Destructive chaos and generative chaos

Image: Jakub Novacek


In the context of evolution, which appears to be non-linear, but which leaps forward and upward, the concept of chaos has gained centrality.

We are undeniably experiencing a conjunction of crises of all kinds. There are so many that we don't even need to mention them. In short, we are living in a situation of great chaos.

Many years ago, scientists from the life and universe sciences began to work with the category of chaos. This presents itself as destructive of a given order and as generative of a new order hidden within the destructive one that is struggling to be born.

Let us follow this path: initially it was thought that the universe was static and regulated by deterministic laws. Even Albert Einstein himself initially shared this view.

But everything began to change when an amateur cosmologist Hubble in 1924 proved that the universe was not static, but was expanding and on an escape route, in a direction that is indecipherable to us. Later, scientists noticed a wave of very low intensity and permanent, coming from everywhere. It would be the last echo of big bang occurred around 13,7 billion years ago. Here would be the origin of the universe.

In this context of evolution that appears to be non-linear, but that leaps forward and upward, the concept of chaos has gained centrality. O big bang would represent immeasurable chaos. Evolution would have appeared to bring order to this original chaos, creating new orders: the myriad of celestial bodies, galaxies, stars and planets.

The phenomenon of chaos resulted from the observation of random phenomena such as the formation of clouds and particularly what came to be called the “butterfly effect”. In other words: small initial changes like the rustling of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can cause a totally different effect in the end, like a storm over New York.

This is because all the elements are interconnected, everything is related to everything and can become complex in surprising ways. The growing complexity of all the factors that are at the root of the emergence of life and in increasingly higher orders of life was realized (cf. James Gleick Chaos: creation of a new science, 1989).

The meaning is this: within the chaos virtualities of another type of order are hidden. And vice versa, behind order hide dimensions of chaos. Ilya Progrine (1917-1993), Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry in 1977, particularly studied the conditions that allow life to emerge from chaos.

According to this great scientist, whenever there is an open system, whenever there is a situation of chaos (therefore, out of balance) and connectivity between the parts is observed, a new order is generated (cf. Order out of chaos, 1984). In this case, the new emerging order would be life or a new way of organizing society.

According to Ilya Prigogine, there are dissipative structures within life in a double sense: they demand a lot of energy and thus dissipate this energy in the form of waste; on the other hand, these structures dissipate entropy and make waste the basis for other forms of life. Nothing is lost. Everything comes back together and generates the possibility of new forms of life and eventually societies. This indefinitely, as a process of evolution.

Let us try to apply this understanding to the current destructive chaos. No one can say what order might emerge, hidden within this chaos. We just know that a different order, given certain socio-historical conditions, can emerge. Who will unravel it and thus overcome the destructive chaos?

What we can say for sure is that the current chaotic order prevailing in the world does not offer any support for overcoming chaos. On the contrary, by carrying it forward, it can lead us to a path of no return. The end result would be the abyss. Albert Einstein noted well: “the idea that created crisis (we would say chaos) will not be the same one that will get us out of it; we have to change.”

When humanity is faced with fundamental chaotic situations that can threaten its existence – I believe we are in them – there is no other way but to change. I believe that the best way is to consult our own human nature. Although contradictory (sapient and demented) it is characterized by being an infinite project, full of potential. Within these potentialities, elements of a different and better order can be identified.

This will necessarily be based on a new relationship with nature, affectionate and respectful, feeling part of it; in the love that belongs to our DNA; in the solidarity that allowed the leap from animality to humanity; in universal fraternity, based on the same genetic code, present in all living beings; in the cultivation of the world of the spirit that also belongs to the essence of the human being. This makes us cooperative and compassionate, it reveals to us that we are a knot of relationships facing in all directions, even towards the Being that makes all beings. This way we would move from destructive chaos towards generative chaos.

These would be some elements – among many others not mentioned here – that could found a new order and way of inhabiting planet Earth, considered a Common Home, nature included. And so we would be saved by having overcome the destructive chaos towards a generative chaos with another horizon of life and civilizational future.

*Leonardo Boff is an ecologist, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Caring for our Common Home: clues to delay the end of the world (Vozes).

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