What exactly is chaos? Is it a real phenomenon? Can it be predicted? Should we expect chaos in our world and our lives?
Judging from my office today, I was more than likely like all boys and so my bedroom often got, well, messy. I don’t recall an instance of my mother saying it, but, she probably had to tell me, “Your room looks like chaos, go clean it up.” To inspire me, I would often rearrange my room.
I used to watch a popular Cold War TV comedy about a bumbling secret agent called Get Smart. It was developed to cash-in on the popularity of James Bond movies and Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther movies. Smart worked for Control and the enemy organization was Kaos, which was not an acronym, but was a play on the word chaos. It was an international organization of evil working toward world domination. Interestingly, Agent Maxwell Smart, like James Bond, had a number of technologies at his fingertips to help him save the day. This was one of a lengthy list of spy movies and TV shows with organizations of good (order) thwarting organizations of evil (chaos) with the assistance of technology.
Have you ever been in a traffic jam, or a crowed place and heard someone exclaim, “This is chaos?” Here is something that really perplexes me. At times something on my Technojungle computer, or perhaps on a Technojungle website will suddenly stop working. It happens to my wife too and she just closes her laptop and walks away. Occasionally that works. But I get frustrated because I want to know why when I changed nothing, suddenly things stopped working properly.
Let’s go back to the traffic jam. I remember hearing something explained on the radio one day. What happens is that someone applies their brakes. The person behind also applies their brakes with added reflex time, and the person behind them brakes to slow down, and on back down the highway. The result is a shockwave that slows all the traffic down and takes a long time to readjust. Can you imagine possible actions drivers can take that could cause ripples in the smoothness of traffic? Consider a thick crowd of people, what could cause chaos? In other words, what can move the state of a system of order to a state of chaos, disorder and confusion?
As for Technojungle computer technology, unless you happen to be a computer expert, you are probably, like me, going to count these situations as transient errors, glitches, or behind the scene human errors.
But what is really going on with chaos and what is it? It turns out that there is actually a formal Chaos Theory. It is a mathematical sub-discipline that studies the behaviour of extremely complex systems that are very sensitive to initial conditions. Chaos Theory attempts to describe how very small changes in the conditions of a complex system can snowball into massive unexpected differences, or events, sometime later. This makes it almost impossible to accurately predict the final results. These complex systems appear everywhere in nature, for example, the weather. Spotting and predicting weather patterns is extremely difficult without complex mathematical computations.
While Chaos Theory has been around for quite a while, predicting weather is where it all really took off. Nobody would argue that weather systems are extremely complex and that predicting the weather more accurately has been the goal of humans for eons. Chaos Theory made that task more accurate.
One famous example used in Chaos Theory is the Butterfly Effect. The idea here is that a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere in Brazil and a tornado occurs in Texas. Locations may vary in the illustration, such as the butterfly being in the more exotic jungle of the Amazon and a hurricane appearing in a more distant Japan. However, the illustration is that a very tiny change in an extremely complex system can eventually result in a huge change—an unexpected change! The mathematics of Chaos Theory seeks to predict these changes.
Chaos Theory deals with both disorderly and orderly systems. In other words, sometimes a very disorderly appearing system can have some underlying order to it. An orderly appearing system can harbour some underlying disorder. In both cases, a very small change or event can set off a massive chaotic event.
Chaotic systems appear too complex to see any patterns. Chaos Theory seeks ways to understand and see the possible underlying order, or disorder, of complex systems that may appear to be without any order, or disorder, when initially viewed. Chaos Theory has been used in many other fields such as computer science, engineering, economics, biology, ecology, philosophy, and more.
I realize that it may seem I have wandered off our Technojungle path, but my hope is that you are beginning to see some connections. You may be asking, why am I suggesting Chaos Theory can be applicable in some way to the Technojungle world we live in? But that’s just it, we live in a jungle
I see the Technojungle as having both an order and disorder, a utopia and dystopia, both at the same time. How is our Technojungle world similar, or dissimilar to traffic, crowds of people, the weather, or other situations?
I find that our lives in the Technojungle are becoming increasingly more complex. We can definitely say overly complex. When I think about how complex my computer is, I am amazed that it can even start up and operate reliably. It is just so utterly complex that there are millions of things that could go wrong. Then I think about the online world of the Technojungle and wonder how it keeps going and when something devastating will go wrong. What do you think will happen if the Internet failed? Do you think that can happen? If so, how?
Still, we keep adding more and more technology to the Technojungle. We have technology taking over for us in situations where we, or other humans, used to perform a task or function. In many cases, I think we are losing a skill. Many people say we are gaining skills at using new technologies, but those technologies are adding a massive number of layers of complexity to our Technojungle world.
As we add a Technojungle brain (computer) to everything possible and connect it to the main brain (Internet), are we asking for trouble? I that’s just complexity on complexity. What do we know about systems? Don’t all systems fail? They can all be affected by bugs, errors, human errors, malicious attacks (hacking). What else have you learned can go wrong? Can you think of some serious disasters, such as a nuclear disaster, oil spill, or other events, that even with protective measures in place, still resulted in a disaster? Don’t forget that protective measures add more layers of complexity.
