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“Chaos as physicists’ plans to know the future crumble”

The Oblivious Physicist

If the title of this blog post seems dramatic, that’s probably because it is intended to mimic a newspaper headline, pun included (although the subject is not exactly breaking news). According to the Oxford dictionary the word chaos characterises a “state of complete disorder or confusion”, which is precisely the situation in which physicists and mathematicians found themselves towards the end of the 19th century and, to add insult to injury, re-experienced much later in the 1970s. What we now know as chaos theory in physics and mathematics was what emerged from this chaos.

First contact

Briefly, there was a grand idea — inherited from Descartes and Newton —  that if one  specifies the state of a system (in some technical sense), then both the future and the past of that system are knowable through a diligent application of the laws of mechanics. In short, knowing the present plus…

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