One of my latest guilty pleasures is watching Russian “Fail” videos on YouTube. While I do not care to see people harm themselves, the disorderly, chaotic human behavior shown in the videos amuses me.
It all began innocently enough, with Russian car crash clips that are forwarded to me by Jorge. He watches them as a reminder to drive defensively before he heads out on American highways in his employer’s semi-truck.
The videos showcase our dislike of conformity and rules imposed by authority. The viewer is shown stark reasons why we need traffic regulations and courteous behavior on our streets and highways. In fact, I now follow Jorge’s example and may watch a “We Love Russia” car crash video before I venture out of town. I’ve developed the habit of setting the cruise control on the ol’ Camry at a lower speed. I’m more mindful behind the wheel, too. A guy just can’t trust Nebraska drivers.
As I look at my desk, I see a version of “ordered chaos”. Visitors to my home probably see a lack of order and the need for better organization. At least once each month, I put papers and books in the file drawers and book shelves, then dust the desk surface, lamp, and accessories. Within a week, the chaotic appearance grows back. Nearly everything I need is within reach again.
Chaos is one of those words that is defined better by saying what it is not instead of what it is. My old college applied mathematics text says chaotic systems are distinguished by “sensitive dependence on initial conditions and having evolution through phase space that appears quite random”. This jargon-filled definition needs some unpacking.
We can begin our observation of a dense collection of objects that appear to have no relationship to one another. As we continue to observe a set of objects, the objects follow random trajectories.
Oddly enough, chaos soon evolves into some sort of order. Objects will tend to double up, then quadruple, then become clusters of objects. Some of the clusters survive as isolated groups, other clusters break apart into individual objects that remain separate or perhaps join other clusters.
If you observe traffic patterns on highways and freeways, you’ll see a type of chaotic behavior. We find a totally random collection of cars, SUVs, trucks, implements, bicycles, perhaps pedestrians and wildlife. The operators of each vehicle determine the rate of speed, direction of travel, and distance apart from vehicles that may be traveling ahead of them. Variable factors like deer trying to cross the roadway might appear at any time. Weather conditions complicate this random collection of vehicles and beings, too.
The appearance of a paved road surface, marked with painted lane markers, accompanied by signage and signals gives the appearance of order. Ultimately, each individual decides for herself whether or not to notice and obey the markings, signs, and signals. Even when motorists obey something as basic as a speed limit, individuals independently decide what speed they will proceed within the parameters of legal minimum and maximum speed limits. The speed options are theoretically infinite within these ranges.
Hence, we will observe vehicles moving along the roadway alone or in clusters of various numbers. Faster vehicles approach slower vehicles, they form a cluster until the drivers of the faster vehicles overtake and pass the slower vehicles. The vehicles become isolated and form temporary clusters over and over along the highway surface. This is a type of ordered chaos.
When a deer or other animal steps onto the road surface, the ordered chaos is interrupted. Vehicles must slow or stop. Often a collision takes place to the disadvantage of the deer and the motorist. If the accident partially blocks the road, traffic appears and forms into clusters. A few motorists may remain at the scene to offer aid to the victims, others will make their way around the wreck. All of the clusters eventually dissipate.
A different effect occurs when one motorist decides to proceed at a speed faster than conditions warrant. The risk of encountering other motorists too fast increases. A miscalculation by the speeding motorist can result in an instant pairing or collision. The instant cluster may increase in size when other motorists are unable to slow or stop in time to avoid collisions with the first. Other motorists stop to offer aid or drive slowly around the accident cluster. Chaos and some semblance of order again have taken place.
Chaos, ordered chaos, and order don’t only exist on highways. We find chaotic behavior in weather. Apparent disorder and chaotic behavior of atmospheric elements manages to organize itself into weather phenomenon like typhoons, frontal systems, tornadoes, and the like. Meteorologists understand that the chaotic nature of weather is too messy for conventional scientific analysis. They do understand trends and probabilities enough to bring us very long range guesses and relatively short-term forecasts. However, the Earth’s weather patterns are more chaotic than orderly, so there will always be some margin of error.
When we look at the big picture, we see chaotic behavior at work in the Universe. Randomly moving particles form clusters. The clusters become groups of clusters. They form stars as a result of clustering. The star clusters, galaxies, cluster together with other star clusters. Sometimes a galaxy collides with another galaxy to cause a single chaotic mess. After several millennia, the chaotic mess will eventually organize itself into a new, larger galaxy.
The cycles of chaos and ordered chaos can be found easily, if we bother to stop to observe them.