a butterfly fluttering it’s wings over a flower in China can set in motion a series of events which will result in a hurricane over the Caribbean …
For centuries, scientists and thinkers have been looking for a single theory that encompasses all of nature. Many believe that Chaos Theory is leading us towards this single theory of the universe. When we discover this ‘Theory of Everything’, it must by definition encompass absolutely everything – both material and spiritual.
Should spiritual matters and beliefs be questioned?
In terms of our spiritual lives, explanations are not generally explored. Since our ancestors first started to wonder about the universe and our place in it, questions regarding the how and why have to a large extent been discouraged by religious leaders.
A compelling reason to discourage examination of the articles of faith, is the reluctance of religious leaders to lose power. To encourage questions that cannot be answered purely by reference to holy texts is to relinquish control of the faithful. There is also the chance that some closely held components of religious dogma may be proved false.
Even among lay people, there are many who will take the view that we are simply not meant to understand the “mind of God”, and that mysteries should remain unexplained; that the wonder of the mystery may somehow evaporate with the knowledge gained.
Mankind has already uncovered many secrets of the universe, yet knowing the process of conception and birth does not diminish the wonder of a new life. Understanding the movement of the solar system and how it influences the phases of the moon does not stop us admiring the many faces of the moon.
If anything, a full understanding of “everything” is likely to be more awe-inspiring to thinking people than the unknown mysteries. The power of superstition, magic and mystery over knowledge are remnants of past ages.
Furthermore, an appreciation of the processes behind the spiritual puzzle will provide a clearer path to follow in our own spiritual quest.
Surely as seekers of truth and enlightenment, we should constantly question what we see, feel and believe. After all, could there be more than one Ultimate Truth? As it says in the Bible: “there is nothing hidden which will not be uncovered.”
The Beginning of Chaos
We have all had times in our lives when we wonder at the circumstances that bring us to the point where a life-changing event happens (or does not happen). We all know about being in the right place at the right time. This aspect of what became known as Chaos Theory has been known for centuries; it is found in folklore and has been used to good effect by storytellers ever since.
But what is Chaos Theory and where does it come from? What does it have to do with spiritual matters?
It is a theory that has been causing excitement in scientific circles over the past thirty odd years. Chaos Theory is a fascinating and deep subject but we will just look into the concept of sensitive dependence. It is really pretty simple to grasp – we see it in our daily lives.
Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist, first wrote about chaos theory. He was running a computer program to model weather patterns in the early sixties. He found that a minute difference in the accuracy of numbers used to start the sequence resulted in completely different results.
What happened, is that these tiny differences at the beginning had a slightly different effect on each calculation in the process, but the cumulative difference was enormous due to the large number of dependent calculations required in weather modelling – each step took the result further and further away from the original final answer. This is called sensitive dependence.
Before computers, this degree of accuracy would not have been attempted. It would have been considered insignificant – but in this case it was clearly far from insignificant!
A common example of chaos theory is called the “butterfly effect”. With some variations, it explains that: “a butterfly fluttering it’s wings over a flower in China can set in motion a series of events which will result in a hurricane over the Caribbean.”
In other words, as Lorenz found, a very small change in or near the beginning of a sequence of events can result in a completely different final outcome.
Taking chaos theory a little further, researchers analysing various groups of data – from cotton prices, to population growth – found that when graphed, there were repeating patterns at various scales.
Research led to the word fractal being coined to describe highly complex images containing shapes which repeat themselves over and over again – usually using a computer to handle the repetitive calculations necessary to generate these images.
It was found that fractals are to be found in nature too. Snowflakes, clouds and ferns are often cited as examples.
Branching off from this, have you ever watched a flock of birds and wondered how these creatures that are not generally renowned for brainpower, manage to fly so well together – constantly changing position, yet keeping together without flying into each other?
Craig Reynolds of Los Angeles wondered. He took it a step further and developed a computer program that mimics the flocking of birds (the program calls them “boids”). In developing the program, he found that each boid requires only three basic rules in order to flock:
1. Keep a certain distance from others;
2. Match speed to the others; and
3. Move towards the centre of the flock.
Just these rules (or algorithm) result in the seemingly complex patterns of flocking birds. Observers had previously assumed that flocks were being controlled by a leader bird – the beauty of flocking birds certainly looks as though there is some central choreography controlling their movements. It appears that the truth is far simpler – and more appropriate for our little bird brained friends. These same rules seem to apply to herding animals and schools of fish too.
Craig Reynolds’ boid algorithm has been used with critical acclaim in a number of blockbuster movies to simulate the movement of bats, dinosaurs, wildebeest, and other creatures.
We are coming to realize that there can be pretty simple explanations for things that seem highly complex, and maybe even impossible. As with nature generally, the simplified explanations make a lot more sense than the complicated alternatives.
To take this idea a step or two further, think of the human body. We know that nature is economical, so it makes sense for our DNA to be as compact as possible. Arteries, the relative size of body parts, lung structure, … the list goes on and on! Could it be that a few formulae woven into our DNA strands end up in a well proportioned human?
Spirit in the Sky?
Whatever we call the “Ruler of All Things” – God, Supreme Being, Universal Spirit, … we each have our own theory about this powerful entity, usually influenced by our spiritual upbringing.
Just what do we attribute to this Ruler? Probably the first and most common answer to this question would be the Creation of everything that exists. This is an all-inclusive term that, besides the obvious physical objects, includes the laws of nature, relationships, our evolutionary development, and everything else.
To illustrate a possible link where Chaos Theory ties into spiritual belief, let us select a concept common to all religions and belief systems: cause and effect, or karma.
No religious texts explain in detail how karma works. Our opinions on how the reward and retribution is applied, depends upon religious and spiritual belief.
Ignoring the dogma, all religions essentially teach that living a good life ultimately unites one with the Universal Spirit. Deviating from this life of good, results in some form of retribution – rebirth, hell, purgatory, etc. Also, our experiences in this life are in some way influenced by our balance of debits and credits.
The Law of Karma
To illustrate that the cause and effect principle is already accepted and applies in the physical world too, an easy example to cite is Newton’s third law of motion. This law says: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. This could also be a definition for the “law of karma”!
There is a fairly widely held belief that all of us are connected on a spiritual level. Many consider this collective spirituality to be the force that controls the universe – God, if you will.
This connectedness is supported by empirical evidence that humans can influence the behaviour of both animate and inanimate objects without verbal or tactile communication. We have all had the experience of someone close to us thinking of a subject or past event at almost exactly the same time as we do. There are stories of mothers waking up at night just before the baby starts crying and reports of twins communicating without speaking are fairly common.
Now think back to the chaos related examples we have covered. There are simple explanations for many apparently complex problems.
Consider the idea of our DNA being coded with far more economical algorithms than previously imagined. Consider too, groups of pea brained creatures creating flocking patterns of such beauty with just three basic rules. Then there is our psychic connection to the universe – a sensitive interdependence?
Perhaps the mechanism of karma is simply that every person is connected to every other being at a level above our current consciousness. Our intuitive sense of right, merged with that of all others, automatically measures and updates our own balance, providing the correct response at an appropriate time. At the same time, our conscience is provided with feedback, where necessary, on a conscious level.
How many DNA rules would all this take? It is well known that the human brain has far more capacity than it has ever been known to utilise. There should be no problem with us handling a few more rules – even if we are not consciously aware of it.