Chaos Theory (The Mathematical Kind) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Not being a mathematician but having a casual 'layperson' interest in such things, I've been wondering if chaos theory (the mathemetical kind, not the social kind) could be applicable and could tell us anything useful with respect to Y2K?

I've not seen anything. Anyone know anything here?


-- Arnie Rimmer (, October 20, 1998


Yes it can, but not in a predictive sense (or not that I've heard of). Quite the reverse.

Basically there is a commonly-observed phenomenon called "self- organised criticality" or "the edge of chaos". Basically a large set of interacting particles will in some circumstances tend to organise itself so that its superficially stable behaviour is in fact "living" right on the edge of chaotic (and unpredictable) behaviour.

The classic example is a sandpile being added to in a trickle ftom above. However you start the pile, it will eventually form into a cone with a certain critical slope. Observe the slope, and you'll see the shape being maintained by frequent small avalanches, and less frequent larger ones. Very occasionally there will be a really huge avalanche. The pile is "living" on the edge of chaos.

An economy may be like this. It certainly comprises a large set of interacting particles (people!) and Y2K will certainly represent an abrupt modification of the interaction rules.

Nobody knows. In what may even be a mathematical sense, nobody *can* know. Scary, ain't it?

-- Nigel Arnot (, October 20, 1998.

Below is a great URL for stuff on Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Laureate, and theories of chaos and uncertainty.

For those whose browsers are not html receptive it is:

Great stuff. Da Vinci woulda been proud.

-- Donna Barthuley (, October 20, 1998.

Crud,...all for the lack of a set of arrows....Chaos URL is

Sorry for the goof...chaos theory demonstration!

-- Donna Barthuley (, October 20, 1998.

And one last time...closing tag

Mea culpa.

-- Donna Barthuley (, October 20, 1998.

Hasn't Prigogine's stuff been pretty well debunked? I only have a superficial familiarity with it, myself, but a friend of mine who teaches physics at Univ. of Wisconsin was telling me that Prigogine's work is no longer considered to be quite as valid as it once was.

Incidentally, for those interested in systems theory, I'd like to recommend Man and the Biosphere: Toward a Coevolutionary Political Economy by Kenneth Stokes. I'd spend more time trying to think of an apt description than I would by just typing up the blurb on the back, so here it is, in the words of Prof. Cyrus Bina, Harvard Univ.

A volume of towering importance well beyond the typical hollowed [sic] discussions in environmental economics. Stokes presents a compelling argument on the intricacy of economy and biosphere by appealing to the history of political economy and the debates surrounding Newtonian physics, Enlightenment philosophy, and the limits of liberalism. He maintains that scientific progress 'must be cultural in a broadest sense.' He also rejects that 'what is good for the market must be good for the biosphere'. The heart of the volume, however, is Stokes' assertion that the human species has already developed an irreversible and overwhelming capacity to influence the biosphere....So, exercising deliberate and conscious control can no longer be reconciled with market mentality, such as the neo-Walrasian...appeal to resource productivity and/or the simple treatment of environment as externality. It is shown that Mother Nature is adamantly resentful of our hide-and-seek, behind the magic of market fetishism, in the name of science and rationality. Finally, the author employs the ideas of open systems and cybernetics toward a dynamic coevolutionary political economy.
*whew* Stokes even uses the word Zweckrationalitat.


-- Alexander Garrett (, October 20, 1998.

Hard to believe, but I had this very conversation today with a colleague. If we could somehow see all of recorded history from a perspective which allowed us to see the symmetrys of human behavior, then I would say yes. But we simply don't have that vantage point. Many people intuit patterns out of seeming chaos and act on those instincts. I wouldn't be surprised if the Y2K aware are those whom nature has selected for a certain 'super pattern' recognition ability. I have noticed that education, job, gender, age, and perhaps IQ, do not seem to make much difference in terms of who recognizes Y2k problems and those who don't.

-- R. D..Herring (, October 20, 1998.

