3. Chaos

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Now let me take it a layer deeper, if you resist the need to become more Precise as we go, remaining ever vigilant and sensitive to the creative benefits of Imprecision.

The notion of Stochasm leads us naturally on to Chaos. I perceive that there are a lot of myths about chaos, Chaos being seen as part of the Random because it looks random, but actually it is not; it is just that it is difficult to predict accurately. We have got used to chaos, Comfortable might I say, and we will need to chase its meaning further back to discover its more usefully Imprecise nature.

At its origin it is a Greek word which meant “primal emptiness”, as opposed to cosmos which meant order and structure. These opposing terms had an impact on the culture’s discourse where, in Aristotelian forms of debate, each thesis has its antithesis and in this way chaos fulfilled its role in relation to cosmos by allowing movement from emptiness to order (Imprecision to Precision). In spite of its emptiness, Chaos was identified in Greek mythology as the source of matters of essence such as Night, Earth, Gaia, Hell and the Erotic. Perhaps a case of the devil having all the best tunes.

In the Christian era, misunderstandings (wouldn’t you know) of the correct use of the word led to its redefinition as meaning “disorder” which is actually an entirely different word in Greek, tarache, that nowadays means more “anxiety”. The precise meaning of chaos was more “the emptiness of space”, which paradoxically is what cosmos has now come to mean via Russian and by accretion aka “the universe”, itself a structure paradoxically somewhat removed from order.

I hold on to that latter definition for, whatever its flaws, an Imprecise way of defining structure is urgently required, one that works more from the inside out, for the creative world has a legendary resistance to order being imposed from the outside.

Faced with the need to understand chaos in a context where current generations are so globalized, may my actions be informed early by the butterfly effect. I know that overuse has by now made this into a tired old image, but I go for the nugget in my Imprecise way and retain from it the universal eloquence that has made it so popular: engage with ideas of local priority because this is my real context, but keep in mind their global impact right from the outset. If I can see the connection between my wing and the storm I am showing a strong sensitivity to initial conditions.


Chaos is my natural context and one with which I am fully equipped to cope, both physically and mentally. It is an environment in which instability, contrariness and criticism flourish, its impact provoking into action my innate creativity through which the human being has survived all previous crises – or we would not still be here. I know, faced with chaos that my first reaction is to want to take control, and many never go beyond this point, trapped in a futile struggle where chaos refuses to bend to their organising will before sucking them into its vortex.

The error in this method lies in the desire to impose an external form to the chaotic environment, whereas we Imprecise know that chaos has its own internal pattern. The core competency in managing chaos is to avoid the trap of a management style that seeks to impose a false order. Instead, I seek refuge more in its silent spaces, learning to read them and so unlock their meaning and their power. We are all faced with more and more chaos in global affairs previously regarded as being more certain, whether climactic, economic, religious or democratic. Globalization means that these dramas are now being played out at planetary level and there is no longer anywhere to hide: the impact of each individual’s actions is now increasingly being felt by all humanity and I am not just talking about Fukushima or Covid-19.

Imposing a false order on a chaotic situation may provide enough temporary respite for me and have me imagining that I have successfully managed the situation, but the gradual decay back into chaos quickly gives the lie to that realisation. The dynamic of chaos is so continuous as to make any moment of respite impossible and the background noise prevents one from seeing the wood for the trees. So how in this context is one to organize a space to listen to the silences?

Chaos Management

Introducing the notion of pattern here provides me with a useful link towards understanding how to manage chaos. I think the ability to detect pattern has enabled leaders great or small to manage what otherwise seems disordered, for chaos becomes more predictable the more information I can lay my hands on. The fundamental skill in managing chaos is to avoid the trap of appearing to manage by imposing false order.

The management of chaos is enhanced by an understanding of the nature of its internal schemes, called fractals. This is a term coined by Mandelbrot in 1975 from the Latin for “fractured” that describes the geometric forms within the chaotic environment. Incredibly, these can be decomposed into smaller and smaller versions of themselves and every infinitesimal element always resemble an approximate copy of its entire shape. A fern leaf may be divided up in this way, into shapes which remain reminiscent of the whole. You do need a microscope to fully appreciate this and at that level of magnification a snowflake offers a more famous example. The same goes for the other end of the scale also, such as the distant coastline. This itself is loosely fractal, with a repetitive vocabulary of shape – such as the Bay, the Spit, the Strand and the Head – yet which, when seen from satellite, becomes a recognisable continental shape.

I fear that herein will lie little Comfort for the externally-structured leader, locked in, as he or she is, to a micro-management style which actively prevents fractals from being read. For these are best read at a distance, from where they best reveal their sense. The remote reading of fractals reveals that there is only a semblance of disorder in chaos.

The true wonder of chaos management for the Imprecise lies in the realisation that each of these rough or fragmented geometric shapes, as presented, is an approximate, reduced-size copy of some legible whole, a discrete fractal that is a set. This may exhibit stochastic self-similarity on larger scales but at a small scale one can observe the “jugginess” which results from the grid on which the random motion has been performed.


It is a tough call to become actually desirous of chaos. For me, that capacity begins by learning to leave behind simplicity in order to embrace complexity. This is an experience of reality which rather usefully lies at the border between order and chaos, where part of what is complex actually can be seen to remain simple enough to find order – which is where the fractal has just taken us. It forms an ideal transition zone for the Imprecise novitiate as he or she moves from the Comfort of ordered simplicity to embrace chaotic complexity.

This paradox first reassures me, inasmuch that if one can observe chaos everywhere in a complex system, then so might one find order everywhere. Newton’s laws describe to perfection a holistic dynamic constancy – the planetary system of our solar system – which has occurred within a vast and manifestly disordered Universe. When revealed in this way to our species, which I have come to understand instinctively seeks evidence of Precision, a few planets going round a sun in similar ways does rather look like order. Ordered movement will of course stand out from a vast background of disorder, for simplicity shines in complex disorder, but we are just selectively grouping those few parts of a disordered universe that share a similarity. I am not denying that there is order there, in the form of some kind of linked arrangement which may be observed, but it is our selective view that is creating a notion of the supremacy of order that is not borne out by observation of the whole context.

At this point I could tip into the opposite acceptance of disorder, where complexity and simplicity cohabit, related and interdependent in ways which are simultaneously correlative. However complexity is considered to be due to the sheer number of disorganized parts in a system and the lack of correlation between its elements. It may reveal variance but not the random. This calls into question whether constancy actually has any useful meaning and order once again begins to pale in interest in comparison with chaos.

The scientific community has accepted that solving the complexity of a system no longer need remain the objective and it lets disorder rule. Usefully for the Imprecise, such a conclusion indicates that science remains at variance with Comfortable Precision. When I grasp this level of imprecision, I find myself confident enough to deliberately seek out the problematic. Making life difficult for myself in this way greatly enriches my processes of decision, and why go for the simple life when I am actually built to cope with such a wealth of complexity?

Read on: 4. Work with the Grain

[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complexity

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