CHAOS THEORY AND POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
T. R. Young
June 1, 1990--August 7, 1992
NON-LINEAR SOCIO-DYNAMICS: Explications Implications Applications
A 4-Dimensional Bifurcation Map
This work is dedicated to all my friends who work and push me to work the field: Patti Hamilton, Texas Woman's University; Dragon Milovanovic, Northeastern Illinois University; Craig Calhoun, Katherine Zimmerman, North Carolina State University; Doug Kiel, University of Texas at Dallas (it's really in Arlington) Tom Masters, Orion-Wellspring; Larry Vandervert, the Society for Chaos in Psychology; Uri Merry in a Kibbutz in Israel; and to all those hundreds of people who have encouraged me, written to me or listened to my small efforts to explore the implications of Chaos theory for social science; for its applications to social justice concerns and, above all, to Hal Pepinsky, who as usual, gets there before the rest of us. However, it was Patti Hamilton, Dragan Milovanovic, Craig Calhoun, and Doug Kiel who dragged me away from my poetry and postmodern sociology and forced me to answer their questions about Chaos and social life. I am ever in their debt.
"...the remaining part of the
succession of eternity is always infinite and that which has flowed is finite, the sphere
of developed nature is always but an infinitely small part of that totality which has the
seed of future worlds in itself, and which strives to evolve itself out of the crude state
of chaos through longer or shorter periods.
...Immanuel Kant in Universal Natural History and the Theory of the Heavens.
On the Value of Reason:
"Men of intellectual abilities and broad sentiments!
I respect your talents and love your feeling for mankind. But have you also considered well what you are doing, and where your attacks on Reason are lading? Doubtless you want the idea of freedom to be preserved in sound health; for without that there would soon be an end to the flight of genius.
"Friends of the human race and of what is most holy in it!
Assume what seems to you most worthy of belief, upon careful and sincere examination, be it facts, be it the grounds of reason; only do not contest Reason in what it makes the highest good on earth, namely, the privilege of being the ultimate touchstone of truth!
Otherwise, unworthy of this freedom, you will certainly forfeit it too, and drag down this misfortune on the head of those who are innocent, who otherwise would be full minded to serve freedom in accordance with law, and thereby also for the purpose of the best of all Worlds!
Immanuel Kant in 'An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?"
A foolish consistency
is the hobgoblin of small minds.
For the matter at hand is no mere felicity of
but the real business and fortunes of the Human race.
in Novum Organon c.1620
INTRODUCTION Francis Bacon wrote the words above in the early 1600th century in celebration of the new body [novum organum] of knowledge which now we call modern science. Now there is a new body of knowledge as exciting and transforming as that which stimulated Bacon and the best minds for the past three hundred and seventy years to try to understand nature and society. It is called Chaos theory but refers to the study of complex, self organizing, self renewing structures which vary from the human genome to social life itself. It is the drama of social enquiry upon which I focus in this series of essays but there is a companion literature, far more advanced, on nonlinear dynamics in physics, physiology and a host of other less difficult sciences.
Bacon, an English philosopher, Lord Keeper and Chancellor was born in 1561, just as the successes of mathematics began to reveal the wonders within natural phenomena. Bacon argued well that such a science contained all the truth, utility and beauty that one needed or could have. Bacon held that, by using his tables of a) essence and presence, b) absent in proximity, c) degrees of presence (or absent), one could determine the cause of every natural phenomenon. We recognize such tables as the modern science protocol of research design by which to ascertain the laws of physical and social reality.
The political purpose of Bacon's work was to contribute to a "Great Instauration." This collective endeavor by a new class of scientists (science was called natural philosophy in those days) looked forward to a time when people, guided by the new body of knowledge would live in a New Atlantis. The repository of the new body of knowledge, and the momentous purpose it implied, was to be the House of Solomon, a precursor to the Royal Society, members of which were to be those scientists who contributed most to the new body of knowledge and to the progressive control of nature and society it promised.
Chaos theory is a short way of talking about the nonlinear dynamics of most natural and social systems found in the real world. Some who work the field speak of the science of complexity; others speak of bifurcation theory, fractals, or simply, nonlinearity. All are concerned with the patterns, regularities and certainties found in the same outcome field in which disorder, uncertainty, and surprising transformations are found. It is a challenging voyage with many undiscovered truths and few unchangeable facts. Chaos theory is the study of the changing relationship between order and disorder (Briggs and Peat, 1988; Gleick, 1988; Holden, 1986; Mandelbrot, 1977).
METAPHYSICS FOR THE POSTMODERN
Chaos theory grounds a postmodern science that is unpredictable, hence
unknowable to the degree of precision demanded by modern science. Indeed; the essence and
presence of a factor in a given degree cannot be used to predict, linearly, the behavior
of a system; bird, atom, molecule, photon, person, species, or society. No longer may we
use formal axiomatic theory in conjunction with binary logic with which to model reality,
predict and thus control system dynamics. Indeed control itself becomes a casualty of
postmodern science. There is an essay on the futility of instituting evermore controls as
a society bifurcates into rich and poor; into have and have-nots. If the King affair in
Los Angeles has taught us any thing (and it may not have), it teaches us that the use of
police and an enlarged criminal justice system is not helpful to the problem of order. I
offer an essay on Crime and Chaos to this point.
Still less will we be able to use grand axiomatic theory as a foundation upon which to ground social policy. No longer may we assume that, if something exists, it can be measured precisely and predicted completely. 1 We now must accept that, in economics, politics, human cognition, crime, disease, and other natural phenomena, causality opens and closes; comes and goes; fades and reappears like the grin of the Cheshire cat in a fractal basin of events. There is an essay on Paradigm theory together with foundations of postmodern science which focuses more closely upon the peculiar leaps, turns, twists, and wanderings which causal threads take in postmodern science. The essay on Symbolic Interaction and Social Magic gets at the same idea from a different direction.