Arnie and Group,

Chaos Theory does have something significant to say about Y2K. In fact it may be our best bet for understanding the consequences of this unfolding event. Unfortunately the difference between the mathematical theory and social chaos is not as great as you (or the mathematicians) would like.

The theory (which I think is solid enough to be now called law) says, in it's highest level of abstraction:

All systems are the result of the struggle between to great forces (attractors), Order and Chaos. Or for us ordinary folks, that means each individual system (person, nation planet) is in a constant interplay with all the other systems that the first system calls its environment. In effect it says all systems including individuals are running fast (changing or evolving) just to stay in place. And by doing that you're eating up something from some other system.

In other words, really there is no such thing as Chaos, just many competing systems, each with their own completing "concept" of Order. And the result just looks like Chaos; especially if you are looking at "whole" systems, which the Theory suggests you do.

That means that any system (such as government pay checks) can loose its order when other systems (Y2K programming, terrorism, solar storms) insert some new unwanted input. The mathematicians call these new influences perturbations. If the perturbations get to be too much for the existing system to handle, then it "crashes" or metamophs. In other words it goes to a new order or new stability determined by all the new input. This transformation is called "Phase Transition" and usually results in a "new" system in "dynamic equilibrium". The new system lasts only as long as it can handling the constantly changing perturbations. As long as the new system can handle the incoming it is considered a "stable" or an evolving system.

In the extreme this new "stability" might even be the "death" of the old system (which or course is the ultimate ordered system - Death - nothing moves everything is "ordered" in place).

There is a contradiction in the above statement which is at the root of Chaos Theory. Even with death (say of a human body) other things (insects, microbes etc. are breaking down the dead body's order and incorporating it into their own living order). In other words as long as there is "life" around it will always be eating up the old order and incorporating it into the new order. The fact that there are zillions of competing living systems makes deciphering the "order" very difficult. We lay persons often call this Chaos. This usually means that there are just too many competing systems of order for us to tell where and what the order is. Therefore the overall look of nature is seemingly Chaos. It is the classic problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Now how does all this apply to Human Systems? Social Security, gasoline distribution, etc.? Well, humans create more systems then any other animal by far, and these systems can be very, very complex. Some even beyond the understanding of any human within the system: the stock market, religious wars, an IRS tax form, etc.

So, if you are asking the big question: Will Y2K be an "evolutionary" step (a hiccup) in the overall evolution of Human Order, or will it "phase transit" to some kind of new order? Even if we can NOT predict what that new order will be. And the answer is phase transition, then you also want to know:


Well we're seeing a variety of answers, it's no surprise they cluster around 2000.

If you can not tell which way Y2K will go by this time, you are either a newbie to Y2K and Non Linear Systems Dynamics (Chaos/Complexity Theory), or you are a confirmed member of the Old Social Order with a mortgage, pension, and commitments. (See the recent psychological studies of denial by professionals who were told their job classification was no longer needed.)

The above is, by necessity very brief and needs tons more exploration, but as we all know now, time is Very short. In my opinion, the answer to Arnie's question is worthy of in depth exploration. For those who might be interested in further discussion about the general theory as opposed to just the Y2K connection, I maintain a threat on my own forum listed below. That forum is email based only (sans website) and employs both the scientific theory and its artistic counterpart - The Art of Chaos. All are welcome, but please also respond here. This is one of the most important and revealing questions about Y2K.

Y2K is the most INTERESTING psychological and material (if you can call software "material") feedback loop with which we have ever had to deal. And we are about to find out just how "sensitive" all our systems are to our collective psychology.

"The nations and people who master the new sciences of complexity will become the economic, cultural, and political superpowers of the next century." -Heinz pagels, physicist

____ Carl

 Carl Chaplin Artist in Residence, Miyazaki House Box 2200 Lillooet (the little town that time forgot) British Columbia Canada V0K 1V0 (250) 256-4514 email Where you can find Rick at =Rick's Internet Cafi=

-- Carl Chaplin (, October 20, 1998.

