Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Great Streams of History

Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Great Streams of History

by Ralph Abraham
HarperSanFrancisco, 1994; paper.

In recent years, mathematicians, physicists, social scientists, and even movie makers have been interested in chaos theory. When reading about this concept, a layperson wonders about its applications to everyday life. How is it useful and why is everyone so excited about it?

Ralph Abraham, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, gives his response in this book. The word "chaos" generally evokes such synonyms as disorder, confusion, and disarray. Webster's Dictionary calls it the "state existing before the creation of distinct forms" or "complete disorder." Abraham, however, defines chaos as a cosmic principle and the source of all creation. When we resist change and cling to order, we are fighting this principle. It may be nature's way of transforming our lives through its ongoing evolution and growth.

Two other principles work hand in hand with chaos. These are "gaia,” the creative order of the living world that helps maintain its existence, and "eros," the creative impulse and spiritual medium that binds chaos and gaia together.

Abraham believes that science is in the throes of a major upheaval. Its traditional role has been to maintain the current paradigm through suppressing any experience that runs contrary to its dogma. It presumes we are each a separate consciousness looking out at a totally determinable mechanistic universe. Its dependence on accurate measurement of phenomena allows it to dismiss information that challenges this view in much the same way that medieval religion denied a sun-centered solar system as contrary to biblical canon.

Abraham argues that science cannot deny the existence of chaos in the rhythm of the planets, whose orbital variations defy prediction, the turbulence of climatic forces in the atmosphere and oceans, and even in the "metapatterns of history."

"Gaia," a term coined by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock, points out the holistic interconnection between the earth, its climate, and all living things. The Gaia Hypothesis, which began in the biological sciences, affirms the intelligence of the whole life system of our planet in creating and regulating the physical conditions optimal for the emergence and maintenance of life. The history of the temperature and climate of the earth, with its regulation by the biosphere and its irregularities (ice ages) caused by chaos in the solar system, is used to illustrate Gaian theory. (page 5)

Eros, according to the Greeks, denoted a spirit that yearned for "that which is missing or demanding love." Abraham compares it to the holy spirit, or logos, that connects soul and body. It is a psychic energy pushing aside order. It prevents stagnation. It promotes growth, transformation, and new life.

Abraham applies chaos theory to the study of history and the myths of each historical period. He states historical evolution takes place through transformations called bifurcations. These bifurcations affect stationary time periods where little change occurs, periodic time periods where a pattern, such as a series of wars, is repeated, and chaotic periods where radical bifurcation occurs. The latter, while appearing the most unsettling, actually leads to the greatest evolution in the era. Examples include the discovery of (the wheel, use of time pieces, the invention of movable type, and the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal culture.

Abraham ties chaos, gaia, and eros together culturally in what he calls the orphic tradition. It encourages balance among matriarchal and patriarchal civilization, regarding all life as sac red, and giving high priority to peace and security. It avoids violence, encourages sexual freedom, promotes myths and rituals focused on love while holding music and mathematics in high regard.

He states that we are in the midst of a scientific and cultural revolution that will, with our enlightened encouragement, allow this orphic tradition to once again blossom and grow. This involves acceptance of chaos (inevitable psychically-inspired transformation) rather than clinging to outdated ego, inspired order, and stagnation.

While applying chaos theory to history, science, myth, religion, and philosophy. Abraham actually says very little about the dynamics of chaos theory itself. While not overburdening the reader with complex mathematics, it would have been useful to walk one through some of the details of this compelling theory. He incorrectly assumes that the reader will have some knowledge of chaos dynamics while reading a book obviously meant for the layperson. This survey of many diverse fields is, at times, only loosely tied together. It does, however, contain a glossary of technical terms as well as a thorough index. The extensive bibliography points the reader to greater exploration of the various fields and to further examination of his overall theme.


Spring 1996