The obverse of that incapacity, the inability to know completely, perfectly and precisely is an inability to blame variations from perfection and prediction upon glitches, gremlins, ghosts, devils, genes, deviancy, error, sin, outside agitators or incompetent humans. Non-linear interactions and non-linear bifurcations are common attributes of natural and social systems. The normal, the ideal and the perfect are figments and vestiges of desire on the part of scientists to know everything; of managers to control everything, of bureaucrats to plan everything and of accountants to categorize everything. Postmodern science, grounded upon Chaos theory, does not serve the politics of prediction and control at all well. The essay on Deviancy Theory picks up and expands upon this point.
In modern science, the space within an object is filled completely by that object; there is no point on a line which is not part of the line. There is no region on a plane, say a triangle, which is not part of that triangle. There is now zone in a sphere which is not part of the sphere. Not so in Chaos theory. The lines, cones, spheres, cubes, squares and other shapes found in Chaos research are full of holes, gaps and qualitatively different objects within objects. We will look at the deep architecture of social relations in several essays and 'see' this most unusual geometry in everyday life. The essay on Crime, on Management Science and on Social Magic touches upon this curious geometry again and again.
The length, breadth, area, and volume of a geometrical figure can be determined with precision in modern science. Not so in the findings of Chaos. In modern science, one assumes that as one uses finer and finer measurement techniques, one draws ever closer to the true value of a line, a square, a circle or a pyramid. Not so in Chaos theory. Changing scale may increase or decrease both accuracy and value obtained. If one studies a natural object, say a golden crown of intricate design, one could put it in a basin of water and measure the amount of water displaced by the crown. One could get a very close estimate of the volume of gold in the crown. In modern science, one would calculate such small residues as the amount of water clinging to the crown; the amount of water caught by capillary attraction at the side of the basin and, with ever finer measurement, obtain ever closer approximations to the 'real' value of the volume of the gold in the crown. Not so in Chaos research. If one changes scale, both dimension and dimensionality change. At the smallest scales of observation, the gold in the crown would disappear in the far reaches of sub-atomic space. At more macroscopic scales, the volume of the crown would collapse into a point and then, become so small it could not be measured. In postmodern science, choice of scale of observation is a human choice; thus value of measurement is a human fact. Humans manufacture measurements.
The postmodern scientist is very different from her modern counterpart; not better, just different. There will always be a place for studies of 'what is,' however the postmodern scientist will be just as interested in 'What might be,' 'What could be,' 'What should be,' and 'What Might Have Been Had We Not Acted.' It is also helpful to the knowledge process to deconstruct the givens of a society and show the politics and cultural agenda which set such practices in place and endowed them with sacred content.
The postmodern scientist accepts the role of poetics as a metaphor and as an ideology that informs the knowledge process; indeed, poetics and operatics are synonymous at the most fundamental levels of knowing with truth and validity. 2 Poetics takes its capacity to speak transcendent truth from the capacity of the human imagination to leap across domains of life and to see the self-similarity across disparate domains. Operatics gets its capacity to grasp truth from the fact that one participated in the design, building, and living of the social event of which one speaks.
Yet every social event is larger, more complex, more deeply connected to the larger world than words or theories or poems can say. Every unit act has levels and domains not plumbed by the paucities of speech; still less by informationally deficient numbers. Every social role requires an infinitely expanding and changing set of unit acts that is but briefly noted in even the most elaborate explanation. 3 All social occasions are interactively rich beyond the capacity of the fastest computer, the largest data base, the most extensive library to record and retrieve. Postmodern science appreciates the richness and variety of the world and accepts that scientific statements have a fractal truth value that last but for the moment while the moment depends, in turn, upon scale of observation.
POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
Chaos theory offers an empirically solid basis upon which
to build a postmodern philosophy of science. Just as postmodern critique decenters
everything, strips every natural and social form of its privileged position and
legitimates change, variety and discontinuity; just as postmodern expressions in art,
music, literature, architecture, poetry, sculpting and life style decenter and
delegitimate all claims of privilege and preference for Gods, Kings, Popes, Scientists and
Authority of every persuasion; just so Chaos theory decenters grand unified theory, linear
causality and the possibility of universal truth claims said to be certain, eternal and
One will want to keep in mind, as one tries to build a philosophy of science for the postmodern era, that Chaos theory has no substantive content thus is not a formal theory about how any given system will behave. It is simply an approach by which portraits of the behavior of a system (or set of systems) may be made after the fact. Each natural system will have its own key parameters from which truth statements can be derived but, in Chaos theory, the half-life of truth can be very short while the geometry of truth changes as one shifts focus in time and space.
Chaos research (not the theory) does yield a certain short-term reach into the future upon which short-term engineering or public policy can be build but its main contribution to the knowledge process is in the showing of what things to not do if a society, an economy, a firm or a family wants stability or human agency. The essay on Human Agency as well as that on Management science explores the possibility of managing Chaos. There is an essay on artificially stupidity which returns, with tongue in cheek, to the efforts to mismanage Chaos.
Chaos Theory can tell us, in broad terms, when to expect bifurcation points which alter the ratio of order and disorder in a society but cannot tell us whether to hurry or retard such bifurcations. It can describe the structure of existing outcome basins for a given kind of activity; it can tell us what portion of individuals or firms are likely to be in one outcome basin or another but it cannot tell us precisely which person or firm will be found in which basin. Still less can it tell us which of two ways (or more) of doing intimacy and production is to be preferred. Indeed, if anything, Chaos theory instructs us that polymorphic social forms are the more 'natural' while efforts to give preference to one and only one way to organized human affairs are very, very difficult. Grand unified theory pretended to give direction and preference to 'superior,' 'advanced,' 'modern,' or 'complex' social arrangements; Chaos theory does not. The essay on Chaos and Social Change features the various points about change and change theory.
