Chaos theory is the concept that the behaviour of some complex dynamical systems (e.g. global weather patterns) can be extremely sensitive to tiny changes in initial conditions — thus making accurate and specific long-term predictions about the system unreliable, if not impossible.
In 1963, the publication of Edward Lorenz’s groundbreaking paper, 'Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow' in the Journal of Atmospheric Science hailed the beginning of a new field of mathematical study - with applications in meteorology, sociology, physics, environmental science, computer science, engineering, economics, biology, ecology, and philosophy.
And a now-famous talk, also by Edward Lorenz (presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. in 1972) was entitled 'Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?' It subsequently gave rise to the phrase The Butterfly Effect
1) The outcomes of a chaotic system are not truly random - but they can degenerate into what appears to be randomness.
2) Although the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could (in theory) set off a tornado in Texas, the chances of it doing so are astronomically small - thus, accurate predictions about which butterfly and when are essentially zero.
3) An (apparently) chaotic system can also 'spontaneously' fall into organised, or synchronised behaviour - so-called Spontaneous Order - examples are multiple connected-pendulum swings, firefly swarm light emissions, and group neuronal firing.
Suggestion : Predictions about chaotic systems fall into the special category of Known Unknowables
Ideas for new topics, and suggested additions / corrections for old ones, are always welcome.
If you have skills or interests in a particular field, and have suggestions for Wikenigma, get in touch !
Or, if you'd like to become a regular contributor . . . request a login password. Registered users can edit the entire content of the site, and also create new pages.
( The 'Notes for contributors' section in the main menu has further information and guidelines etc.)