The Essence of Chaos (Jessie and John Danz Lectures) Info

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Chaos surrounds us. Seemingly random events -- the flapping of a
flag, a storm-driven wave striking the shore, a pinball’s path -- often
appear to have no order, no rational pattern. Explicating the theory of
chaos and the consequences of its principal findings -- that actual,
precise rules may govern such apparently random behavior -- has been a
major part of the work of Edward N. Lorenz. In The Essence of
, Lorenz presents to the general reader the features of this
“new science,” with its far-reaching implications for much of modern
life, from weather prediction to philosophy, and he describes its
considerable impact on emerging scientific fields.
Unlike the
phenomena dealt with in relativity theory and quantum mechanics, systems
that are now described as “chaotic” can be observed without telescopes
or microscopes. They range from the simplest happenings, such as the
falling of a leaf, to the most complex processes, like the fluctuations
of climate. Each process that qualifies, however, has certain
quantifiable characteristics: how it unfolds depends very sensitively
upon its present state, so that, even though it is not random, it seems
to be. Lorenz uses examples from everyday life, and simple calculations,
to show how the essential nature of chaotic systems can be understood.
In order to expedite this task, he has constructed a mathematical model
of a board sliding down a ski slope as his primary illustrative example.
With this model as his base, he explains various chaotic phenomena,
including some associated concepts such as strange attractors and
As a meteorologist, Lorenz initially became
interested in the field of chaos because of its implications for weather
forecasting. In a chapter ranging through the history of weather
prediction and meteorology to a brief picture of our current
understanding of climate, he introduces many of the researchers who
conceived the experiments and theories, and he describes his own initial
encounter with chaos.
A further discussion invites readers to
make their own chaos. Still others debate the nature of randomness and
its relationship to chaotic systems, and describe three related fields
of scientific thought: nonlinearity, complexity, and fractality.
Appendixes present the first publication of Lorenz’s seminal paper “Does
the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wing in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”;
the mathematical equations from which the copious illustrations were
derived; and a glossary.

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