One can build social theory from nonlinear dynamics. Such theories are decidedly historical. Modern philosophy of science presumed to provide eternal and unchangeable 'laws' of nature and society from which all future (and past) states of a system could be known. In the postmodern science built upon chaotic regimes, a raw and radical empiricism triumphs over elegant and coherent theoretical speculation. The essay on Reinventing Socialism looks at scale as well as at the nonlinearity of social change in social affairs.
Uncertainty Linear causality is a casualty to Chaos research. The patterns of causality are many and changeable. The very same initial conditions which produce a tight connection in one region of an outcome basin will produce a loose connection in another region of that basin. In general, there are five patterns of causality each taking the name of a special kind of attractor. Point attractors have the causal precision so desirable for many manufacturing and engineering purposes. The torus is predictable in terms of the region in which its systems may be found but, within such regions, uncertainty reigns. The butterfly attractor has two kinds of uncertainty; one is the loose uncertainty of a torus (the butterfly attractor can be understood to be two coupled tori). The other uncertainty is an uncertainty which varies depending upon proximity to the twinned centers of the butterfly.
Small changes in key parameters can produce large changes in the outcome field of a system or set of systems. The torus explodes to form two wings, the butterfly attractor bifurcates into 4n, 8n and 16n attractors. The region of uncertainty grows proportionally with each bifurcation and the bifurcations come with inexorable inevitability with progressively smaller changes in key parameters. If one is interested in social control, one could do well to look at the ways in which certainty and uncertainty blend and contend in human affairs. It is less than economical to institute more and more control tactics when there is more and more disorder. Rather the sensible thing is to select the amount of disorder congenial to the human estate and to modulate those key parameters which generate that portion of disorder among ordered, patterned human action. There is an essay which directs one's attention to social control and the problem of order from the point of view of this new science.
A 16n outcome field is very unstable; it can explode into full chaos with but a nudge of a key parameter. This is the fourth kind of unstable dynamics observed in nonlinear regimes. Prediction is, for all practical purposes lost to the knowledge process. But a fifth kind of uncertainty holds much interest for postmodern philosophy of science since it speaks against the second law of thermodynamics. Qualitatively new forms of life, of politics, of economics and of other social relations are found buried deep inside nonlinearity. Skips and jumps in the geologic record of organic evolution are entirely compatible with this science in ways it is not with current scientific presumptions.
Order There is, however, much order to be found in most chaotic regimes. In the essays which follow, the reader will want to pay especial attention to three kinds of order: first there is the stable order of point attractors; then there is the changing order found in the outcome field of a torus. It is a very ordered structure. Some regions of more complex outcome fields have a lot of order; other regions, considerably less order. Then there are orderly phase transitions; the first one from the law-like regularities of mechanical systems such as a pendulum or a governor to near-to-stable behavior of a torus. Near-to-stable behavior rules within some regions of butterfly attractors and variations on that attractor while in other regions of such fields, there is great disorder. Order and disorder occupy the same theoretical space; they are not logical opposites but rather most complementary processes.
Then there is the transition to full blown chaos mentioned above in which there are so many outcomes possible that social control, absolute knowledge and human agency are impossible. But in that fully chaotic field lies another surprise. The Second Law of thermodynamics is set aside once in a while and entirely new dynamical forms are found. Chaos ends not in the quiet soup of uniform disorder but in the emergence of entirely new and unexpected forms of order. Even in that great disorder, mega-patterns are found and, once in a while, pockets of order emerge. All these surprises await those who would do social science in the 21st century.
Structure There is another philosophical point to which I would like to draw the notice of the reader; it is fundamental to any science. Most readers are familiar with the post-structural critique. That critique denies that there are, in fact, structures which underlay the use of language, perception of sense data, organization of human behavior as well as which pattern social dynamics. Post-structuralist critique comes in two forms. The first is a rejection of the idea that there are natural structures which predate human imagination and/or human activity. If such structures exist independently of human action, they permit one to infer objectively existing natural and/or social law to which all must conform or face the charge of madness.
The second post-structuralist view is that there are, in fact, structures but they aren't natural in that they precede human desire and action. Such structures as do exist are entirely human constructs. Some structures, i.e., class structure or formal organizational structures (indeed, the very idea of a system) are in the first instance the product of a lively human imagination. For such philosophy of science, reality is far too complex and far too connected to be able to identify discrete structures. We construct these systems out of the incredibly dense raw material of history to suit our present political needs. I deal with this point at some length in the essay on Paradigm theory elsewhere in this volume.
A second variation is that such structures may exist but they are, at least in part, a product of human activity. Almost all social structures are case in point. Some human behavioral patterns may be biological and thus precede human imagination: territoriality, aggressiveness or dominance patterns are often offered as case in point. However, there have been 3000 to 4000 human societies on the face of the earth since our species first began using tools and language. The variety of gender relations, of religious forms, of political forms or child rearing forms support the view that culture plays a large role in shaping patterned human behavior.
These structures are said to be fictions of a lively imagination. Chomsky insists that there are deep structures in human language which run across all languages; Levy-Strauss sees deep and enduring structures in all cultures; Wertheimer and the Gestalt theorists insist that all peoples use the same deep structures in perceiving reality; social scientists from Marx to Parsons see structure everywhere. Marx saw class structure and the tendential laws of capitalism which produce social change. Parson saw pattern variables at work in every society. Toynbee, Sorokin, Comte, and others see recurrent patterns in the sweep of history.
The post-structuralists deny the factual existence of such structures. Lyotard, Baudrillard, Derrida, Gadamer, Foucault and others argue that politics and poetic imagery ground the social sciences. It is unsettling to many modern scientists to hear such critique. It is even more unsettling to hear about something called Chaos theory which promises to undermine what is left of the knowledge process. Without structure, there can be no science--so goes the argument. Without precision and prediction there can be no certainty. Both are true in formal terms but false in actuality.
