3.305 implications of chaos (68)

Mon, 31 Jul 89 20:18:41 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 305. Monday, 31 Jul 1989.

Date: Sat, 29 Jul 89 05:19:14 EDT
From: Itamar Even-Zohar <B10@TAUNIVM.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 3.297 culture and science?

Re: Chaos

The *implications* of chaos, like the implications of
thermodynamics and quantum theory, for a more unified type
of science (or rather, the nature of the scientific
endevour), seem to interest those of us who are engaged
in the sciences of man more than our colleagues in the
"science" departments. (It is very unfortunate that it is
only in English that "science" mostly denotes "'exact'"
science.) Chaos simply shales too much the *image* of those
"exact" sciences. I think that while these sciences indeed have
developed in a most advanced way, the "daily semiotics"
prevailing among those who are engaged with them is
archaic. That is, while physics and mathematics have
gone quite a bit away from what looks nowadays "naive"
models of the world, the marketed and self-conscious images
perpetuated among mathematicians and physicists (and those
inculcated to their students) still belong to the Romantic

Qua theory, the theory of dynamical systems, i.e., the heart
of chaos, is no innovation for us. It was already in the
1920s that Russian and Prague functionalists worked on
developing a theory of heterogeneous (and by definition *open*)
systems (in clear contradistinction to Saussurian and post-
Saussurian Structuralism). But it seems that the contribution
of chaos is not a parallel set of hypotheses but the mathematics
which allows successful computer simulations. Still,
you will certainly remember how *mathematicians* reacted to
Mandelbrot (as quoted by Gleick)!

I am of course not competent to say whether chaos is more
significant than, say, superstring theory (surely another
"weak" theory in the eyes of your colleague). Yet one thing
is clear: it continues the lines of thought initiated in
thermodynamics, whereby the very nature of "laws" has
gone a significant transformation. From determinism to
probability; from univalent predictability to conditioned,
multi-parametered predictability. This has definitely
closed the artificial gap between what some people called
"the two cultures". And this is precisly what seems to annoy
our friends from the "sciences". They don't wish to lose
the enormous symbolic capital (if I may use Bourdieu's
view) they have managed to accumulate. And some of them
obviously think that chaos may be a cause for this loss.

I think we must try to convince our friends from the "sciences"
that science can be discussed in general terms, too. It's
time to revive the Movement for the Unification of Science.
The trouble is: where is a new Neurath, a new Carnap?

Itamar Even-Zohar
Porter Institute for Semiotics
Tel Aviv University