Today’s post is a meditation on the theme of chaos. Chaos is the constantly inconsistent undefinable force that weaves the universe together while trying with all it’s might to rip the universe apart atom by atom. What is chaos? By the very nature of the thing it resists an overarching classification. Linnaeus’ taxonomies and the Dewey decimal system are no help here: chaos is, by definition, something unpredictable with no discernible pattern. Chaos has negative connotations: a tornado is chaotic, a messy room is chaotic, an over-committed schedule is chaotic. Chaos is associated with human tragedy, large- or small-scale.
And yet…water’s motion down a river is chaotic, the energy of a crowd at a REALLY great concert is chaotic, and some of the most beautiful art in the world is chaotic. Could it be that chaos sometimes can cause human joy?
The third law of thermodynamics states, in no uncertain terms, that the overall disorder of the universe is always increasing. Forget about destiny, there’s simply no escaping ENTROPY. The proteins in our cells all exist in a state that toes the line between stable folding and a jumbled mess. The atoms that make up the molecules we’re made of are chaotic clouds of subatomic quanta with identity issues: a swarm of mathematical entities that just can’t decide if they are particles or waves.
Chaos itself isn’t a good or bad thing, chaos simply IS. Everything else is human perception and human reaction.
In the face of chaos, it is comfortable to cling to that which is ordered and predictable. This can be a healthy coping strategy: sometimes a well-groomed yard or the familiarity of a favorite running route can offer a welcome respite from the dizzying disarray we find ourselves in daily.
However, I would argue that flat out rejecting the unfamiliar is a recipe for unhappiness in the long term. The only thing that is truly certain is that uncertainty rules: it’s entropy in action. We cannot hide from chaos and entropy forever; we can’t run away from reality, no matter how many energy gels we eat or running shoes we own.
Chaos drives change and forward progress. Evolution is driven by random mutations. The pathway from Protozoa to Pat Sajak was paved over time by ancient mistakes in DNA.
This is not to say that chaos cannot cause setbacks: a six foot snowstorm or a sudden deadline at work can both throw off your plans for the weekend.
Even though mutations drive evolution, the majority of mutations are deleterious; the adaptive mutations just happened, by chance, to confer an advantage to the lucky mutant in that particular time and place. Chaos itself is not innately good nor innately bad–it simply is….chaotic. It is not our place as teeny-tiny-humans in the big-giant-universe to accept or reject chaos. It is only our responsibility to respond to chaos in the most productive way possible. I’m not advocating anarchy: order can have intrinsic value. Even though our atoms may be teeny-tiny whirlwinds of wild undulating energy, they do associate together in ordered patterns.
Traffic laws prevent fatalities, and a yard that is kept in chaos pisses off the neighbors.
I’m advocating open-mindedness in the face of chaos. Be open to the fact that life is sometimes uncomfortable and disruptive. The winds of change will blow your way; however, with open mindedness and creativity the winds of change might blow you someplace totally unexpected and great!
Of course, this isn’t to say that we should abandon our routines entirely, and get swept away in the face of chaos. Even a hurricane has a calm eye in the center of the storm. Constantly giving yourself over to chaos can be a recipe for disaster. The key is to find an anchor when the winds of change reach gale-force.
Chaos will happen. It is up to us how we react to it. Rather than abandoning ourselves to the vortex we can make the choice to let the vortex work for us. If we face our challenges with an open mind and a modicum of creativity, we can harness that chaotic energy and turn it into something great. If six feet of snow falls, do you wait until spring to leave your house? Or do you strap on your skis and be thankful for the AWESOME new trails you get to forge?
I don’t pretend to have any answers. I’m not a psychiatrist or a life-coach. I’m a PhD candidate who likes to run around a lot. My life is often chaotic, but I’m trying to make it work for me. Maybe I need to go back to my post on the vernal equinox and finding balance. Regardless, I hope that everyone is able to find some calm in their personal chaos.