I want to say emphatically that Chaos theory offers solutions to both the question of structure and the question of human agency which answers the more nihilistic and truth denying elements of postmodernity. In the works referenced here and in this work itself, the reader will get a vision of structure which reconciles most of the postmodern critique with structural analysis. Structure exists but it is a very different structure from that presumed by modern science and its postmodern critics.
The Fractal Geometry of Social Structure. In the essays which follow, I give much attention to a view of structure which comes out of Chaos theory. In the research of Lorenz, May, Mandelbrot and others, the geometry of the structures observed do not take on an euclidean geometry but rather exhibit a geometry full of holes, loops, twists and skips. Rather than whole geometrical forms common to modern science; points, lines, planes and cubes, chaotic structures may have less than three dimensions but more than two dimensions. The galaxy itself has such a fractal dimension.
Then too, in chaos research, structure varies with scale of observation. What is solid structure at one level of study, is mostly space at another. The human body and the atom itself are case in point. More surprisingly, there can be more than three dimensions; some say 24. In Chaos theory, dimensions themselves have dimensions. For example, we think of a bicycle as having three dimensions and, poetically speaking it does. But suppose some one is on the bike and is pumping along on a flat road; then 4 dimensions are involved; the three that describe the bike at rest and the fourth the bike in motion. Suppose the bike comes to a hill; a fifth dimension has to be counted. Suppose the bike turns right; a sixth dimension must be recorded. Suppose the bike is moving slowly and a bug lands on a tire. The bug is in six dimensional space when it lands but suppose it crawls along the axis of the tire; seven dimensions. And if there is a microbe in the saliva of the bug, even more dimensions to count.
Scale of observation is a human choice so, the facticity of a 'structure' is, in part, a human construct. In fact, Chaos theory teaches us that what is structure at one scale of observation is process at scales above and below. A bug is structure for the biologist but process for the physiologist. Much of the polemics about class structure, gender, or racism are of such a nature. At the level of everyday human dynamics, class is hard to 'see.' For a married couple, patriarchy is an abstraction; there are children to be hugged, food to be prepared, machines to be mended and, in all of this, only a series of human acts can be observed. But in phase-space, these structures emerge with considerable clarity. What is process in the lived experience of everyday real time emerges as structure in phase-space.
Deterministic Chaos Postmodern philosophy of science, built upon Chaos theory would see biology as one part of an algorithm of social life and culture as a second part. Biology and culture, together, constitute a macro-algorithm in which one part, biology is fairly stable and the other part, culture is fairly flexible. Together they generate a changing pattern of order and disorder which allows human genius to roam over the problematics of human existence with sufficient predictability to coordinate group behavior and sufficient freedom to met the exigencies of nature and society which emerge out of still other such algorithms. This changing configuration of order is of interest to more than those in this lonely and esoteric field of philosophy, it has considerable meaning for a theory of human agency and thus, of democracy and thus, of political science.
And, while many physical and physiological systems display deterministic
chaos...that is to say, the transition toward increasingly disordered regimes displays an
elegant order seen the relationships of Feigenbaum points. It well may be the case
that social systems do not display the same kind of elegant order...that while there is
order in the transition of dynamical regimes in crime, bankruptcy, Epidemiology or
suicide, one cannot, at present, assert that the same determinism found by Feigenbaum is
also a feature of social systems...we simple do not know at present.
Human Agency The problem of human agency is more complex and less easily reconciled. Chaos theory does not make distinctions between natural systems and those constructed by intending, acting, hoping, sweating, and often failing human beings on the one side and those which are structures produced by more impersonal factors: climate, ecology, demographics, macro-economics or other such 'deep' structures. Chaos theory subsumes all and looks for the bifurcation points in each.
Chaos theory tries to map out the fractal geometry of all without discriminating between those manufactured from desire and these arising from necessity. But Chaos theory does have some useful ideas for those who want to build a philosophy of human agency. I include this, more speculative venture, in this work. In brief, human agency resides in the region between order and disorder; too much order and human agency is defeated, too little order and human agency is impossible. But now on to the social history of Chaos theory and a look at some of the adventures which await social science in the 21st century.
Postmodern Science: the Profession
Today a Bacon (or a Newton or an Einstein) would add a fourth table of
attributes to a full view of natural and social dynamics, a table of transformation in
which the pattern with which phenomena are bifurcating--and thus tumbling toward chaos, is
shown. It is this nova novum organum, this newest body of knowledge which has so much to
say about things that matter so much. Chaos theory is not just a felicity of speculation
for sociology or any other science; it has real things to say that count in human affairs
and it counts monumentally whether we have a view of natural dynamics as naturally stable
and predictable--as did Bacon, Newton and most scientists today--or a view of nature and
society as inherently unstable; bifurcating and changing into qualitatively new versions
of itself with every iteration.
At the same time that Chaos Theory emerges to sweep the field clear of ancient beliefs and modern hopes, we are now at a point where we must, reluctantly, give up the idea of a Great Instauration; an installation of science as the heart and soul of social progress. We now enter a postmodern era in which knowledge, progress and social policy are removed from the sole purview of the professional scientist. Just as the scientist and the expert displaced the gods and their angels in shaping the fate of persons and societies, the scientist and the expert now give way. It is not that modern predictive science has nothing further to offer the human project; indeed it has. Rather, postmodern science and postmodern sociology must abdicate the Royal Throne to which it succeeded the Priest and the Prophet as the primal arbitrator of knowledge, truth and policy.
