philosophy / chaos

"God has put a secret art into the forces of Nature so as to enable it to fashion itself out of chaos into a perfect world system." --Immanuel Kant

Within the Western tradition, chaos was associated with the unformed, the unthought, the unfilled, the unordered. Hesiod in the Theogony designates Chaos as that which existed before anything else, when the universe was in a completely undifferentiated state. Later in the Theogony , he uses the term chaos to signify the gap that appeared when Heaven separated from Earth. Eros appears in that gap as rain/semen. Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, in The Presocratic Philosophers, see in Hesiod's account of chaos, not disorder, "not the eternal precondition of a differentiated world, but a modification of that precondition." (p.39) 

The contemporary interest in chaos has arisen at at time when science has extended its claims to seeing structure in what was previously thought of as its opposite. Current interests occur at intersection point of two attitudes: in one chaos is opposite of order. Here, the fascination with chaos results from the way it escapes ordered knowledge, from its incomprehensibility. According to another view, chaos can be understood as a new extension of order. This is the view of the "new sciences" of chaos and of complexity, which allow order to float free of prediction, to lead to explorations that never repeats themselves exactly. 

For the "classical" physics of Newton and Laplace, determinism was inextricably bound to predictability. The great achievement of the " clockwork" universe, for whom time was reversible, was the prediction of planetary motion. The orrery most vividly illustrated the technological and scientific fulfillment of classical physics

Chaotic systems are now seen as both deterministic and unpredictiable. This conjunction of determinism and unpredictability would have had no place in classical science. Nonetheless, the scientific study of chaos and complexity extend scientific order, using new modelling tools and a more descriptive than explanatory technique. And while chaotic systems are unpredictable, they are not random, and their behaviour can be described geometrically. (see attractors ) 

While traditional views have always valued order over chaos, the concepts of order has more recently come under suspicion. Michel Foucault's analyses of the workings of power, to give only one example, illuminate the coercive workings of order. Thus chaos can funtion as a critique of order. "The politics of chaos" has been described as " local knowledge versus global theory." The local, in both a geopolitical and theoretical sense, is a site that resists assimilation into a universal theory. Totalizing theories are associated with oppressive political structures, and local knowledge with liberation. (see postmodernism ) 

see also philosophical space

Deleuze and Guattari describe chaos as a state in which forms appear and disappear at infinte speed. The planes which thought casts through chaos --"like a seive"--are conceptual analogues to Poincaré Sections. In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy, art, and science as different relations to chaos, all drawn to it yet needing to define their own planes (of immanence, sensation, and reference respectively) in relation to chaos. 

For D+G, the three main forms of thought need to define themselves between opinion (doxa) on the one hand, and chaos on the other. Of the two, doxa is more inimicable to thought. 

"What defines thought in its three great forms -- art, science, and philosophy -- is always confronting chaos, laying out a plane, throwing a plane over chaos. But philosophy wants to save the infinite by giving it consistency: It lays out aplane of immanenc e that, through the action of conceptual personnae, takes events or consistent concepts to infinity. Science, on the other hand, relenquishes the infinite in order to gain reference: it lays out a plane of simply undefined coordinates that each time, through the action of partial observors, defines states of affairs, functions, or referential propositions. Art wants to create the finite that restores the infinite: it lays out a plane of composition that, in turn, through the action of aesthetic figures, bears monuments or composite sensations." (p.197) 

(see science / philosophy )