Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Review (#2 of 2009)

Introducing Chaos by Ziauddin Sardar and Iwona Abrams. (Amazon)

Last year I mentioned a couple of times that I wanted to learn more about Chaos Theory. The last book I read was written by Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, and fractals are a cornerstone in chaos theory.

This book is basically like a Cliffs Notes, except much weirder. Each page tries to explain some aspect of chaos theory and its evolution, and each page features a large picture--usually a manipulated photograph-- to try and bring the point home. But the picures are all pretty creepy. There are a whole series of these books if you click on the Amazon link at the top.

Much of what the book says doesn't make sense unless you know a lot about other fields that chaos theory reaches into. I enjoyed the refresher on quantum mechanics, but unless you've had an economics class you'll not understand what neoclassical economics is and why chaos theory challenges it. If you understand things like quasi-periodic stability, then you might appreciate this book.

The definition it gives for chaos is:
"the occurence of aperiodic, apparently random events in a deterministic system. In chaos there is order and in order there lies chaos. The two are more interconnected than we ever thought before."

The modern applications were interesting. It was fascinating to learn how it is shaping research in economics, physics, biology, and even architecture. Sardar shows how non-Western cultures like ancient Islam had already thought about fractals, and how Eastern religions already grappled with the role of nature and not everything being constant. Sardar kind of jumps off on the whole "truth is relative" type of mindset of a Buddhist.

But, this caused me to think about the Emergent Church movement and if, perhaps, it has its roots in thinking about chaos, and not just standard post-modernism.

Anyway, I bought this book used. If you can find it cheap and are interested, won't take you long to read. Consequently, I have another book in storage written by Sardar. Guess I'll have to move it up the reading list.

2.5 stars out of 5.

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