Turbulent Mirror

by 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.

Thankfully, 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 the inexplicable.

So what's it about?

Reductionist 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.

Turbulent Mirror 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 boredom.

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.

Recommended For:

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".

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