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Lee Smolin and Robert MacFarlane seeing the power and potential of a chaotic world

November 26, 2013

Openness is resilience

Natures default setting is Open

One of our obsessions is to see chaos as uncontrollable, primordial, dangerous which we as a species must strive at all costs to eviscerate from our lives.

As physicist Lee Smolin wrote in Time Reborn,

No living system is an isolated system. We all ride flows of matter and energy – flows driven ultimately by the energy from the sun. Once enclosed in a box (in a prefiguration of our eventual internment), we die.

He continues,

The absurdity that mathematics is prior to nature. Maths in reality comes after nature. It has no generative power. So it is insane to manage our world like a set of maths questions, that by some how quantifying everything, provides better insight and the means to better manage. Mathematic conclusions are forced by logical implication, whereas in nature events are generated by causal processes acting in time.

Photo by Julien Calverley

Photo by Julien Calverley

There are aspects of the real world, which will never be representable in mathematics, Smolin says, the universe simply is – or better yet, happens. It is unique. It happens once, as does each event – each unique event that nature compromises. This flow of thought came to me flying home from the Nordics and reading Robert MacFarlanes wonderful book The Wild Places, MacFarlane muses,

Natural forces – wild energies – often have the capacity to frustrate representation. Our most precise descriptive language, mathematics cannot fully account for or predict the flow of water down a stream, or the movements of a glacier, or the turbulent rush of wind across uplands. Such actions behave in such ways that they are chaotic: they operate to feedback systems of unresolvable delicacy and intricacy.

MacFarlane and Smolin also make the point that our natural world can also use order and repetition, but only when it makes sense, blending the two together, that can as MacFarlane says, lend a near mystical sense of organisation to a place.

My muse is this – since we (humans) are made of the same stuff as nature, perhaps we should too be intrigued by the power and potential of organisations as systems that are, networked, connected and seemingly chaotic?


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