2011-02-03 / Sam Bari

Understanding the chaos phenomenon

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

According to academics and other wise people, small differences in like conditions or systems can result in widely diverse outcomes – some good, some bad. It doesn’t matter. The outcomes are not predictable. The accepted term for this phenomenon is chaos.

Without doubt, chaos is a good word. A wide range of situations, conditions, and things can be described as chaotic or the result of chaos.

For instance: Ask three different people who went on the same cruise 15 years before being asked the question: “How did you like that cruise?”

You wouldn’t be surprised if you were given three answers so diverse that you might think they were on separate ships going to different destinations.

One woman might say, “It was fabulous. I traveled with my girlfriend. We met two of the nicest guys and really enjoyed ourselves. My friend married one of them and they had three wonderful children because of that cruise.”

Another might say, “It was the worst vacation I ever had. I was seasick for the first three days, and had the strength of an overly cooked noodle for the remainder of the cruise. I could hardly wait to go home.”

A man might say, “Because of that cruise, my life was ruined. I met my wife on that vacation. It was love at first sight. The tropical setting, the music and the moonlight were so overwhelming that we asked the captain of the ship to marry us. We knew each other for five days. Ten years later, she left me, took my house, my kids, and broke my heart – all because of that cruise.”

Another example of chaos could be weather related.

Winter storms in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon regularly blocked a road to a beautiful national park that opened annually on the first week of July if the road were passable.

Since the road conditions were not predictable, the park didn’t attract many visitors. People went to destinations where they could depend on the access.

One of those massive winter storms inspired an imaginative mechanic by the name of Paul Wright to invent the snowplow.

Because of his invention, from 1927 on, the roads to the beleaguered park were always open in time for the tourist season. You might say that snow was responsible for a much needed invention.

Years later, a similar weather system spawned in the same area moved across the country and dropped several feet of snow on Breckenridge, Minn. Two people who were snowbound by the storm conceived a baby that was born the following September. The baby was Cheryl Tiegs.

The same system continued across the country and passed over Portland, Maine. Author Stephen King was born nine months later.

Could it be said that if it weren’t for snow, the world would never have had the pleasure of seeing the beautiful Cheryl Tiegs or reading the tomes of Stephen King?

The point is arguable.

However, it makes as much sense as saying that the person who invented the internal combustion engine was responsible for every traffic death that ever occurred. The inventor should also be held to task for the depletion of a valuable natural resource.

Is that inventor also the single cause of all the wars that have been fought over oil? If these examples are valid, then he was really a bad guy.

Some philosophers believe that we are accountable for the ultimate results of our actions. If that were the case, we would still be contemplating the wisdom of producing anything involving the use of a wheel.

Shortsighted thinking has long been a nemesis for which there are no mitigating factors. No matter what is invented that is intended for the common good, someone will re-think its use and apply it to something questionable at best.

I wondered if the inventor of the atomic bomb agreed with the government’s assessment that to assure peace we needed a nuclear weapon.

Research revealed that Leo Szilard, a maverick German physicist, actually conceived the idea of the atomic bomb.

He allegedly took such full and active responsibility for his creation that he spent much of the time from 1944 until his death in 1966 as an advocate for the prevention of nuclear war.

Although illogical, such is the way of chaos – unpredictable results from clearly defined conditions.

Until we find a way of eliminating chaos, we will continue to muddle our way through life in a system we can’t understand.

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