I bought myself a few books at Christmas, one being “Chaos” by James Gleick. I have this wonderful theory on life I’ve been crafting for quite some time now. In essence, it is the theory that, existence is a set of logical consequences set in motion by the big bang. It seemed a theory routed in chaos, so I decided it best to read-up on the topic a little, and picked the most famous book to do so. I also bought a few more books on hyperspace, but more on those in later posts.
All in all, the book is a good read with a few niggly bits. I relaised soon enough, that chaos is quite boring in spots, a bit like the disappointment I suffered when studying artificial intelligence in college. Real world chaos, like climate prediction or population growth doesn’t interest me. I prefer the purely abstract and academic side: the phantasm of fractals, the romance of recursion, the spirituality of chaos. Most of it kept me interested but I’m sure others would find it more fascinating than I did.
The book covers most of the principles ideas, and characters involved in the history of chaos theory. It explains quite clearly the mechanics behind the now famous buzz words relating to chaos: The Lorenz Attractors, The Koch Curve, The Mandelbrot Set etc. and gives a chronological context to each of their discoveries and discoverers. As already mentioned, it also deals with how chaos theory relates to applied sectors of science in the real world, like climate prediction, water flow and turbulence, population growth etc.
The biggest problem with this book however is that its old, almost 20 years to be exact, and without any real revisions being made in reprints. Normally this would be sound for most books on another division of mathematics or science but there are two problems with it involving a book on chaos. Firstly, chaos is a relatively new discipline and is subject to extreme change in regions of time much sorter than 20 years. By and large the Gleick can get away with this because the book is mainly retrospective and historical view of chaos theory. Secondly, chaos research is carried out on computers. References to supercomputers [of 1987] having insufficient power to calculate such and such, left me screaming in my brain “but what about now! Surely we have enough power! Even my computer has the “jigabytes” to do it!”
At one point near the end of the book, its noted that perhaps in the fantastical year of 1996 (10 years into the then future) medical papers on cardiology will be full of references to fractal timings within the beating of the heart. Hey maybe that turned out true, but it smacks a little too much of all those books I bought for a euro in Vibes and Scribes, demanding the reader to sit up and take note of the new “Push” technology that will rule the internet. The “what?” technology I hear you ask; exactly!
This is a wordy book, by that I mean, there is very little actual mathematical content included, but chaos almost demands this format. As the author himself might point out, chaos is a modern discipline of science, aided by the advent of modern complex visualization systems. Chaos is not to be calculated but instead, to be witnessed.