Chaos and disasters do happen. One can come to you as a computer failure. Hopefully you have all your data and information backed up more than once and stored in more than one place. Suppose where you live experiences a massive power failure that lasts for days or even weeks, what would you do? As discussed earlier in these books, the Technojungle Internet was designed to survive an attack, but that was then, do you think somebody can figure out how to take down the Internet now, or in the future? What would result? Could something like the small flap of a butterfly wing cause such a devastating catastrophic event? Could one social media post cause a chaotic catastrophic world social event of some sort? Have you seen something like that happen?
When it comes to disasters and chaos, nothing comes to mind at the moment that is a better example than the pandemic. When I first heard about a flu-like illness that had appeared in China, I had no conception of what was coming. It seemed such a minor event that was so far away, but in a few weeks my life was turned upside down. What started as some tiny event has blossomed into world-wide chaos. As I edit, the entire planet has been affected and the count is almost 14 million cases of the COVID-19 illness and nearly 600,000 deaths. Those numbers are from only a few months ago and long before the more deadly second wave. With almost a year in the age of the pandemic, the cases stand at 94,203,571 with 2,015,528 deaths and predictions for return to a more normal life are estimated from just under another year to over a year. By the time you read this, the numbers will most certainly be much higher. It has been months and, even with all the information and technology at hand, days still leave us experiencing numbers that break previous records. The virus is spreading like a wild fire, twisting lives and societies like a hurricane, shaking the very foundations of life like an earthquake, moving like a tsunami, pouring over the world like a flood. There seems to be no stopping it. Can you think some of the reasons why?
While I was unaware of the possible coming events, there were experts who had actually done planning weeks before the outbreak, yet most were also caught off guard anyway. The pandemic certainly has some serious lessons to teach us. Take some time to consider some possible lessons and how the Technojungle plays a part.
When chaos and disaster happens people will often sit down after and do a post-mortem to analyze what went wrong and what could be done as preventative measures. What some people suggest we need to consider doing is a pre-mortem. As mentioned in the sidebar, this did happen for the pandemic. Perhaps things would be even worse without the planning. Do you think we can learn to become adept at averting some chaos and even disasters in our lives and world? We can’t leave a pre-mortem up to the experts. We all have imaginations. We all live in this Technojungle. We can all speak out. I am not an expert, but I am asking plenty of questions in these books. You can ask questions and get experts watching for problems.
When I was an instructor, I used to make sure everyone in the classroom understood that there was no such thing as a stupid question. How many times have you sat in a classroom wondering if you should ask a question, only to talk yourself out of it? Some thinking that I have experienced includes: everybody knows the answer except me, or the answer is probably too obvious, or some other self-doubt. We need to ask even the stupid questions and make sure they get serious consideration. I can think of times somebody said, “That’s a stupid question.” Then somebody else says, “Wait and minute, I think you have a point.” We can’t simply think, “I’m sure somebody thought about that.” Or, “I’m sure they thought that through.” Monumental disasters have happened in the Technojungle because the experts were so focused on one area that they neglected another.
We may not be able to spot the tiny event, such as the flap of the butterfly wing, that sets off a chain of events in complex Technojungle systems resulting in a chaotic catastrophe, but we may be able to spot things going wrong as the system develops into a hurricane. We can seek for simplicity rather than complexity where possible. We can make sure we don’t ignore even minor problems. Most of all, we can expect the unexpected.
The Technojungle harbours both orderly and disorderly systems. Chaos Theory shows us that extremely complex systems can lead to unexpected chaos and failures. While we may not be able to master the mathematical sub-discipline that could begin to help predict disaster, if even possible, what we can all do is start imagining what can go wrong. If we can make even the slightest start at imagining what will go wrong someday, in other words, how the future might not arrive as we expect it, then this book will be a success. If Technojungle chaos is coming, what can you imagine it to be, and be like to experience?
Most of us probably don’t like the idea of chaos. We have been taught to seek order and neatness, understanding over confusion. Perhaps your own mother once exclaimed to you, “Your room looks like chaos, so go clean it up!” The cosmos looks like chaos and order both at the same time. The cosmos is a useful metaphor for the Technojungle. But, we need to keep in mind that the cosmos experiences unexpected cataclysmic events.
One theory is that an asteroid hit the Earth. While a huge event for the Earth, it was a relatively small cosmic event. Chaos Theory tells us that a small event caused the asteroid and that the relatively small event of hitting the Earth may have caused an even greater cosmic event somewhere else.
In our extremely complex Technojungle, a very tiny event may have already occurred, one that may well be the tiny flap of a butterfly wing that causes a cataclysmic event in our Technojungle. How might such an event humanize or dehumanize us? Can we be prepared? We need to attempt to look at such complex questions if we want to redeem and reclaim that which we may have lost, retain and maintain what we have today, and to protect our humanness and humanity for our future as we learn about being better human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.
Chaos and order existing at the same time. That seems to describe our Technojungle, however, predicting the unexpected disasters that may occur in the future is difficult. Chaos theory seems to tell us that disasters can happen and can result from even the tiniest of events. Automobile traffic is a good example of chaos and order existing at the same time. So what about the car, what is the future of the car?