Very interesting topic.

I've never studied the Chaos/Order theory, but I've had for a long time a picture of the planet and it's history and present, with all systems and organisms in my mind. My view point is from outerspace, gazing at the blue planet. Every organisms on it are insignificant and tiny, humans as much as ants. Elephants as much as amoeba. Intelligence as humans define it is irrelevant to the planet. Ants and bees have built complex systems. Humans have built the most complex ones, over a much shorter period of time, which is more readily observable from this vantage point than the ants' system. As surely as an ant colony collapsing is devastating to these organisms, so is the human's collapsing is devastating to them. But the planet as a whole is not adversely affected, it's a "new state" on the surface of the planet. The planet keeps on breathing and "moves" in its core as well as on its surface.

R.D. Herring said "I wouldn't be surprised if the Y2K aware are those whom nature has selected for a certain 'super pattern' recognition ability. I have noticed that education, job, gender, age, and perhaps IQ, do not seem to make much difference in terms of who recognizes Y2k problems and those who don't."

That would translate into those (blessed ?) with the talent to see the whole picture on situations/problems/events. Seeing the forest for the trees cliche. Intelligence is not defined by a simple I.Q. number. That number is simply the sum of several ability scores. (Musical/artistic abilities are part of the overall intelligence, for example.) You can have 2 different people with the exact same full scale I.Q. score, where the first person's score on verbal ability is high, the second person score is significantly below, but the second person's score on cognitive abilities is significantly higher than the first person. They obviously would perceive and react differently to situations even though they have the "same I.Q." There are people who score high on all abilities, and those who score lower on them all. Most people fall in the middle, with at least one area higher which is thier main (potential) talent.

I wish Carl Sagan was still with us. I wonder what his views on Y2k would be? Isn't there any such well respected genius left we could consult?

-- (, October 20, 1998.

"The Spoor of an Elephant

is irrelevant.

Except to an Ant,

or a Sycophant"

Credits I believe go to Alan J Ram, Westfield Academy Stolen from my bride.


There is also a great work on Chaos theory and Organizations and Fractals but I can't for the life of me come up with the title or author.


-- Chuck a Night Driver (, October 21, 1998.

Yo! Carl...the thing I like about chaos theory is the uncertainty.... The thin I like about Chaos theory is the chaos it creates among the scientific about verifying the uncertainty.

-- Donna Barthuley (, October 21, 1998.

Yo! Carl...the thing I like about chaos theory is the uncertainty.... The thing I like about Chaos theory is the chaos it creates among the scientific about verifying the uncertainty.

-- Donna Barthuley (, October 21, 1998.

Chaos Theory (also known as Catastrophe Theory) has been used to model processes in nature. It is closely related to Fractal Theory which is based on fractional dimensionality, and is based on recursion formulas. This approach is used along with stochastic (statistical) methods to simulate or model clouds, trees, shorelines, and even behavior.

Several years ago (15 or 20) Scientific American had an article on the use of Chaos Theory (back then it was called Catastrophe Theory) to model behavior, specifically, to model what triggers a dog to suddenly become angry and attack. The dog's behavior was modeled as a point tracing a curve on a surface which has folds and other discontinuities, and the discontinuity of behavior (suddenly attacking) occurred when the path followed by the point 'fell' off a 'cliff' and continued on a different part of the surface (down in the 'anger zone').

This type of modeling could be very relevant to how people cope with crisis, and how they respond to fear. As far as modeling the Y2k bug, that is simple short-sightedness combined with economic factors. There is a report on of how the Pentagon over-ruled early objections (in the '60s) to the 2-digit date format convention.

For more info on Chaos Theory (mostly fractal-oriented) check "Computers, Pattern, Chaos, and Beauty" by Clifford A. Pickover (has formulas and source code) and "Chaos, Making a New Science" by James Gleick (easier reading, was a best-seller).

-- Jon (, October 22, 1998.

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