Postmodern science and the role of postmodern scientist will be far different from that conceived of by elitist science of the sort envisioned by Bacon, by the members of the Royal Society and by the social movement we know as the Technocrats. There will be no Royal College from whence dictums about governance and social programs will emerge. There will be no Ivory towers in which to house philosopher-kings to rule, with remote indifference and slightly contemptuous diffidence, their lesser brothers and sisters. Instead, the relationship of science to policy will be far more like a partnership of doubting, wondering, fallible equals. Science itself will not be the province of a tight knit body of masters and doctors but will be widely distributed, in postmodern society, across the general population. The knowledge process will be desanctified, democratized and computerized in the Third Millennium. It will have the same geometry at the fractals found in nonlinear dynamics. Some will be elegant and astonishing; some will be twisted, discontinuous and ugly to the human project. But all will be distinctly human products. One can blame neither Nature or God for the ways of human beings in a postmodern social science.
Instead of an elite body of scientific advisors to a President or a Premier, there will be a category of lucid and readable public scientists in the manner of C. P. Snow, Lewis Thomas, Jeremy Campbell, Paul Davis, A. K. Dewdney, Steven Jay Gould as well as a cadre of scientific reporters in the manner of James Gleick or Jonathan Weiner who will serve as catalysts to a widely spread, differentiated and culturally relevant knowledge process. Such scientists with a rare grasp of the mother tongue, an abiding desire to communicate and a firm trust in the intellectual competency of their fellow citizens will help broadcast, cast broadly, the meaning and the meat of the scientific endeavor.
Instead of two cultures forever separated, as conceived by C.P. Snow, postmodern science will respond and defer to the same protocols of research: deconstruction, sub-text reading, semiotic synthesis and private agenda now pointed at literary works; poems, novels and television programs. The work of Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and all past and future Nobel prize winners in all the physical and biological sciences will be deconstructed to show the human hand and the cultural themes that organize the knowledge process, the political issues which fuel science and the partisan purpose which mobilizes the best scientists to their work. In postmodern science, science loses its purity and political immunity; however, once tasting of the fruit of the tree of social knowledge, scientists become responsible for what they create and responsible to those whose lives are affected by that which is created out of the wonderful knowledge process we call science.
Indeed, the boundaries of all scientific professions will be greatly expanded as more and more lay persons spend time in associate research posts; as more and more people participate, directly through interactively rich and informationally rich electronic policy processes in great public debates about which research projects to fund, and which set of experiments, affecting their own work, community or nation should be instituted. In other essays included in this volume, I set forth a way of doing social science which removes the boundaries between researcher and researched in ways which changes the objects of research into acting subjects of their own office, classroom, factory, community or church.
The newest organum of knowledge teaches us that the natural and social universe is, as J.B.S. Haldane put it, not only queerer than modern science supposes, but queerer than any modern science could suppose. The postmodern scientist will be equally queer; as queer as the science s/he pursues. Some of it will be the physical and interactional bases of faith healing; some of it will be focussed upon the effects of human desire on the behavior of photons and planaria. Some of it will look at the ways in which time is produced and designed by human action. Some of it will be on the non-linear dynamics of imagination, intuition, and integration; all cognitive functions at which women are said to excel but which are devalued since they do not fit the strictures of coherence, completeness and objectivity so dear to modern science. But all of it will accept the nonlinearity of dynamic systems; the stubborn refusal of nature to fall neatly into elegant and stable models of theory and behavior. That much we learn from chaos theory.
The Discipline Chaos theory reunites the sciences as disciplines in
reversal of the tendency in modern science for an ever more specialized field of endeavor.
The logic of this new science of complexity cuts across all scientific fields and serves
as a epistemological tool for all. anti-positivist critique in Germany; Vico, Herder,
Fichte, Schelling and later Windelband and Rickert along with Dilthey and Weber all
conceded that the physical sciences had qualitatively different dynamics from the 'hard'
sciences. Now we see that the hard sciences were able to render a precise reading of
nature by excluding most of actually existing physical dynamics from its research design.
Even Einstein believed that, once in a while, God 'tweaked' the universe in order to get
it back on course.
In a postmodern philosophy of science, both quantitative and qualitative methodology is required for every discipline. Every physical system will, under stress, demonstrate nonlinear transformations: nuclear reaction is linear up to a point; fluid dynamics are linear up to a point; population dynamics are linear enough up to a point. After that, nonlinearity rules.
A Place for Positivism There will always be a place for positive knowledge; quantification, theory and prediction in postmodern social science. Social dynamics are stable enough most of the time to yield positive knowledge. Perhaps a postmodern version of positivism can best be seen by recourse to the categories set forth by Ben Agger (1989). Agger says that there are at least three senses in which people often use the term, positivism. His analysis contains:
Positivism I: Adequate knowledge mirrors the world; knowledge can be produced unmediated by position in the social structure, by cultural components in language or thought, and by personal desire. Absolute truth statements can be made. This is the Locking position.
Positivism II: Adequate knowledge comes from a determination of causal relations in an if-then format. An adequate knowledge process provides ever closer approximations of that which exists prior to and apart from human perception and action. One hypothesizes, tests, and then judges the validity of the hypothesis based upon empirical findings.
Positivism III: An empiricism that recognizes the human hand in selecting research problems; the cultural role in conceptualizing ontology--that which really exists; the political use of findings and the transitory nature of truth.
Agger says that all progressive scholars, marxists, feminists and the
whole left bank of postmodern critics ought to be, as is Erik Olin Wright, Positivists
III. In Positivism III, there are the usual canons of objectivity, controls for value and
explicit disclosure of partisan desire. There is also absolute integrity of procedure,
analysis and report which must continue to inform the empirical work of the best in
postmodern endeavor. An effort to ascertain causality in a propositional format continues
to have some limited historically valid use value. Chaos theory teaches us that causal
connection and direction varies with the region of phase-space sampled. Whatever the case,
the canons of compassion, praxis, Human Rights and value commitment will join the
modernist canons of veracity, accuracy, and precision to inform the knowledge process writ
large in postmodern science.
