INTRODUCTION TO CHAOS THEORY
There are two different types of change. The first is continuous, and this is change within a system, to a part or parts of a system. Such change is equivalent to development. The second type of change is discontinuous, and this involves the transformation of a system as a whole. Such global system change is distinct from development. It constitutes evolution.
The change of a social system from dictatorship to democracy can never be accomplished continuously. The reason for this is that dictatorship is too strong. Through the inheritance of political and economic power it perpetuates itself. It is a system in equilibrium. For change of such a system to occur, a break is required. The equilibrium must be disrupted. Such a break is termed a phase transition, and it is characterized by chaos.
One example of discontinuous social change was East Timor. The shift there to democracy required chaos in the form of armed rebellion. However, even this was not enough. Change in East Timor only occurred through the disruption which developed in Indonesia as a whole. In effect, East Timor was a part of a larger system, and its freedom, its break from this larger system, was dependent on events in it.
A system is in equilibrium if it has established a measure of stability. The system either is at rest, or it is following a periodic cycle. However, if energy is applied to it, it is forced to adapt. If possible, it absorbs the additional energy without altering its fundamental structure. Or, if it is unable to do this, it creates a more complex form of order to accommodate it. In the science of chaos, it has been shown that such developments in order often occur via bifurcations.
If the energy addition is sufficiently great, the system can no longer absorb it in an orderly fashion. A threshold is passed, and turbulence - chaos - ensues. But it has also been shown that such chaos is not truly chaotic, not truly random. Patterns are embedded in the turbulence, and these may eventually surface, giving rise to a completely new type of organization, a new evolutionary form. (Order leads to disorder, and then back to order. Also, these patterns are referred to as strange attractors, and they are so-named because it is considered odd that there would be any underlying order in a state of chaos.)
System stability is a continuum. Some system equilibriums are stronger than others. For a weak equilibrium, a small amount of energy - a slight trigger - can lead to turbulence and disruption. For a strong one, great energy, in the form of one major trigger, or many distinct minor ones, is required to initiate a change. (Smaller disturbances may push such a system out of alignment, but not all the way into chaos. Without additional disruption one would expect it to return to its equilibrium.)
Developments in system complexity occur sporadically and unpredictably. For an increase in energy sufficient to lead to a complete system change, one action must follow another, action after action, faster and faster, until a threshold is reached, turbulence ensues, and the phase transition is accomplished.
There are many unknowns associated with chaos, the first of which is the amount of energy required to initiate the phase transition, the beginning of turbulence. Secondly, chaos itself is - of course - unpredictable. Once turbulence starts you cannot know where it will go next, or how long it will last. Because of this, it cannot be controlled. (It can only be experienced.) Indeed, chaos is the opposite of control, hence it involves risk. You cannot predict what the consequences of it will be. Further, while the theory has shown that new forms of order are embedded in the turbulence (such non-randomness would seem to imply a measure of control), there are many possible outcomes once the energy addition is dissipated (the underlying order serves only as a guide). As with water which ceases to boil when you stop heating it, the outcome could be a reversion to the prior state of affairs. The onset of chaos does not ensure evolution. Or, the chaos could be so great that the system which is subject to it fails to adapt, and dies, so again there is no evolution; instead, there is extermination and extinction. (This is evident with the many different species which are now going extinct in response to the environmental chaos created by humans.) And lastly, a real new order, a new form, might evolve.
The main consequence of all of this is that with chaos one must be alert and ready. It may be uncontrollable and unpredictable, but its negative consequences, such as the number of people who will die in a civil war, can be limited if one is prepared to confront such consequences the instant they arise (and where possible seek to prevent them). Further, as the energy subsides and the turbulence dies down, one must be ready to direct and shape the formation of the next social order. For example, for a military dictatorship which falls through chaos, activists and rebels must be prepared to begin implementing democratic institutions at the first opportunity (beginning with the installation of an independent security apparatus, such as a peace-keeping force, to halt the perpetration of atrocities in the residual disorder).
Regarding the energy needed to instigate chaos, one can only keep pushing until the requirement, whatever it might be, is met. But, as steps can be planned, and orchestrated into overall campaigns, it may be possible to accelerate the onset of turbulence, perhaps greatly.
Note: Please review Chaos and Violence
© Roland O. Watson 2001-3