Shahriar Shahriari

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Chaos Is Cool

Many of us spend our lives operating in high gear, dashing from one appointment to another, grabbing a bite to eat in between meetings, getting stressed in traffic jams, and being overwhelmed by our workload. We think our problem is time or the lack of it. But it is not. Our problem is really lack of order. In other words, it is chaos.

If everything were orderly, we would have a relaxed, enjoyable breakfast that would be well digested. If order prevailed in traffic, we could calmly find our place in the rush and go with the flow, without being obstructed by old ladies, or harassed by the bad taxi drivers. Our telephone would ring just when we were ready to accept calls. Our E-mail messages would have been sorted out in their order of priority, and our coffee break would be exactly that—a coffee break.

But, alas, our world appears to be unavoidably chaotic, and must be negotiated as well as possible. Yet this perspective is based on the old paradigm. Science and Systems Theory tell us that chaos is not an element of randomness, but rather a lack of understanding of the level and complexity of order.

In a non-linear universe, what we call chaos is, in fact, the freedom of movement or latitude given to the elements of the system to be able to evolve through self-organization. Whether we look at the spontaneous concentration of the gases around the denser clouds shortly after the Big Bang, or the spontaneous evolution of the chemical soup into the first life form, or the gathering of the first hunter tribe of apes to form the first community of humankind, we see self-organization at work.

The constantly-changing yet somewhat predictable weather patterns, the seeming chaos of a bee hive, and even the spontaneous creation of political movements such as communism, the Reform party, or Ross Perot, are all expressions of self-organization at work.

Self-organization is an essential part and mechanism of evolution. And chaos is the initial condition that gives rise to order. It was this same mechanism that created the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and the environmental movement. It was chaos that triggered the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Communist Bloc, and the freedom of Nelson Mandela.

It was also chaos that brought about the downfall of the mainframe computer in favour of the PC, the resurgence of alternative healing against the institutional medical structures, and the embracing of spirituality as a reaction to the rationalistic materialism of the previous era.

Chaos is necessary, and chaos is good. Whenever a system has reached a static point of equilibrium and has no more room to grow and evolve, it is fertile ground for chaos to take over. In a chaotic environment, ideas flourish, limitations and boundaries dissolve, risks are taken, opportunities arise, and many attempts lead to failure.

But it is out of the same trials that eventually one or more attempts evolve as the most likely to succeed and flourish. And then the other elements within that still-chaotic system spontaneously decide in favour of some of the alternatives that are most likely to succeed and, through a mechanism of self-determination, organize themselves in line with their chosen paths of evolution. This is the mechanism of self-organization. It is evolution through the exercise of freedom of choice.

Often chaos evolves much better than order. We have all noticed that when a traffic light is out of order, there is actually less traffic congestion, and cars move more quickly and easily. That is because the mind of the self-organizing system takes over and pushes the imposed rules aside, voting in favour of self-regulation and orderly traffic movement.

Following the same model, in many of the forward-thinking corporations, a structured and hierarchical management with imposed rules has given way to a flat, functional and self-regulating organization.

The only problem with chaos is that, as individuals working within the chaotic system, we have neither the foresight nor the insight to grasp the bigger picture. We are too involved in finding our way through the mess. We are too preoccupied with answering that telephone call or avoiding that bad driver.

Particularly at the onset of a chaotic system, which is always fragile, too much energy seems to be wasted. We keep going back and forth, spinning our wheels, avoiding undesirable situations, or even trying to restore the status quo. We are too busy addressing our fears.

So chaos is not the problem either. The problem is merely our perception of chaos. If we could simply see the usefulness of chaos, and give it the right perspective in our lives, then we could deal with it appropriately, without fearing it. In fact we might even want to create chaos and trust that the mind of the system would lead to self-organization, spontaneously, without much effort on our part.

And, still in the bigger picture, if we can see the universe as a self-organizing system that has worked for billions of years without any help or direction from us, if we could only recognize God as the mind of the universe, and not merely as its creator, then we would trust nature’s self-organization capability. We would not try to dominate or subjugate it. We would simply recognize chaos as part of growth, and very calmly proceed with our lives, without wasting any energy on our fears.

In the self-organizing system of our universe, of the Gaia, of humanity, of our country, and even of our family, work and traffic, chaos is cool.

© Shahriar Shahriari,
January 1996,
Vancouver Canada
Shared Vision Magazine (Vancouver) - July 1996 - Pg. 23

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