Beauty of chaos

by Sarah Luna

Tonight by tea candlelight, I curled up in my papasan chair with Sync by Steven Strogatz in an attempt to get familiar with chaos theory. Ever since discussing it in my Theories class, I’ve been fascinated by the notion of chaos, so I chose to write my final paper on chaos theory as applied to iron nutrition. This paragraph floored me.

This description, although correct mathematically, does not begin to convey the marvel of synchronized chaos. To appreciate how strange this phenomenon is, picture the variables of a chaotic system as modern dancers. By analogy with the Lorenz equations, their names are x, y and z. Every night they perform onstage, playing off one another, each responding to the slightest cues of the other two. Though their turns and gestures seem choreographed, they are not. On the other hand, they are certainly not improvising, at least not in the usual sense of the word. There’s nothing random in how they dance, no element of chance or whimsy. Given where the others are at any moment, the third reacts according to strict rules. The genius is in the artfulness of the rules themselves. They ensure that the resulting performance is always elegant but never monotonous, with motifs that remind but never repeat. The performance is different from minute to minute (because of aperiodicity) and from night to night (because of the butterfly effect), yet it is always essentially the same, because it always follows the same strange attractor.

Perhaps this is why I wish to be both a scientist and a dancer. Perhaps this is what compelled me to take modern and ballet and social ballroom classes at A&M and now compels me towards competitive ballroom here at Cornell–chaos is my unifying theory.