9th February 2021
The time is the early Sixties; the place, a room in a research centre. We can imagine the entire back wall covered by metallic, grey-blue, wardrobe-like cabinets, housing large, state-of-the-art computers, their spools turning through Perspex windows, emitting a constant hum that is deafening to new arrivals, but now inaudible to the scientists that work there, a security blanket, an audio barrier against extraneous interference.
Now we have The Scientist. Doubtless he is wearing a spotless lab coat, pure white, or, perhaps, as The States were emerging from their Eisenhower conservatism and The Sixties still a swing away, the coat is a dull, conformist grey. Pens neatly arranged in breast pocket.
The Scientist is concerned with the weather. Forecasting it, trying to comprehend its peculiar patterns, its apparent aberrations, its random rumblings.
By analysing data, maybe it could be understood and, if not controlled, at least scientists would know exactly what to expect and when.
That’s where the computers came in. The calculations were so intricate, the figures so exhaustive, that only these cumbersome machines could handle them. What an exciting time; technology now existed that could process the mind-blowing streams of numbers. The scientists just had to sit back and wait for the results.
So our Scientist, while inputting data, and rather desirous of a caffeine fix, decided to take an insignificant short cut.
Wanting to check some previous work, but not wishing to start the calculations at the beginning, he took a reading at mid point, and started the simulation on computer from there.
Instead of feeding in a figure with several decimal points, he decided to round it up to just three, thus 0.506127 etc became 0.506.
This minute alteration should have no discernible effect, would probably have no effect at all, so, safe in that assumption, The Scientist left his room and went to the cafeteria, where he could chinwag with the other boffins about suspected cold fronts, joke about predicating football scores and cast sideways glances at the cute girl behind the counter.
Back to work. The Scientist picked up the reams of paper and looked for the result. He found it, but immediately thought it must be wrong, so he checked. He double checked.
He had been expecting an answer within certain parameters.
The figure before him was far outside his prediction, and he was driving himself crazy by constantly going over the calculation. No, all the figures, the work, was correct, so why the discrepancy ?
Surely it couldn’t be because he had made a tiny adjustment ?
So he re-ran numbers, checking the altered sum from the original figure.
Thus, the first point about Chaos Theory: Tiny, insignificant changes at a starting point, can lead to massive, significant changes at a distant point.
It was therefore an act of Chaos that led to Chaos Theory.
Then came the second point about Chaos Theory : All complex systems are constantly changing and feeding back on themselves.
The Scientist took some data at 9:00 AM and, feeding this into the computer, tried to forecast the weather for the following afternoon.
Three hours later, he fed in new data, how the weather was at 12:00. This he repeated, at intervals.
All the results were different.
The weather was constantly changing, and even minor fluctuations would cause different patterns, which may lead to other alterations which would lead to other situations, which would … and so on.
By rounding up the figure to just three decimal points, The Scientist would popularize theories that had long been in existence, bringing them out of academia and into the modern world where they could be applied by anyone wanting to know the weather, or predict the economic peaks and troughs, or regulate traffic flow, or apply it to an understanding of history or politics.
Or, maybe, just maybe, someone may come up with an theory about trying to understand that most chaotic of human relations: love.
3 thoughts on “Love and Chaos Part 5(A) How A Coffee Break Started A New Scientific Theory”
The trouble there is that it completely goes against basic physics. IIRC, it’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Newton’s Second Law of Motion that both say essentially that gravity, atmospheric pressure, friction and a hundred other things all act as a brake on motion.
Take the idea to it’s extreme: If a butterfly flapping it’s wings causes a hurricane, what does a million cars zooming down freeways do? How about a supersonic jet like the Concorde?
Computer models… GIGO. With the right biases in data, you can get them to predict anything.
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Quite true, even Lorenz refuted this, stating that there were infinite factors between the celebrated butterfly and an event on a different continent; it was more of a ‘soundbite’ to get people’s attention, get them thinking. The ‘butterfly’, as I’m sure you know, originates from the pattern made by plotting figures on a graph.
However, we have gone back to online lesson in Viet Nam … trying to teach a dozen kids with all the background noise, shouting, screaming etc is ENOUGH chaos for me !
Thanks so much for reading my blogs, I do appreciate it. We now have Tet Holiday so Happy New (Lunar) Year from Sai Gon … I hope your new home is stress (and noisy dog)-free.
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