Managing Chaos

This is a test we must pass if we are to survive

By Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ December 1, 2019

Chaos is not the absence of order in our universe but the limitless diversity of order. At the practical human level chaos may best be considered as the order that is too complex for us to understand. The abandonment of the effort at that understanding directly affects our response to the management of chaotic situations and environments.

This is, perhaps, best illustrated by the problem of random numbers. There are many information processing situations, encryption and data security is the most common, that require random numbers. But a random number list is a very difficult thing to achieve. In fact, most such lists are pseudo-random numbers.

The universe and all components of it are information. This realization is the result of thousands of years of discovery and growing understanding. For almost all of our history, the pretense of random numbers was adequate. Fortune telling, entwined in our perception of the universe since the inception of language, relies on randomization to allow the future to be seen and those patterns to be interpreted.

We are pattern creating and matching beings. The evolution of language was our effort to impose order on the universe. This is the ultimate magic. Our earliest efforts were pictures that identified patterns in our hands and our surroundings. Even at 40,000 years ago these images leap out at us with comprehension and understanding.

But we have always understood or been unable to forget that our patterns may not be real. They are an interpretation and the images lie just as words are inadequate to describe the complexity of our universe. That is the concurrent link to randomness to allow the universe to speak to us with patterns that we have not created.

In its oldest form, this required any random pattern from entrails to stars slowly evolving to more sophisticated randomization with yarrow sticks tossed to provide links to hexagrams in the I Ching. The evolution of playing cards is the other line of development and produced the Tarot for fortunes as well as social games. These are a form of random number generators.

Pseudo-random numbers are not good enough for full encryption because they carry enough information to allow the discovery of all the information that they are carrying. As we have become more sophisticated in understanding the structural rules of this universe we have become able to identify more information realizing gradually that everything is information. We now know that there is nothing else.

Because of this randomness is not something that can be created without an outside, non-human, source of randomness. Generators for these rely on some completely unrelated physical activity that can be assigned numeric values from coin flipping to subatomic particle state changes.

There are truly random, i.e. chaotic conditions, but these are actually deterministic but not predictable. This is the result of Chaos Theory as originally developed by Edward Lorenz in the study of climate.

Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

This is a fundamental aspect of our universe. The result is that we need to deal increasingly with the place between deterministic chaos and indeterminacy. We need to manage chaos equally with order.

The most understandable form of this realization is a direct result of chaos theory in fractal patterns. This reveals a fundamental reality of pattern replication even in systems that are nonlinear but replicative from infinitely small to infinitely large.

Because our attitudes to chaos are, as in all human cases, dyadic, anything that cannot be easily converted into opposites is challenging. The most basic dyad or binary is chaos and order. Our instinctive goal is to impose order on chaos. To us chaos is bad and order is good but that is an overlay of simplistic order that is tied to dominance and coercion of people into our order versus their order. Human civilization is built on that.

In our species memory, we are equally drawn to chaos. The European Enlightenment’s effort to rediscover and understand our original immediacy with nature to separate out the corrupt influence of modern order produced the concept of fundamental rights based in nature rather than religion.

In the 21st century, we are still struggling with our history of arbitrary impositions of order to the benefit of one group versus all others. This is an effort to restore the role of chaos in our functional understanding of the universe of which we are apart.

But, of course, life is not that simple and it is even less simple than it was. Our entire model of the universe has had to come to terms with relativity and then, very quickly, quantum mechanics and indeterminacy as modeled in the Copenhagen Interpretation.

As I’ve discussed in other places, this is the root cause of political and social polarization symptoms that are mistakenly seen as problems. What we have is an expanding and nonlinear multiplication of complex and chaotic systems. The failures are our lack of ability to manage these chaotic conditions.

Rather than understanding the management of chaos in balance with order, the reaction of authoritarian acculturated populations is fear and denial.

We want to impose order on chaos but that is not what we need. In fact, the assumption that order is better than chaos brings the wrong kind of order. This is the source of authoritarian and totalitarian systems of government.

In any authoritarian system or attempt at the imposition of such a system, information must be reduced to minimal binaries. Information carriers must be stripped of choice and forced into identical compliance. Alternatives and diversity must be eliminated. The imposition of rigid order must be dyadic in order to be understandable by all. That is the lowest common denominator and must shut out the threat of creativity in diversity.

At a species level, this is more than just an option. We know that diversity is the source of creativity and innovation. But that places great responsibility on individuals in a diverse society. This is freedom as an inherent right of sentient beings that, ironically, came out of the quest for the natural order of Homo sapiens in our primitive societies and produced the modern concept of both rights and liberty.

We now desperately need to maximize our innovation by learning to manage, i.e. balance, diversity with order. Chaos can produce innovative creativity but engineering is the imposition of order. We learned to engineer but with total focus on order against chaos without the abilities or tools to understand the vast array of variables that we were affecting. We need innovation to engineer our societies out of our shortsighted species disaster.

This is what we are facing in postmodern cultures now, the desperate last effort to eliminate the basic concept of democracy as a system that protects and defines the rights of individuals and self-defined groups. This is being built on the inability of an aging portion of our populations to understand the management and benefits of diversity.

Some of these people will accept slavery to avoid diversity. Chaos is beyond their ability to understand. That is now dangerous.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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