The quest for a final standard of truth, a final set of axiomatic and eternally true propositions from which reliable predictions may be derived will be replaced, even in the 'hardest' sciences, by fractal truth statements, by historically and situationally contingent propositions as well as by pluralism in conceptualization, in pathways to knowledge, in interpretation, in use of findings. Efforts to impose a given set of concepts with precise and unchanging definition is out. Efforts to restrict the knowledge process to that of research design and systematic comparison will fail. The euclidean, newtonian geometry of social relations will be displaced by the fractal forms and dynamics of a mandelbrot set; that is true not only of the topic of investigation but also of the modes of investigation. The genius of the poet parallels and supplements the genius of the field researcher.
MISSIONS AND METHODS of Postmodern Social science
It is no longer possible to center the mission and method of social
science around grand unified propositional theory. It is no longer possible to assert the
separation of object and subject of empirical research. It is, of course, possible to
recenter sociology and social science. The only interesting question becomes, Whose and
What politics are to inform its practice? I want to help reorient American social science
to the new body, the Novum Organum, of knowledge that comes out of Chaos theory. I want to
argue that social policy in crime, in social problems and in health care should be
grounded on a view of science that allows a given system to have a plurality of dynamic
states ranging from near to stable dynamics, undergoing bifurcations, then cascading
toward chaos as these bifurcations continue past a point of no return.
If chaotic regimes best model health dynamics, for instance, then far different standards for causal connections between cancer and low level radiation or use of tobacco must be set in place. One need not show linear causality given chaotic regimes. The same is true in corporate or white collar crime. If such behavior is variably connected to given key parameters, then linear based policies of crime control are of limited value. Indeed, I will argue in the essays which follow that the costs of control and therapy are follow the power laws of chaotic transformations...it is unthrifty to cure or to correct; far better to prevent in the first place. There are lessons to be learned from Chaos about preventing bifurcations in key parameters.
In the essays which follow, I will offer some highly speculative ideas about nonlinear dynamics in symbolic interaction, in social change, in crime and corrections as well as in management science. The basic research has been done in a wide variety of mathematics, physical sciences and natural science. It has not been done in social science with the exception of economics and psychology. Sociology is a late comer yet by far the most interesting findings, in terms of ordinary people, reside in social behavior. The 21st century will be a time of discovery which compares to the 17th century in physical science. It is perhaps a bit late in coming but the social sciences made the error of trying to emulate the standards of physical science while physical science itself attained precision at the expense of complexity and connectedness. Analysis has its moments but it cannot handle emergent phenomena and thus is condemned to study only the most simple of systems.
The implications of chaos research for the knowledge process in social science itself are, thus, monumental as chaos theory decenters the assumptions of social research. In a word, all assumptions which now constitute the core of modern science have to be confined to a tiny part of the entire realm of social, psychological and physiological phenomena; they have great value in a limited set of cases and limited value in the great majority of forms and dynamics observed. We need to rethink theory and method as we enter the third millennium. It is a great challenge and will take all the genius of the next several generations of social scientists; The Marxes, Spencers, Comtes, Wards, Smalls, Znanieckies, Dodds, Lundbergs, Blalocks and Parsons of the future will have to leave the tidy world of linear mathematics and formal theory and work in the messy, changing, unpredictable world as it is.
Deterministic causality, theoretical coherence, interval and rational scaling, inferential statistics attesting to validity and reliability, falsifiability, replication, stability of theorems, cumulativity, theory building and general theory itself are inappropriate epistemological tactics with which to unravel the ontology of the cosmos as revealed by Chaos researchers. More accurately, such epistemological tools have a limited role to play. Using them for all social dynamics is a political act which favors order over disorder and which requires concepts of error and deviancy so helpful to political philosophy build around social control. This new body of knowledge sets forth a very different ontology; one that is much richer in detail and much more variable in dynamics than that presupposed by the old organum of knowledge.
From the ontological richness and variety of everyday reality in both organic and inorganic events, the then most recent science, calling itself modern, preempted the knowledge process in ways that tend to objectify its research subject and to dismiss its own role in shaping actuality. This social activity, preeminently a political activity, is encoded in the 'ethics' of social science. Such encoding, as noted in earlier essays, is done under the rubric of impartiality for given outcomes of the knowledge process; for an impartial refereeing of how society and nature work.
Central to this critique of the modern knowledge process and to the
formulation of a postmodern social science for the 21st century are analyses of social
reality and the reality-creating process using symbolic interactional theory. The
nonlinearity of this reality creating process supports an interpretation of chaos as the
proper ontological base of society. The world-creating activity of symbol using creatures
is far more discontinuous, far more variable, far more acausal than most of its
In speech, literature, medicine and marriage, the structure of action is discontinuous. Inspired by belief, trust, naive and innocent reciprocity, all social forms are the product of symbol using creatures who, in the moment of that use, constitute themselves as human beings and as partners in a social process. Charles Horton Cooley said, truly, that mind, self and society are aspects of the same process. When friends come together after separation, they can pick up on a conversation that was left unresolved days, weeks and years before--or they can ignore the bitterness, pain and costs of past betrayals. When novelists are writing, they can get caught up in the non-linear logic of their novel and write things never before imagined or planned. When those who are terminally ill come to believe in the love of a spouse or in the skill of a medical doctor or in the gift of a healer, terminal illnesses can remit. Those with cancer, AIDS, damaged spinal cords or with epilepsy can live and function better than their physics and chemistry allows if they believe, trust and desire. Two people can come together in trust and intimacy and, somehow, know the thoughts and wants of each other without words or gesture.
All these phenomena are a form of magic but they are the practical magic of non-linear construction in human affairs. They are part of the quite natural social magic by which social life worlds are created. The interface between hope, faith, trust and belief on the one side and the dynamics of body chemistry, tissue physiology and systems functioning is not amenable to the methods of modern science with its emphasis upon measurement, controlled variation, linear correlation and predictive accuracy. The interface between desire and reality is, indeed, queer, far queerer than we can know.
