Chaos theory and chaos constellations, order or confusion?

chaosSHave you ever noticed how sometimes, a word normally rarely used pops up everywhere you look. For me, it’s been ‘chaos‘. Chaos in the weather forecast, which failed to predict a very cold spell, chaos in Haiti… Sneh sometimes refers to her work as ‘Chaos constellations‘, so of course the word caught my attention.

I watched a programme on BBC 4 last week about chaos theory. ā€˜The Secret Life of Chaosā€™.

Chaos as a word has always taken me to the sort of state my bedroom used to get into as a child or teenager, something rather static, clothes in a jumbled heap on the floor, no recognisable pattern, parents saying could you tidy your room…Disorder, confusion and anarchy says the dictionary.

Yet, the images in this programme showed patterns of changing and beautiful symmetry, which appear seemingly out of nothing and are completely self organising. If only clothes and papers would do that!

Chaos theory gives chaos a deeper and more beautiful meaning. Chaos refers to the butterfly effect: how some minuscule difference in the initial conditions of a system causes an event to take a different direction, a completely unpredictable direction. Sometimes it has dramatic results and other times we hardly notice.

The butterfly flaps its wings in Brasil and creates a chain of events leading to a hurricane happening somewhere else instead of the sunny spell that the forecasts had predicted. I didn’t realise till I watched the programme that chaos theory explains why weather forecasts are so often dramatically wrong! A system that is completely described by mathematical equations is more than capable of having outcomes that could not have been unpredicted, without any outside interference whatsoever. The same things that make for this unpredictability also allow for the creation of symmetry, order and patterns of stunning beauty.

One of my tutors during my psychotherapy training used a phrase about group dynamics: ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’ and I remember I had a friend who loved that phrase and was always getting me to repeat it. But I don’t think I realised then it was a definition of chaos.

I was at a funeral the other day and after the service, in the hotel where relatives and friends gathered, I found myself talking to a woman I had met once before years ago. The conversation was interesting enough but what preoccupied me was the sensation I had of wanting to back away from her, just about an inch would have done it. Inevitably each time I shifted back a fraction, she seemed to move with me, and in the crowded room I couldn’t go very far. I began to wish the conversation over, and found it hard to stay present.

Later on I thought about constellations and the strange but undeniable experience that representatives repeatedly have – that a slight repositioning can make all the difference to their ability to stay open and to the flow in the constellation. It helps to explain also why we take the initial positioning of representatives seriously. Sometimes an inch is all it takes. With each step in the process after this, the system moves further and further away from where you might have thought or predicted it would go.

I have got to know Sneh the past couple of years at the ISCA Intensive in Germany, where she is part of the faculty. I love her work. Inevitably, my decision to ask Sneh to come to Edinburgh was partly selfish as well as coming from a desire to offer people here a chance to benefit from her work.

I love the way she lets tiny events come into her work . This is what she says about chaos constellations.