In the Wake of Chaos: Unpredictable Order in Dynamical Systems (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series)

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9780226429748: In the Wake of Chaos: Unpredictable Order in Dynamical Systems (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations series)

Chaos theory has captured scientific and popular attention. What began as the discovery of randomness in simple physical systems has become a widespread fascination with "chaotic" models of everything from business cycles to brainwaves to heart attacks. But what exactly does this explosion of new research into chaotic phenomena mean for our understanding of the world? In this timely book, Stephen Kellert takes the first sustained look at the broad intellectual and philosophical questions raised by recent advances in chaos theory—its implications for science as a source of knowledge and for the very meaning of that knowledge itself.

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We are in the wake of chaos - trying to make sense of the news that the universe is a far more unpredictable place than anyone ever imagined. What began with the discovery of randomness in simple physical systems - a curl of smoke, a tumble of water - has exploded into a fascination with "chaotic" models of everything from brainwaves to business cycles. Why has chaos captured so much attention? What does it do to our basic beliefs about knowledge, meaning, and our place in a suddenly turbulent world? In this provocative book, Stephen Kellert takes the first sustained look at the broad intellectual implications of chaos. Like quantum mechanics and relativity before it, chaos has an irresistible appeal as a radical new vision of reality. But how solid are its claims? Has chaos been oversold? How far can the science of chaos take us? These are just some of the intriguing questions Kellert sets out to answer. Kellert describes the challenge of chaos to traditional science - from its power to thwart the search for universal laws to its unsettling effect on such essential concepts as fact and event, cause and control. And he paints a suggestive portrait of what knowledge - with science as its source - might have to be in order to account for the profoundly counterintuitive findings of chaos. This is also the story of the coming of age of a new science. Chaotic phenomena have been observed for ages, but only recently have scientists begun to study chaos systematically. Kellert points to the deep biases for order and control that have kept the study of chaos in the background. In today's culture, however, chaos flourishes as a powerful organizing principle for those seeking to expand theboundaries of the knowable and redefine what we mean by legitimate knowledge itself. Revealing glimpses of beauty and diversity in the most routine phenomena, of order within apparent disorder, chaos is neither the new toy of media-savvy scientists and their followers nor the mystical key to a new reality. It has already. changed the way science is done. How chaos will change what we know - and what we can know - of the physical world is the heart of this wise, witty, and illuminating book.

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