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Chaos theory

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

Chaos theory is the name given to the scientific investigation of mathematically simple systems that exhibit complex and unpredictable behaviour. Since the 1970s these systems have been used to model experimental situations ranging from the early stages of fluid turbulence to the fluctuations of brain wave activity. This complex behaviour does not arise as a result of the interaction of numerous sub-systems or from intrinsically probabilistic equations. Instead, chaotic behaviour involves the rapid growth of any inaccuracy. The slightest vagueness in specifying the initial state of such a system makes long-term predictions impossible, yielding behaviour that is effectively random. The existence of such behaviour raises questions about the extent to which predictability and determinism apply in the physical world. Chaos theory addresses the questions of how such behaviour arises and how it changes as the system is modified. Its new analytical techniques invite a reconsideration of scientific methodology.

Citing this article:
Kellert, Stephen H.. Chaos theory, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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