Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change

Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change


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Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change by John Briggs, F David Peat

If you have ever felt your life was out of control and headed toward chaos,science has an important message: Life is chaos, and that's a very exciting thing!

In this eye-opening book, John Briggs and F. David Peat reveal sevenenlightening lessons for embracing the chaos of daily life.

Be Creative:
engage with chaos to find imaginative new solutions and live more dynamically

Use Butterfly Power:
let chaos grow local efforts into global results

Go With the Flow:
use chaos to work collectively with others

Explore What's Between:
discover life's rich subtleties and avoid the traps of stereotypes

See the Art of the World:
appreciate the beauty of life's chaos

Live Within Time:
utilize time's hidden depths

Rejoin the Whole:
realize our fractal connectedness to each other and the world

Life is impossible to control—instead of fighting this truth, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos shows you how to accept, celebrate, and use it to live life to its fullest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060930738
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/16/2000
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 641,073
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

John Briggs, Ph.D., is a professor of English and the journalism coordinator at Western Connecticut State University. He lives in Danbury, Connecticut.

F. David Peat holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Liverpool and has written dozens of books on art, science, and spirituality. He lives in London and can be reached at They are the authors of Turbulent Mirror.

John Briggs, Ph.D., is a professor of English and the journalism coordinator at Western Connecticut State University. He lives in Danbury, Connecticut.

F. David Peat holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Liverpool and has written dozens of books on art, science, and spirituality. He lives in London. They are the authors of Turbulent Mirror.

Read an Excerpt

Seven Life Lessons of Chaos
Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change

Before Words
The Metaphor of ChaosTheory

At one time or another, we've all felt our lives were out ofcontrol and heading toward chaos. For us, science has striking news. Ourlives are already in chaos—and not just occasionally, but all of the time.What's more, the new science suggests, an individual and collectiveunderstanding of chaos may dramatically change our lives.

Although we humans tend to abhor chaos and avoid it whenever possible, nature uses chaos in remarkable ways to create new entities, shape events, and hold the Universe together. This revelation about chaos was first made by scientists about thirty years ago and has since been actively investigated.But the real meaning of chaos for us, as individuals and a society, is onlynow beginning to be explored.

Just what is chaos? The answer has many facets and will take a little explanation. To begin with, chaos turns out to be far subtler than the commonsense idea that it is the messiness of mere chance—the shuffling of a deck of cards, the ball bouncing around in aroulette wheel, or the loose stone clattering down a rocky mountainside.The scientific term "chaos" refers to an underlying interconnectedness thatexists in apparently random events. Chaos science focuses on hiddenpatterns, nuance, the "sensitivity" of things, and the "rules" for how theunpredictable leads to the new. It is an attempt to understand the movementsthat create thunderstorms, raging rivers, hurricanes, jagged peaks, gnarledcoastlines, and complex patterns of all sorts, from river deltas to the nervesand blood vessels inour bodies. Let's begin to grasp this approach bylooking at chaos as it is reflected in four very different pictures.

The firstphoto, taken by the Hubble space telescope, is of a collision between twogalaxies. Like a pebble thrown into a lake, this violent encounter flung aviolent ripple of energy into space, plowing gas and dust before it at 200,000miles per hour. This certainly sounds like our traditional idea of chaos, yetwithin this outer ring of hot gasses, billions of new stars are being born.Here we see that chaos is both death and birth, destruction and creation.Out of the chaos of primeval gases unfold many varieties of stable order,quite possibly including the highly predictable orbits of planetary systemssuch as our own. Subatomic particles formed within the first moments of the"big bang" birth of the cosmos are still contained within our bodies inordered forms. When we die, they will return to the flux of chaos that is asmuch at work here on Earth as in this galactic explosion. In a deep way, thisphotograph is a picture of the chaos of each one of us.

The second image shows the turbulence of a mountain stream. Here, apparent disordermasks an underlying pattern. Sit by this stream and you begin to notice thatit is simultaneously stable and ever-changing. The water's turbulencegenerates complex shapes that are constantly renewed. So this stream isanother metaphor for ourselves. Like the stream, our physical bodies areconstantly being renewed and transformed as cells are regularly replaced.Meanwhile, that "self" that we believe lies within the body at ourpsychological center is also in flux. We are both the "same" person we wereten years ago and a substantially new person. But we can go evenfurther.

