John Briggs & F. David Peat
A couple of
years ago, after having read Jurassic Park, I wanted to learn more
about chaos theory. The only book I found on the subject was the
popular title by James Gleick. But by the middle of it, I was completely
lost. Being without a degree in hard sciences can have its drawbacks.
a book called Turbulent Mirror came into my attention. It is not
only accessible to a much greater audience, it is so brilliantly
put together that no reader will remain unaffected. It is full of
great illustrations, quotes from ancient Chinese mythology, insightful
allusions to Alice in Wonderland, and just enough photographs to
make sense out of a very complex (no pun intended) field of science.
And with the text, you're never more than one page away from good
'ol layman's English as the writers use creative metaphors to explain
So what's it
sciences (both hard and soft) have created generations of specialists
who serve as cogs in giant wheels and pay no attention to the wheel
itself. An intelligent specialist is still but a linear "station"
entrenched in much larger complex systems that few begin to understand.
Learning chaos theory is a great way to abandon the parts approach
and embrace the systems approach.
What is chaos
theory? Simply stated, it is the study of how there exists order
in all disorderly systems (weather, stock market, brain activity)
and how there exists disorder in all orderly systems (heart rhythm,
electrical currents). Every part in and of itself a representation
of the whole and can't be entirely isolated.
The book is
arranged so that it reads in two directions. The first half of the
book shows how nonlinear behavior appears in systems that were previously
considered to be "structured". The sceond half of the
book goes in the opposite direction, showing how even the most chaotic
systems have a eiree order to them.
explains positive and negative feedback loops, the indivisible nature
of the universe, eiree paradoxes inherent in studies of populations,
air and water turbulence, rubber math, current theories of the creation
and evolution of life (including a summary of the opposing view
to "survival of the fittest"), the evolution of social
systems, neurology, Mandelbrot sets and fractals, and more. Yet,
despite the wide range of topics, the authors never go into the
kind of detail that will make the casual reader start to drool from
This book is
not meant to turn the reader into an expert. And I have no doubt
that some scientists will find a fault or two with pieces of the
authors' reasoning. In the two fields that I do know something–business
organizations and neurology–I found myself wanting to take exception
to a paragraph or two. But overall, this is truly a masterpiece
that belongs on every curious amateur's bookshelf.
This book is
recommended for everyone who is looking to gain much needed perspective
of the world around them—especially those in science, business,
or art. Come to think of it, this just about covers everyone. Once
a student begins practicing accelerated learning techniques, systems
theory is the next step to "getting it".