By Roland Watson

I concluded the last article by saying that the interaction of four factors translates our needs and motivations into our behavior. In other words, what we want is filtered through and affected and in some cases even manipulated by the behavioral influences of: Our genes, social form, our will power, and the deepest influence of all, our life force.

However, at this point it is only our intended behavior, and, as you are no doubt aware, our actual behavior is often different from what we intend.

The role of chance

The reason for this is that we are constantly reacting to the moment by moment chance, uncertainty and chaos that is life. An obvious and common example of this is when you are with other people, and change your plans to do what they want to do.

Uncertainty about the future is a basic condition shaping our existence. The question is: Where does it come from?

We live in the universe, and the universe is incredibly complex. One aspect of this is that it is in flux - never stationary - always changing.

It has also been described as chaotic, because events in the universe are driven by chance, by probabilities. Such events are not preordained, as through fate or destiny. Instead, they are inherently uncertain, and unpredictable. And, the inherent unpredictability is dramatic.

Systems within the universe can go off on a tangent, even change completely, at any time. Furthermore, these changes can be caused by the most remote and minute events. This idea is conveyed in the famous example that a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in Brazil, can cause a tornado in Texas. Now that's a consequence!

The air turbulence caused by the butterfly's wings can propagate, and become magnified, until it affects entire weather systems on the other side of the planet.

It seems unbelievable, but it's true. This is an example of chaos. Technically, this is what is known as "sensitive dependence on initial conditions."

You can actually see it at work in you own life, by reflecting on how where you are now - right now - has been so dependent on where you started in life.

As another example, this also reveals the importance of "timing." Certainly something significant in your life has happened because you were just in time, or, you missed something else because you were a little bit late.

Different perspectives

To be precise, I will use the term "chaos" throughout the University of Life in three different ways, to describe:

First, the general uncertainty that affects our lives. Life is chaotic because you never know what is going to happen next.

Secondly, the uncertainty that is present at the microscopic level of existence regarding the behavior of sub-atomic particles, which is described by the field of physics known as quantum mechanics. To be frank, I won't examine this again until Part 4 of the website.

And thirdly, the processes that occur in a phase transition as a system changes from a state of order to one of disorder.

If this last idea sounds baffling, I assure you, it's not. You probably see an example of it every morning, when the water for your coffee or tea boils. The phase transition is from water as a liquid, to water vapor, a gas. This state of disorder, the boiling water, is also known as turbulence, or chaos.

As another, general, example, chaos is always present when something - anything - breaks.

Since humans are part of the universe, we are also part of, and governed by, its nature. We are also a complex phenomenon: a complex system subject to chaos; uncertain and unpredictable; and understandable only in the context of chance and probabilities.

Chaos as the catalyst

Chaos is the catalyst for what we actually do in life. It causes the diversions of our actions from our intentions.

For instance, if you wake up feeling ill, you might change your plan for the day. Or perhaps you have a chance meeting with someone new, someone who ends up playing a major role in your life, actually changing your life completely. Or maybe you have a severe accident, and from that moment on must endure physical and mental trauma.

Chaos is also, paradoxically, a form of order. It affects all of the events in our lives, from the smallest to the largest. As Michael Crighton observed in his book, Jurassic Park:

"A day is like a whole life. You start out doing one thing, but end up doing something else, plan to run an errand, but never get there... And at the end of your life, your whole existence has that same haphazard quality, too. Your whole life has the shape of a single day."

Chaos is the fifth and final factor shaping our behavior. For many people, its influence - unfortunately - other than for lottery winners - is incredibly strong.

It doesn't have to be. You can take control of your life. You don't have to be a rolling stone, or blowing in the wind.

In the next article, and with all of this as background, I will examine the question of why life is so challenging.

© Roland Watson 2013