Object and Objectivity Objectivity in particular, as an epistemological tool, is rendered problematic for both technical and social psychological reasons. Given the difficulty of any social scientist in avoidance of significant impact on the object of their study; given the cultural themes and personal desires that make social research interesting and given the social problems that make social research pressing, given all this and more, the larger question becomes 'What kind of social world does the scientific community wish to help bring forth? Given the interconnectedness of actual existing physical and social reality, the subsidiary question set arises, how is intersubjectivity to be organized and, How are truth values to be formulated? These questions arise since the truth value of any statement about social reality is a product of the delicate and complex interplay between knower and known.
In the version of postmodern philosophy of science presented here, the very connectedness of physical, chemical, physiological, psychological and social events, the mission of the knowledge process becomes a matter of political choice; the subsidiary question becomes, 'Whose politics inform the reality creating process of social science research?
Subject and Subjectivity Most of what is written about freedom and oppression arises out of political subscriptions to a given social form. All societies socialize their own children to a social philosophy in which all proper freedom is found. All elitist societies use school, science, and the media to broadcast an image of its own ruling elite as the natural or god-given repository of human agency. Chaos theory offers insight into a theory of human agency which transcends such convenient ideas about the possibility and, perchance, the desirability of freedom.
As the knowledge process widens and deepens, human subjectivity is, increasingly, possible. When one knows how nature and society work, the moments at which human intervention is possible become known. When such knowledge feeds back upon the knowledge process itself, limitations of such intervention are illuminated. Chaos theory encloses a theory of human agency which guides toward an understanding about the changing potential for effective and low-cost intervention into such social phenomena as crime, poverty, housing, and economics generally.
The book begins with an essay on human agency and closes with a few ideas about Chaos theory and social justice concerns. In between are a diverse set of essays providing explications of Chaos for the novice; to show some applications in substantive areas of social science and to draw out some of the more obvious implications of Chaos theory for a philosophy of science. In all this, I want to show how Chaos theory fits into the knowledge process as it advances and retreats across the sweep of human history.
Although this last interest is the focus of a companion volume, in brief, one can identify three major epochs in human understanding: traditions methods and missions of the knowledge process gave us the skills and tools with which to build a very complex symbolic social life world. These skills and tools are the focus of the essay on symbolic interaction. Modern science gave us the mathematics and the methods by which to design and to measure the truth value of ideas. Positive knowledge about what actually exists and how it actually works is the legacy of the past three hundred years. Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton mark the turning point from the first to the second grand epoch. Now we are at the crest of a new wave of understand variously called the postmodern in which all that is holy; all that is venerated, all that is respected as the final truth has been systematically decentered to show the human hand and the human agenda which resides within claims of objectivity and finality.
Policy and the Postmodern It counts monumentally; it counts mightily whether or not we can use the neat, complete, tightly connected and rigorous models of modern science to determine policy or whether we must base social policy upon the loose and fractal findings of chaos theory. The operative cases are many and the consequences of choice are great; shall we base social policy on the Ozone layer, ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer on models of causality requiring a direct and linear relationship? If we do so, then we will do nothing about CFCs, carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions from industry that erode the Ozone layer since such immediate and linear relationships do not exist. Chaos theory honors data in which relationship fade and fail only to flower once more.
Shall we delay social policy on tobacco since the causality patterns between degree of smoking and degree of lung cancer are chaotic rather than linear? It counts in the last few years of loved ones that smoking and false masculinity are linked, existentially, by the tobacco industry with the aid of an amoral advertizing industry and their employees. It counts with all the nurses and doctors who stand by watching the lungs of their patients gradually turn into a foul-smelling mush. It counts with the taxpayers who have to spend three dollars in medical therapy to deal with the medical effects of every package of cigarettes smoked by those who are addicted to nicotine.
Shall we wait until we can find a perfect correlation between crime, joblessness, racism and age or shall we accept that causality in crime is chaotic; that we need provide prosocial work for our young people even if some who are employed continue to commit crime and some who are disemployed never, never commit crime. It counts in the lived experience of those we call our children. It counts in the routines of degradation through which prisoners and warders alike are put in our modern prison system. It counts in the tears of victims of street thugs and in the pensions of those who trusted all the white collar thieves in the savings and loan industry or in the corridors of power.
It counts in the lived experience of parents whether low level radiation produces, nonlinearly, the levels of aborted fetuses or distorted bodies we see in liveborn children. Those who are pro-life will want to consider which knowledge process they shall use to base their efforts to save the lives of unborn infants. Shall they delay regulation of the electric utilities since there is no, cannot be, any proof of a direct and linear correlation? It counts and is a hard accounting that mothers give birth to infants without arms or with an empty smile when low-level radiation or low-level toxins cannot be linked in linear fashion to each and every person exposed to them who comes down with leukemia or pancreatic cancer thirty years later.
The model of science we admit to our social policy deliberations thus preshapes our desire to act. It is the drama of the new findings in chaos theory that demand a very different model of causality be used to ground social policy than the one praised so fulsomely by Bacon and Laplace, as well as the many in the philosophy of science that came after them in all the generations since.
Recentering Postmodern Social science
Postmodern social science does not privilege any given set of gender
relations; it does not privilege any given way to do politics, it refuses to endorse a
given economic or religious way of life. It promises only to pluck the social process and
the knowledge process from impersonal theory or immovable gods and to show the human hand
that authors such works. Postmodern social science transcends national loyalties, ethnic
life-styles or religious teachings.
