TURBULENT MIRROR: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Th by John Briggs

TURBULENT MIRROR: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Th

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Readers of James Gleick's popular Chaos (1987) were introduced to the new ideas about chaos along with speculation on implications for the future. Briggs (Fire in the Crucible, 1988) and Peat, seasoned science writers who have separately and together surveyed such subjects as cosmology and creativity, provide a more passionate guide, motivated as they are to challenge reductionism and champion holism. The result is mixed. The authors are very good at explicating "strange attractors," those focal points where solutions to nonlinear equations cluster when solutions are graphed. And they do well by Benoit Mandelbrot's fractal geometry and the work of 19th-century mathematicians on space-filling curves and infinite sets. Aiding them are cartoons, graphics, and computer-screen depictions. These excursions lead the reader through sections called "Order to Chaos" and "The Mirror," where liberal Use is made of Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass motifs, along with artful quotes from myth and poetry. The last section, "Chaos to Order," starts getting coy, though, by reversing the chapter numbers to end with a foreword. Here there is a very mixed bag of stuff ranging from a quite interesting discussion of "solitons"--unusual wave forms--to forays into the work of Prigogine, general systems theory, nerve signaling, neural networking, computer brain modeling, bacterial evolution, the Gaia hypothesis, physics † la David Bohm, and the nature of creativity. Linking all this is the authors' belief that "humankind is fast approaching a bifurcation point," which, by their standard, means choosing between reductionism and a chaos that they equate to "wholeness"--a nonlinear universe in which "anything may happen." However, chaos theory is exciting for the very reason that order emerges; it is not that anything may happen. The lesson is: Don't be misled by false dichotomies. Do enjoy the fractal richness of a nonlinear world.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1989
ISBN: 06-016061-6
Publisher: HarperCollins
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