“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” Words attributed to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
Insomnia. Sleep seems a vague reference to a faint idea masked as a memory of what should have been a real thing. Now wakefulness is your reality, your ONLY reality. Family, friends and sanity have long abandoned you, as you lost touch with hope. Days and nights you spend glued to the luminescent screen of that relentless monstrosity of a laptop, doing ghostwriting jobs – receiving zero recognition – by the virtue of which you can continue paying the bills and that pitiful excuse for a condo you call home. You are nothing more than a machine, just waiting for the latest updates in order to be allowed to shut down . . . forever.
Now imagine fear. You are a fugitive, on the run for the long arm of the law, representing the ignorance of the crowd. Only you know the true value of the secrets they are trying to take from you. Who can you trust, with assassins lurking behind every corner? Even your once formidable reasoning skills are starting to desert your cause, leaving you high and dry. And all of a sudden the men in white coats finally take you by surprise, wrestle you into a van, and with vicious intent bring you to their agency, which they euphemistically call “mental hospital”. When they force dangerous chemicals into your bloodstream, and you are sure it is a truth serum that will allow them to finally get the information you had been protecting all this time, they call it “treatment.” You wake up after a rough night of sweating, swearing, and screaming. What that so called psychiatrist calls “schizophrenia” is now starting to become a state of total confusion, fear, and desperation. Everything is falling apart . . . even your conception of self, your identity as a world-class spy.
We can all imagine such scenarios because of the movies we see and, I would say, more profoundly due to the novels we read. Though it is not likely that our lives resemble those of the main characters in these two short narratives, I assume that you have had periods in life when your felt “stuck”, and periods when you felt “confused.” You might have had a monotonous job with no perspective, but which you could not give up because of financial reasons. Or you might have been overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities and challenges as a new mother.
Whatever the case, and whatever the extent, those fluctuations between what I would call “order” and “chaos”, are very common.
The concept of chaos has its roots in Ancient Greek philosophy, possibly starting with Orpheus introducing the term, “Chaos condenses into the giant Cosmic Egg, whose rupture resulted in the creation of Phanes and Ouranos and of all the gods who symbolise the creation of the Universe.”
“Yet they have a nature that can be interpreted, for in all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order, in all caprice a fixed law, for everything that works is grounded on its opposite,” Carl Jung said in Archetypes of the Collective Unconsciousness.
The concepts of chaos and order are also familiar to physicists, like for instance in thermodynamics where it is referred to as entropy. There is a distinct field called Chaos Theory, which has been very helpful to me in more methodologically describing the ideas which I have already wrestled with philosophically and intuitively.
Let’s describe it in more imaginative terms, as I have done in an earlier blog post. On the extreme left side of the spectrum you may imagine a perfect block of ice, completely inert. On the more extreme right visualize a wild stream, a ferocious river, a waterfall if you will. The block of ice represents order, a static state of being, unchangeable (for the sake of the argument, refrain from thinking about the possibility of melting or other exceptions). The wild river represents chaos, it is never the same, ever changing.
Now, if you would carefully examine snow flakes from up-close, you might marvel at their wonderfully complex pattern, which is unique and intricate, but with a sense of order to it that clearly distinguishes it from randomness. That snowflake represents complexity, the optimal mean (resplendent, as it is so miraculous, if you think about it) between order and chaos, between inertia and random change.
Snow flakes are just snow flakes, however, ice blocks are nothing more than ice blocks, and rivers, however important for the sustenance of life, are merely rivers. Complexity in our universe is infinitely more profound – and I think it even describes things like intelligence and conscious growth – so why should we care about the different states of H2O? Because it can help us understand the three concepts which I want to use to describe not only natural phenomena, as is the domain of physicists, but also psychological growth, the dynamics of society, and the spiritual – though the latter requires quite a leap of faith.
Complexity in a static universe is just that: complexity. However, movement, and change, are an inextricable part of existence. In a system that allows for change and movement, order might also mean “cyclic”, “linear”, “predictable” or “continuous”, whereas chaos (which I intellectually conveniently, but perhaps incorrectly, equal to “disorder”) might also mean “random”, “alinear”, “unpredictable”, or “discontinuous”. In the same way, complexity might be called “growth” or “dynamics” in such a system.
Complexity, dynamics, and growth are, as I said, the optimal mean (a moving equilibrium if you will) between order and chaos (between continuity and discontinuity). This is the hot spot where miracles happen: intelligent life that evolves, and all else that is complex and dynamic. In its most optimal form, it is the ideal path, the resplendent path (Yes, I know it sounds like your average new age fluff, but bear with me).
If you use such denominations, it is easier to apply them to other fields, like the ones I mentioned earlier – which is, of course, a mere intellectual exercise of imagination, if not warranted by sound argumentation and proof. In the book which I am currently working on, I will establish more sound reasoning to back up my claims where possible and desirable. Backed by science and philosophy or not, I am confident that such intellectual exercises are very helpful in approaching the many challenges which people, from individuals to societies as a whole, are facing every single day.
I will just share various examples for the three different aspects of complexity, for different fields: psychology, sociology, the spiritual. Just the terms, as I want you to draw your own conclusions.
What I write is not new or revolutionary, it might even be rooted in the very ancient foundations or western culture and philosophy, like for example the origins of the concept of chaos I have referred to earlier.
However, what I do hope to have demonstrated through this writing – and I will do so in much more details in my upcoming book – , is that these ideas, although à première vue they might seem overly simplistic, are an amazingly helpful framework to approach the complex issues in psychological development (and pathology), in the dynamics of society, and perhaps even spiritual growth.
One might even go as far as to say that the ancient question “What is the meaning of life?” may simply be answered with: “To find and follow the golden mean between order and chaos: the resplendent path, where miracles happen and everything falls into place.”
© 2019 Marcel van Delft
Image: Ludolf Bakhuizen – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6259173