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Dec 19, 2022

A New Chaos Theory: Sometimes, It’s A Good Thing

Why disorder is sometimes a blessing

By Ed Goldman

Other than its atrocious spelling, is chaos always a bad thing?

When it refers to a war-torn country, a street riot or a long marriage doing a banana split, certainly. But I find that too many people use the word “chaos” as dramatically and as erroneously as when they characterize a nothing-burger event in their lives as “tragic.”

Edgy Cartoon

Doubter Space

Here I must digress: Wouldn’t “nothing-burger” be a great name for a plant-based patty? It would send a signal to vegans and vegetarians that this was an acceptable staple for their diets—while warning the rest of us that this would be an utter waste of our lunchtime dollars.

I must re-digress: “Chaos” is pronounced KAY-oss. A guy I once worked with in local government pronounced it CHAW-ose. He also called building design ARTCH-i-texture. He passed away some time ago, so it would be disrespectful for me to reveal his name. It seems like the karatable thing to do.

Okay, we’re back. Let’s start by talking actual Chaos Theory.

If you want to feel personally chaotic, check out the opening of the definition provided by Wikipedia, the occasionally accurate online reference source for students doing last-minute term papers and don’t think their teachers can easily discern precisely where their sudden scientific or mathematical knowledge came from: 

“Chaos theory states that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns….”

“The butterfly effect,” it continues (without even citing the same-named Ashton Kutcher film),  “… describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state…A metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking—that we have to find that damn butterfly and stop it?

Another theory of chaos is that it occurs when “the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” This makes approximate sense. Then things finally get approximately interesting:

“Chaotic behavior exists in many natural systems, including fluid flow, heartbeat irregularities, weather, and climate. It also occurs spontaneously in some systems with artificial components, such as the stock market and road traffic…. Chaos theory has applications in a variety of disciplines, including meteorology, anthropology, sociology, environmental science, computer science, engineering, economics, ecology, and pandemic crisis management.”

In short (too late, I know, I know), almost everything in modern life contains an element of chaos. Ergo, chaos itself needs neither to be feared nor harnessed—just expected and dealt with.

I was thinking about this not long ago when, in one hour-and-a-half period, I cut my finger with a kitchen knife, fell down the staircase inside my condo, crashed into the side wall of my garage while backing out my car and, completely consumed and distracted by these minor calamities, absently drove through a red light. 

Miraculously, I didn’t cause an accident—and no, I hadn’t been drinking. (This would change much later that day when I safely sat in my living room chair, trying to cope positively as I reviewed the foregoing events. Without doubt, my morning had been chaotic. But not, mercifully, tragic.)

In fact, chaos is sometimes a most welcome condition. 

When I get very busy with my work and I simultaneously need to schedule social events as well as get in some exercise, the combo sounds chaotic. But it’s all positive:

  1. Having too much work on my plate is an enviable situation since my work is totally freelance. and it mean there’ll be kibble in my larder come evening. 
  2. Having too many social events to attend is also nice since almost nothing gives me greater pleasure than not showing up for them. Not that being asked isn’t wonderful. 
  3. As for exercising, please see #2 above. 

I have to close now. A butterfly just flew by in my backyard and I need to brace for a subsequent tsunami. And just when I was going to go out and exercise.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).