In its worst, most pessimistic moments, postmodern scholarship despairs of the possibility of authentic self knowledge or of reliable knowledge of social facts; it decries the possibility of going beyond the moment, below the surface of any society. In such a mood, postmodern scholarship sees all social research as contaminated by power, privilege and parochial political goals; including this essay. Some Postmodern scholarship rejects any attempt to set standards and to impose limits upon people. (Rosenau, 1991)
At best for such scholars, one can only read the social text; one can only identify its authors; one can only offer parallel and conflicting interpretations of research reports, scholarly monographs or social science textbooks used by hundreds of thousands of students. In their more bleak, unyielding moments, postmodern social scientists, artists, dancers, poets, architects and dramatists tend toward nihilism, toward self expression and toward retreat to very private forms of freedom. In such negative moments, postmodern social analysts become disenchanted and withdraw from class, gender, and ethnic struggles. As does Pierre Bourdieu, (1989) they stand aloof from '...everything that marches under the self-proclaimed banner of "radical" social science or 'critical theory." One becomes cynical, soliptic, and arrogant, dismissing of all who make some effort to set and keep standards in a decentered world.
In its more optimistic, value-full and progressive moments, postmodern social science transforms into emancipatory social science. It accepts as its mission the production and reproduction of a good and decent society. It respects and honors a wide variety of ethnicities, religiousities and economics which teach and practice compassion, human dignity and equality of opportunity. It joins social science research with politics, economics, enlivening religion, democratic socialism to support an infinite variety of prosocial forms of desire and love.
As have so many others before, I take the position that some set of Human Rights and Human Obligations to society, to the future, to the environment and to research subjects should inform the knowledge process and the social life upon which it depends so intimately. This centering of human rights and human obligations is but one of many such centerings; as such it does not appeal to that which is natural nor that which is divine. Rather it appeals to that which is promotive of praxis and a praxis society. 4 Markoviç (1974) identifies five moments of praxis, which together produce the same infinite variety and harmony that one can see in a mandelbrot set: intentionality (rather than reaction), creativity (rather than sameness), rationality (rather than pretheoretical struggle), self-determination (rather than oppression), and sociality (rather than privatization).
Emancipatory postmodern social scientists can join with those in Liberation theology to help find answers to ancient questions of value, purpose and compassion. Along with progressive Catholic, Buddhist, Protestant and Muslim theologians, critical social science helps answer the four fundamental questions of life: what are our origins; what are the social sources of human tragedy and oppression; how shall we live together today in peace and justice and, finally, how shall we prepare for the future??
Emancipatory postmodern social scientists may join with Greenpeace, Jacques Cousteau, George Page, animal rights organizations and other naturalists to protect and preserve the good earth and all its creatures great and small. Each animal, each plant is a textbook and a journal; each species, a whole library within which are written the findings of thousands of natural experiments in adapting to the dangers, diseases and of potentiality of life. Each egg, each seed is a precious promise of new life with old and secret solutions buried deep within its billions of bytes of genetic information just as each culture is a treasure trove of information of how to produce, to eat, to live, to build, to heal, to share and to change as nature and society changes.
There is a whole new language to learn with more concepts coming along each day. The language itself is a poetics built upon the fragments of other, earlier social life worlds. Some terms come from engineering, some from farming, some from warfare, some from religion and some are quite new. However, if one looks at the etymological derivation of any such concept, one will make a journey deep into the past history of the culture from which it came. Much as computer technology forced entirely new habits and terms upon us, Chaos theory does the same to the social sciences. But, once the essence of a term is grasped, the insight it brings is astonishing. Every time one reviews a book or article on Chaos theory, dozens of new insights leap out to shake one's belief in psychology, sociology, physiology, biology or organic evolution.
There are networks which will provide support and materials to the interested novice. Addresses are provided at the end of this chapter but generally, there are networks at Ann Arbor, Michigan; Portland, Oregon; Urbana, Illinois; Raleigh, North Carolina; Bern, Switzerland; Los Alamos, New Mexico and University of Texas, Dallas. As yet there are no journals devoted to Chaos research but most established journals readily open their pages to foundational articles and essays.
Many adventures await those who enter into this meta-paradigm. Chaos theory greatly alters the view of nature and society; the ontologies it discovers are strange indeed when contrasted to the neat and tidy theories of the newtonian paradigm. The epistemologies it requires are far more forgiving and accommodating than those required by quantitative methodology and yet....yet there are powerful truth statements available. It is just that truth does not respect the theorems of euclidean geometry, the rules of logical positivism and Aristotelian logic, the principles of calculus or the axioms of formal theory.
Institute of Nuclear Physics,
Novosibirsk, 90, USSR
Centre de Physique Theorique
C.N.R.S. Luminy Case 907
f-13288, MARSEILLE, CEDEX 9
Keupp, Prof. Dr. Heiner
Institut fur Psychologie,
Leopoldstr. 13 8000 München, 40
Hamilton, Prof. Patricia
School of Nursing, TWU,
Denton, Tx., 76204
Kiel, L. Douglas
School of Social Sciences
The University of Texas at
Dallas, Tx., 75083-2735
The Social Dynamicist,
Box 9080, Seattle, Wa., 98109
The Society for Chaos
711 W. Waverly Place
Spokane, Wa., 99205-3271
T. R. Young,
The Red Feather Institute
8085 Essex, Weidman,
Raleigh, N.C., 27695
Agger, Ben. 1989. "Is Wright Wrong?" the Berkeley Journal of
Sociology, V. XXXIV.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1989. "Interview," conducted by Loic Wacquant. The Berkeley Journal of Sociology, V. XXXIV. p. 18.
Briggs, John and F. David Peat, 1986. Turbulent Mirror, New York: Harper and Row, (1988) and Arun Holden, Chaos, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gleick, James. 1988. Chaos, New York: Penguin Books.
Holden, Arun. 1986. Chaos. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mandelbrot, Benoit. 1977. The Fractal Geometry of Nature, New York: Freeman.
Markoviç, Mihailo. 1974. From Affluence to Praxis, Boston: Beacon Press.
Rosenau, Pauline. 1992 Post-modernism and the Social Sciences. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
T. R. Young, 1991c, "The Archeology of Human Knowledge," in the Michigan Sociological Review. No. 4. Fall. An overview of premodern, modern, and postmodern knowledge missions and methods.