I loved the movie Jurassic Park for depicting a mathematical theory put to practical use by an amorous mathematician to hold the hand of a beautiful palaeontologist!
He showed her how water would flow down in completely different directions each time, even though a drop is placed on the same place on her hand, i.e. the fundamental principal of theory of chaos that a smallest of change in initial conditions would lead to a massive change in the ultimate outcome.
Chaos theory’s originator Edward Lorenz suggested that we live in a universe where a butterfly flapping wings in Brazil can cause tornado in Texas. It is one of the most profound statements about the nature of our universe. It shows that our universe is woven fine and everything is deeply connected with everything else, so even smallest of the ripples in its fabric will move far and wide.
But, as per this understanding, we should be constantly cascading into an almost incalculable future; and yet, the tool we use to deal with future is our intelligence that has predominantly evolved to calculate future!
Intelligence is a facility of simulating reality by turning it to a reduced abstraction. We use this abstracted model of reality to predict how situations will unfold in future. But, how can such reductionist intelligence evolve and succeed in a universe where butterflies can cause tornados?
If we look closely at this apparent conflict, the most striking possibility is that it has appeared because we are slowly developing an illusion about our intelligence’s capability to see the big picture. As technology has developed communication mediums like writing or image-capturing, the illusion of big picture is now getting consolidated.
The reality is, brain has not evolved to look at big picture because it lives in a chaotic universe of incalculable possibilities. Using abstracted simulation of reality to predict is obviously an approximation-based method that is bound to fail as the picture gets bigger because brain would be missing out more and more components of reality. So, the harsh truth is, future is not what brain is to imagine, as it has more than its hands full with processing here and now.
If we accept this limitation of our intelligence, is it worth to speculate over big ticket issues like demonetisation or pollution?
This gets even more complex when we look at history, as it tells us that every change is like starting of a wave that has both ups and downs, good and bad. Rise of Hitler was horrible for those who lived through that time and yet, for us in 21st century, he has turned out to be a boon. From industrialisation to computers or even space age are here because of rapid scientific growth forced by the war he started. This means that future is like an infinite onion, often changing diametrically as layers are peeled.
So, what is the best path for a reductionist intelligence living in an onion universe populated by tornado-causing butterflies?
The way forward for the wise ape is to accept and internalise limitation of intelligence and focus on living today instead of ruining it in pursuit of a future that may turn out to be only a figment of imagination.
When we encounter complex issues like demonetising, speculate we must, as increasing our ability to process complexity is a goal worth having; but let us do it while cognising that it is an imaginary construct and not worthy to hate someone who doesn’t agree with our version.
So, let us think of tomorrow and all the way up to eternity, but accept that only today is real, and it is all that we really have to live and enjoy.