Controlling Chaos

My husband, the physics teacher, receives a weekly magazine called Science News. A recent cover story, in bold letters, riveted my attention and I snatched it: “Controlling Chaos.” Now, that’s a practical theology! My hopes soared. Here, in concise scientific prose, was the potential solution to my checkbook, my desk, my attic, my basement, my schedule, and possibly the junk drawer in the kitchen.

I took notes as I eagerly read the text. It said,

Just as small disturbances can radically alter a chaotic system’s behavior . . .

Have the author’s children also been sick?

. . . tiny adjustments can also stabilize its behavior.

Tiny adjustments? Why didn’t I think of that? What tiny adjustments?

I read further.

The success of this strategy for controlling chaos hinges on the fact that the apparent randomness of a chaotic system is really only skin deep.

Is the scientific community sure about this? Have they ever seen my desk, or the toy room?

Beneath this chaotic unpredictability hides an intricate but highly ordered structure.

This is not obvious to the casual observer of my life.

This is akin to balancing a ball on a saddle, the ball won’t roll off the saddle’s raised front or back, but continual adjustments are needed to kick it back into position, as it begins rolling off the sides.

Continual adjustments! Now I’m beginning to think scientifically. What continual adjustments?

We don’t avoid the chaos: We stay in the chaotic region.

Yes, I do that!

You don’t need to have a deep theoretical understanding of what’s going on. All you need to know, in effect, is the shape of the saddle.

Shape! All I need is to understand the shape of my chaos! What shape?

And then, eureka!

The author writes that the way to keep chaos under control is by a constant stream of nudges.

Aha! I now have scientific proof that my intuitive reaction to chaos works. Nudge it! Don’t disturb or organize it. Nudge it!

The article has a very upbeat ending. It claims that chaos is not something to be avoided. Due to the flexible and dynamic nature of chaos, “chaos may offer a great advantage.”

I breathlessly await further scientific breakthroughs in this area. Meanwhile, I’ll go nudge a few papers on my desk.