I recently watched an excellent documentary on BBC4 called ‘high anxieties: the mathematics of chaos‘ (still available on iplayer) which essentially tells 3 interwoven histories over the last 100 years or so, namely:
To cut a long story short, the main message is that we have repeatedly make the mistake of believing that the world behaves like a big pinball machine with predictable causes and effects. However in reality, mathematics and science include inbuilt chaotic behaviour which we generally choose to ignore as it’s too unsettling.
More specifically, what the 3 histories show us is the following:
Now I can’t see our global connectivity decreasing any time soon; in fact I think it can only increase. Therefore assuming chaos is generally something we strive to avoid/manage in economics or our climate, this suggests to me that we need to rethink our attitude to relentless growth.
Ever the optimist I believe we need to embrace this ambiguity and chaos, not ignore it, and be more wary of certainty. Perhaps we should learn to live with ambiguity from unexpected sources such as artists, the slow movement and mathmeticians. But then again i’m not certain.