially unpredictable from moment to moment,but this does not lead us hopelessly adrift. We can still navigate from thehidden order which appears over time, the statistics from segments of time,from iteration. The order implicit in Chaos is unpredictable on a case bycase basis, but still reliable and workable on the long run.
God’s dice liberates us from the prison of determinism, the hopeless tedium of the cosmic clock and the inevitable death of entropy. We have instead an intelligent Universe, where ever new and evolving life forms thrive on Chaos, where negentropy creates higher order from decaying forms. The clock is not winding down as the second law of thermodynamics had thought, it is ever being created anew. God is back in the picture, not just as the creator of the machine who then left- the ghost in the machine – but as the Strange Attractor, the origin of inexplicable and unpredictable order from chance.
This is a new kind of order, a “fractal order,” based on a relatively few basic structural principals from which many transitory laws follow. The Laws of Wisdom we must learn for the journey to self realization are flexible, evolving. Like the common law, they are articulated afresh moment by moment, case by case.The laws are stable, but they do not stand still. Exactly how the basic principals will apply to form governing laws all depends upon the circumstances, the consciousness involved, the entities, the case.
The free will of the individual in connection with the infinite is now primary. All is not determined, everyone has a chance to decide their own fate. The philosophic implications of Chaos are positive and encouraging. The Universe is not a clock, its a game. Enjoy it!