The most romantic way I have ever heard Chaos Theory described is, “there are patterns, and even great beauty, in seemingly chaotic events.” Formally, Chaos Theory is defined as a sub-discipline of mathematics that studies complex, or dynamic, systems.
These complex systems contain so many moving parts that it takes computers to calculate and model all of the movements of the system. In fact, it has been said that the emergence of this theory could not have happened without the invention and proliferation of the computer.
Up until what is called the Quantum Mechanical Revolution, “people believed that things were directly caused by other things.” In Latin it is referred to as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or after, therefore, because of it. In essence, if one thing follows another, it must have been caused by it.
It is the basis of Freudian psychoanalysis, “a belief that malfunctions in the mind are the results of traumas suffered in the past” and that Regression Therapy—pinpointing when and how these traumas occurred—would allow us to heal. It is called linear cause and effect.
Chaos Theory, however, tells us that it is less about linear effect and more the existence and production of patterns caused by many different forces, the most important of which are initial conditions, popularly referred to as The Butterfly Effect.
The Butterfly Effect posits that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America could affect the weather in Texas, meaning that the smallest, seemingly inconsequential part of a system can have a huge effect on all the other parts. Simply said, “unless all factors can be accounted for, large systems would be impossible to predict with total accuracy because there are too many unknown variables to track.”
The study of Chaos Theory has helped us understand simple, or everyday, phenomena such as water boiling on a stove and complex events such as how birds migrate, how vegetation spreads and the structure of stars in the night sky, but its origins stem from the study of weather systems.
It all started in 1960 when Edward Lorentz created a weather-model on his computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lorentz’s weather model consisted of an extensive array of complex formulas that successfully modeled, and later helped predict, the weather and turned a large, unpredictable system into one of those everyday phenomena, the daily weather forecast.
This month’s Quality continues in the tradition of Mr. Lorentz with Michelle Bangert’s analysis of our annual spending study, “Quality Spending Stays Strong,” and a roundtable discussion on the importance of the budget process titled, “The Budget Process Revealed.” Also, check out Genevieve Diesing’s feature, “A Closer Look at the Skills Gap.”
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
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