In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Critical Discussions Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science, by N. Katherine Hayles; xvii & 309 pp. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990, $35.95 cloth, $12.95 paper. Discussed by Patrick Brady Chaos theory had its roots in the nineteenth-century work ofthe French mathematician Henri Poincaré, but it did not come to fruition until the 1960s, in the work of researchers like Edward Lorenz. And only in 1987, in fact, did this theory begin to attract general interest. This was largely because of two events that occurred that year: the broadcast of the television special on chaos1 and the publication of the book on this topic byJames Gleick.2 Other recent volumes had claimed to present a new science,3 but none had had the impact of Gleick's. Hayles goes even further than Gleick: "It is an underestimation to say that chaos theory has redefined what science means. Changed are not the disciplinary procedures and criteria of normal science but the epistemic ground on which it—and much else in contemporary culture [e.g., the ground of representation itself]—rests" (pp. 16, 207). Nearly a hundred years ago, Poincaré, who specialized in topology, rejected Newton's clockwork conception of the universe, based on calculus , with everything knowable and predictable, and opened the way to chaos—complexity, uncertainty, unpredictability. He proposed the principle of nonlinearity (the last-straw effect): "It may happen that small differences in the initial conditions produce very great ones in Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 367-378 368Philosophy and Literature the final phenomena___ Prediction becomes impossible."4 This sensitive dependence on initial conditions has nowbecome known as the Butterfly Effect. In the early 1960s, several men carried out innovative research that led to chaos theory as presendy conceived. One was René Thom, who developed a new branch of topology he called "catastrophe theory," which was devoted to the description and analysis, and ultimately the prediction, of abrupt or discontinuous processes, which could not be dealt with by calculus. Thom showed that all discontinuous phenomena ("catastrophes") conform to a limited number of elementary patterns ("pictures"). Poincaré's disciple George Birkhoff had among his students at MIT a certain Edward Lorenz. In 1961, Lorenz discovered that a slight variation in the weather pattern could produce a great distortion (nonlinearity , chaos); he concluded that long-range forecasting was impossible . As with Poincaré, however, "impossible" here merely means "totally impractical in the present state of our capacities." Lorenz devised a water-wheel whose rotations, when mapped, described a shape that evoked a butterfly's wings. This "picture" combined disorder (the pattern never recurred exactly) with order (the overall pattern remained stable, recognizable). This type ofgraphic represents an "attractor," and this particular one is representative ofa new category ofattractor known as "strange attractors," which is specifically associated with chaos theory. Statistician Benoit Mandelbrot studied several years of cotton price data and discovered that price movements for daily changes and those for monthly changes matched perfecdy; they produced curves that were symmetrical from scale to scale. As Gleick reports, "the degree of variation has remained constant over a tumultuous sixty-five year period that saw two World Wars and a depression" (p. 86). Such an irregular phenomenon or datum that remained constant (self-similar) from scale to scale Mandelbrot called a "fractal." Many bodies of the solar system have chaotic orbits, according to MIT astronomer Jack Wisdom. A particular application of chaos in astronomy,Jupiter's Great Red Spot, defied analysis and comprehension until, in the early 1980s, Philip Marcus created a model based on computer -generated images, which he assembled into an animated movie. This movie turned out to produce the appearance ofan oval very similar to the Great Red Spot—an island of relative stability in the midst of chaos turmoil. Patrick Brady369 In chemistry, chaos theory is represented by such phenomena as the oscillations of the Belousov-Zhabotinski reaction5 and by the dissipative structures of Ilya Prigogine. Prigogine's mode of chaos stresses not the breakdown of systems into chaos but their emergence from chaos through spontaneous self-organization.6 In the human body, specialists in chaos have looked at several organs. The lungs: order is normal, disorder...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 367-378
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.