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Chaos theory may explain end of life - if there's anyone left to apply it

by Shelly Awaya, Business editor

The end of existence can be summed up in two words: system overload. You woke up this morning, started your car, let the engine run for a few minutes, and drove to work or school. The minute you turned the key in the ignition, enabling the muffler to spit toxins out into the world, someone died from an asthma attack. You killed that person. In the whispering words of Gollum from Lord of the Rings: murderer.

 

Everyday you get into your car to go somewhere you risk killing somebody.

How you ask?

Yours was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Among the tens of thousands of vehicles driven daily, along with other airborne pathogens such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, and benzene, your vehicle’s pollution caused a carbon monoxide overload. This resulted in an atmospheric system shift creating air that is unhealthy for humans to breathe.

Driving a car is going to cause one of today’s worst natural calamities ever, right next to floods, fires, hurricanes, and droughts. This is what chaos theory, also known as systems theory, predicts.
Chaos theory is a deterministic theory that tries to explain how objects and processes are parts of systems that can absorb a lot of stress, but too much stress or pressure on any of them will permanently alter or destroy the system.

Huh?

Basically, chaos arises when something affects a behavior or process. Take the above example. Every time you crank up the engine of your vehicle, the air is being polluted. You subconsciously subject millions of people to polluted air that even you are forced to breathe, no matter how many air filters or purifiers you surround yourself with. Since the atmosphere doesn’t signal that it’s changing or that it’s being exhausted, everyone has an equal chance of ruining it. Strange or impossible, you say?

What this scenario depicts is that everything on Earth is a part of its system. The car, you, the fumes in the air, and the asthma attack victim are all subsystems of the Earth. Overloading these and other subsystems will eventually change the Earth’s main system by radically altering or destroying it. This means that everything you do directly affects everything else in this world.

Chaos is the process of changing what happens in the system. Chaos theory is a way of thinking about change that tries to recognize a pattern in it, to understand why things happen.

When you think of the word chaos, it’s not unusual that you envision disorder, imbalance. What you don’t see is that chaos is a constant, never-ending omnipresent cycle.

Picture a straight line or a circle: a continuum. Everyday you get up and walk this line, but everyday there are differences: little imperfections that change how your day ends, but don’t drastically alter your future. You could step in a puddle and ruin a new suit. You might have a really bad hair day. These small “changes” won’t normally affect how you go to sleep at night. But what if you lit a match to light a candle or incense and destroyed the last bit of the ozone layer? This is where chaos theory comes in.

Chaos theory can be described as a nonlinear equation with complex and intricate workings.
In a linear equation, there is a formula: plug information into one side of the linear equation, and it yields an answer. Based on that information, the story will always have the same ending even though you change or switch some details around. In chaos theory, the equation can have a minor or major subformula that constantly changes the final result or answer.

Chaos theory blends the logic of science and common sense. Science explains the what-if scenario; the common sense explains our naiveté, perhaps even ignorance, toward how our actions affect everything around us.

Chaos, to many, is the opposite of order. In reality, chaos is the way we don’t want the world to be. Humans, for the most part, are comfortable with their picture of life. Pain, suffering, and death are changes that we know affect us, but don’t think that we, as individuals in a society, ultimately are responsible for.

So, what can we do?

First, we as humans must realize that we are not separate from nature. Second, we must open our eyes to see that around us there is constant imbalance in the environment. Third, we must admit that sadly we are the cause of most of it.

To spearhead such change, we must look at this Earth as the ONLY resource that isn’t renewable—the only system we have. Where will we go if the Earth becomes uninhabitable?

As the old saying goes, “You only have one life.” Well, we only have one Earth. The reality of it all is that we’ve all contributed to overloading its ecological systems: the atmosphere, the oceans, the biospheres. All we need to do to restore normalcy is to stop or reduce deadly activity. Change is inevitable. If it’s rapid, we won’t survive it. If it’s slow, we as individuals and societies, can adjust to it as the Earth itself does.

If we’re not careful, the next step we take might be our last. Tread lightly, my friend.

 

 

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