Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beyond Darwin, Turing's Biology of Creation, Chemistry of Nature: The Secret Life of Chaos

The perspicacious physicist, Baghdad-born Professor Jim Al-Khalili, presenter of the excellent three-part BBC series Language of Science returns with a stunning tale of chaos:

A system completely described by mathematical equations that is more than capable of being unpredictable without any outside interference, whatsoever. (Al-Khalili, 2010: BBC4)

Launching The Secret Life of Chaos, Al-Khalili acquaints us with another seminal paper by 20th century mathematician, Alan Turing: The chemical basis of morphogenesis. In 1952, Turing was the first man to take on the momentous task of unravelling nature's mysterious mathematics, Al-Khalili reveals. Turing, grasping the idea, that the wonders of creation derive from the simplest of rules, wondered about 'mind', what is it?, explained Turing's biographer, Dr. Andrew Hodges featured in Al-Khalili's programme.

Familiarising viewers with the butterfly effect (flapping of wings in one place can effect massive change, such as in weather, somewhere else), and the link between nature's power to self-organise, Al-Khalili demonstrated that chaos is everywhere, unpredictability is hard-wired into every aspect of the world we live in, and that global climate can dramatically change in the course of a few short years. Order is linked to chaos, Al-Khalili showed. Moving through Belousov's patterns to Mandelbrot's set, Al-Khalili's journey to the centre of chaos shows us that feedback gives rise to both order and chaos and involves pattern formation, which is deeply woven into fabric of the universe. Patters are everywhere, just waiting to happen, Al-Khalili added.

Complexity is based on simple rules, which themselves give rise to complexity through a feedback loop. Spontaneity emerges from the feedback of simple rules, organisms replicate with a few random mutations now and again. Feedback comes from the environment which favours mutations best-suited to it. Nature's ability to turn simplicity into complexity explains why life exists, Al-Khalili maintains, and that it is evolution, a powerful system of creative power, which has caused the universe, full of simple dust to create human beings, causing inanimate matter to spawn intelligence from simple rules. It is evolution, an unconscious process, which hones patterns and experiments by mutating, finding what works and then builds upon this.

Design, Al-Khalili concluded beautifully, does not need an active, interfering designer; self-organising complex systems develop from simple rules, without conscious thought. Professor Jim Al-Khalili's The Secret Life of Chaos can be viewed here.

Mandelbrot set image: Scientific American

1 comment:

Tony Mann said...

Thanks for the link. I'm interested to see what Al-Kahlili presents as I have my own theories on chaos. I, of course could use more study but I imagine that what we see as being "chaos" is actually "order" on a level that we just do not understand yet.

But, that's just me=)

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