The Cosmic Plenum: Fractals, Chaos, and Cosmic Autopoiesis
In his theory of the Implicate Order, the late quantum physicist David Bohm refers to fractals in his study of the holomovement, the plenum that powers the inner universe almost in the sense of a feedback loop of unfolding-enfolding between the implicate and explicate orders of the cosmos.
Fractal geometry shows that *shapes have self-similarity at descending scales.* Fractals can be generated by iteration; they are characterized by "infinite detail, infinite length, no slope or derivative, fractional dimension and self-similarity." Basically, the "system point folds and refolds in the phase space with infinite complexity." [John Briggs and F. David Peat, TURBULENT MIRROR, Harper & Row, 1989. p. 95]
Benoit Mandelbrot, one of the world's mathematical giants on fractals, said that "fractal shapes of great complexity can be obtained merely by repeating a simple geometric transformation, and small changes in parameters of that transformation provokes global changes." In essence--through a predictable, orderly process the "simple iteration appears to liberate the complexity hidden within it, thus giving access to creative potential." [Ibid, p. 104]
Thus, in that misnomer called chaos theory, mathematicians and physicists have discovered an *underlying order,* a kind of memory operating in non-linear, evolving systems. Fractal geometry illustrates that shapes have self-similarity at descending scales. In other words, the form, the *information,* is enfolded--already present in the depths of the cosmos. So this is reminiscent of the Implicate Order. Iteration liberates the complexity hidden within it. It is not dissimilar to Bohm's law of holonomy: a "movement in which new wholes are emerging." [David Bohm, WHOLENESS AND THE IMPLICATE ORDER, Ark Paperbacks, 1983, pp. 156-157.]
Just as a matter of interest, a few years back I had the occasion to attend a fractals lecture/slide presentation by Mandelbrot himself. A great big, fun fellow--he showed computer-generated slides of fractal iterations, of same patterns moving into micro-infinity. Then he did something curiously wonderful!
He reversed the process, illustrating a micro-fractal moving into larger and larger scales. And, finally, when complete-- Mandelbrot flipped the fractal and what we had was the picture of a seashore and rising cliffs! This proved rather awesome for me--because it showed clearly how *information* is enfolded at the most minute level thinkable, but yet can unfold into a magnificent seascape.
This incident reminded me of that old adage that the All of us rests in the Mind of God.
Mandelbrot's fractals are the brainchild of mathematics and computer-generated technology. They help to illustrate iterations, bifurcations, creative generativity nestled in chaos theory--which as I said is a misnomer, because it's really about creating order out of chaos!
Bohm very nicely helps one see the connection between fractals, chaos theory, and cosmic generativity. Considering cosmic creativity, Bohm introduces a new concept in which he describes the Implicate Order as a kind of *generative order.* He notes that "This order is primarily concerned not with the outward side of development, and evolution in a sequence of successions, but with a deeper and more inward order out of which the manifest form of things can emerge *creatively.*" [David Bohm and F.David Peat, SCIENCE, ORDER, AND CREATIVITY, Bantam Books, 1987, p. 151.]
Bohm believes that the generative order "proceeds from an origin in free play which then unfolds into ever more crystallized forms." Generative order can be seen in the work of an artist. Bohm uses the example of Mandelbrot's mathematically-derived fractals to illustrate more scientifically this cosmic generativity. "Fractals involve an order of similar differences which include changes of scale as well as other possible changes." Bohm notes that "By choosing different base figures and generators, but each time applying the generator on a smaller and smaller scale, Mandelbrot is able to produce a great variety of shapes and figures...All are filled with infinitesimal detail and are evocative of the types of complexity found in natural forms." [Ibid, pp. 152-158.]
Mandelbrot's shapes and figures have actually taken on the appearance of such non-linear systems as islands, mountains, clouds, dust, trees, and river deltas. As aforementioned, the cosmic explicate order is made-up of non-linear dynamical systems; and when we discus cosmic creativity, it would be useful to consider the creative potential embedded in non-linear systems.
Physicist David Peat elaborates on this creative potential in non-linear systems by discussing *bifurcation.* (Bifurcation in a system is that vital instant, when energy--however small--is iterated to the point that a "fork is created and the system takes off in a new direction.") Peat states that "Bifurcation points are the milestones in the system's evolution; they crystallize the system's history." In other words, bifurcations prompt choices, just as an artist decides to stroke his brush in a certain way. [John Briggs & F. David Peat, TURBULENT MIRROR: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO CHAOS THEORY AND THE SCIENCE OF WHOLENESS, Harper & Row, 1989, pp. 143-144.]
And the internal feedback in some non-linear systems is so "complex that there is a virtual infinity of degrees of freedom." For Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate thermodynamist and systems theorist, nature is built by feedback among all levels. Once again, Peat believes that "This is an assertion of nature's creativity. Each level of organization produces something fundamentally new." It appears as if nature has a choice of orders. Prigogine says that "though causality operates at every instant, branching takes place unpredictably." It is Prigogine's opinion that this "mixture of necessity and change... constitutes the system's creativity." [Ibid, pp. 143-144.]
Also referring to the creativity of non-linear systems, systems philosopher Ervin Laszlo states that they not only maintain themselves, but evolve in a changing environment. Laszlo continues, noting that "they can eventually evolve into "hypercycles that herald the emergence of a system on the next level of organization." He calls this circumstance "autopoiesis" (self-creating). [Ervin Laszlo, EVOLUTION: THE GRAND SYNTHESIS, New Science Library 1987, pp 38, 137-128, 187.]
Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson also considers "autopoiesis," in that the very expansion of the Universe generates *information.* But for information to occur, there has to rise an order out of chaos. In the very earliest moments of the Universe, it seemed chaos reigned. But within a few next moments equilibrium occured, allowing neutral atoms to move into a re-combination phase--a phase of some half-million years that allowed energy and matter to couple.
Earlier the state of disorder, chaos, in the Universe allowed for a maximum entropy and equilibrium was destroyed because of the then de-coupling of energy and matter. But eventually the very expansion of the Universe resulted in a transfer from an Energy Era into a Matter Era, a time when it became manifest in galaxies, stars, planets. Chaisson believes this cosmic evolution into a Matter Era was a result of information that "drives order from chaos."
Chaisson realizes that this information behind manifestation in the Universe has barely begun to be deciphered. But, he states that "we can now identify the essence of the development of natural macroscopic systems--ordered physical structures able to assimilate and maintain information by means of local reductions in entropy--in a Universe that was previously unstructured in the extreme." [Eric Chaisson, THE LIFE ERA: COSMIC SELECTION AND CONSCIOUS EVOLUTION, W.W. Norton & Company, 1987, p. 167.]
|Return to The Logos Continuum | Home|