A little reflection reveals that the stream depicted here isinextricable from the other ecosystems to which it's connected—the myriadanimals and plants that drink from its waters; the twigs, leaves, and seedsthat litter the dimple and swirl of its surface; the ancient deposits ofglaciers that alter its course; the climate and weather of the region; theseason-making orbit of the planet through space. Similarly, each of usas an individual is inter-connected to the systems of nature, society, andthought that surround and flow through us. We live within movementsconstantly affecting each other and creating an unpredictable chaos at manylevels. Yet within this same chaos is born all the physical and psychologicalorder that we know.

The third photograph is an all too familiar image ofthe everyday human chaos produced by technology and human thought.Vehicles traveling individually along the engineered space of a highwaysystem interact with each other to create alternating regions of gridlockedtraffic, sudden stop and go, and free-flowing lanes. Viewed from inside oneof those vehicles, the movement of traffic appears patternless and random,but from the perspective of an aircraft flying overhead, subtle patternsemerge—a hidden order within the chaos.

The fourth picture is quite adifferent image of chaos. Deep within the logically ordered constructs ofmathematics lurks a turbulent set of numbers named after BenoitMandelbrot, the mathematician who discovered them and made themfamous. Think of the area depicted within the rectangular frame of the pictureas the dense, microscopic rows of dots on a TV screen. Each dotcorresponds to a number and is colored as either black or white, dependingupon how it reacted when it was slotted into an equation. When theequation was "iterated," or fed back into itself again and again, the numbereither grew or fell to zero.

The big white warty shape is composed ofdots where the numbers fell to zero and stayed there. But in the regionalong the edge of the white area something strange happens. Here thenumbers create patterns that bubble and striate like alien life-forms. Theboundaries become filled with all manner of unpredictable repetitions. Thisbizarre behavior shows that chaos—and its paradoxical order—liesconcealed even within the confines of pure mathematical logic. Many peoplefind this mathematical object strikingly beautiful and engaging. Indeed, one ofthe important characteristics of our new understanding of chaos is itsaesthetic appeal.

Seven Life Lessons of Chaos
Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change
. Copyright (c) by John Briggs . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Before Words: The Metaphor of Chaos Theory 1(10)
Being Creative
Using Butterfly Power
Going with the Flow
Exploring What's Between
Seeing the Art of the World
Living within Time
Rejoining the Whole
After Words: Lesson 7.1325
Notes 177(18)
Index 195

What People are Saying About This

Suzi Gablik

"Fractals, bifurcation points and the 'butterfly effect'--the seed aspects of chaos theory--are brilliantly integrated in this book into a broad perspective illuminating the nature of deep creativity. The examples are wide-reaching and the discussions informative. Chaos emerges not as a negative force, but as a perpetual and comprehensive creative process linking all aspects of life. I found it electrifying."

Daniel Quinn

"John Briggs and F. David Peat are not so much as authors as Zen wizards. As they dart and dance across the stage of their books, butterflies and burbling brooks spring from their fingertips, flow together to become a tumult of clouds at sunset, which (after a moment) we're stunned to recognize as the birth of a galaxy in deep space. When the performance is over, we wonder, 'How on earth did they do that'--and find that, after all, we've somehow caught the knack and are doing it ourselves!"

or hurricane

There would have been no Jurassic Park without it. There is a perfume named after it. It is chaos, whose theroy is the hottest one in science since relativity. The most powerful part of its allure is the relevance of chaos theory to human life struggles, yet no earlier book more than alluded to that connection. Briggs and Peat, whose Turbulent Mirror (1990) is one of the best popular books on the science of chaos (Briggs also wrote the lavish Fractals (1992) on chaos art), now gives us a book that introduces the major ideas of chaos and shows how they can be used metaphorically. For instance, sensitive dependence upon initial conditions, or the butterfly effect, is the phenomenon of a tiny action, when amplified throughout a system, having unexpectedly disproportionate effects. (It is called butterfly after the chaos theory canard that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a thunderstorm

Michael Shermer

"Who says science cannot provide lessons for everyday life? Not John Briggs and David Peat, whose delightful new book shows where it is appropriate to extrapolate from the sciences of chaos and complexity into the realms of creativity and communication, business and politics, art and music, and even spiritual meaning. If you want to know how you can apply the butterfly effect to change everything from your local surroundings to the global ecology , or set up your own feedback loop to improve everything from your career to your relationships, this is a wonderful book to guide you there. The new motto shall be 'better living through chaos.'"

Fritjof Capra

"In their previous work, Turbulent Mirror, the authors gave us one of the best non-technical explanations of chaos and complexity theory. Now they have taken the next step, engaging us in wide-ranging and provocative meditations on chaos. This is an eloquent and utterly delightful book."

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