Tiny changes in initial conditions can lead to huge changes in outcomes.
Much of the world is governed by a paradox: Deterministic chaos.
While even the most complex systems are, by and large, fundamentally deterministic — it’s often close to impossible to predict their behavior.
Chaos theory suggests that in some dynamic systems, tiny changes in initial conditions can yield radically different results — and it’s practically impossible to predict these differences accurately.
Looked at it from the opposite direction, the same theory states that the seeming randomness of chaotic complex systems does indeed follow underlying patterns of feedback loops, self-organization, self-similarity and repetition.
Deterministic chaos is most famously at play when trying to forecast the weather — minute changes in initial conditions such as pressure or humidity can lead to gigantic changes in the weather we experience weeks or months into the future.
In other words, small inaccuracies in measurement lead to large inaccuracies in prediction (as opposed to more classical systems where the inaccuracy in measurement maps to the inaccuracy in prediction).
Beyond the weather, chaos theory is being applied to better understand the motion of fluids, market movements, changes in society or even principles of biology.
Understanding the fundamentals of how apparent randomness and true determinism are connected as well as how complexity can arise from simplicity unlocks a deeper understanding of many phenomena we encounter daily — from society and culture to politics and business.
“Chaos is order masquerading as randomness.”
— James Gleick
"In all chaos, there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order."
— Carl Jung
📝 Read this Forbes article on the history and basic principles of chaos theory.
🎥 Watch this YouTube video by Up and Atom for an easy introduction and a fascinating real life simulation example of how initial conditions can impact our lives drastically.
🎥 This Veritasium video is a more physics-based explanation that goes deep into the concept.
📝 As always, Wikipedia will give you an in-depth perspective into everything related to Chaos Theory.
A few further resources you might like if you find above idea interesting:
📚 Nassim Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness
📚 Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems: A Primer
📚 Geoffrey West’s: Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death
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