What better a state than a state of complete confusion to write this post in? I had plans of writing some (hopefully interesting) stuff on chaos. I mean, on the kind of chaos physicists are interested in. (It’s another thing that you can get them interested in any kind of chaos if you know the tricks well.) But then, I also discovered a new-found love in Shakespeare’s plays yesterday evening, courtesy a charmingly chaotic performance by The HandleBards at Ranga Shankara.
So, to save myself from the trouble of having to make a choice between the two, I’ll just set chaos afoot by talking about both together, with a hope that you’ll end up in a state of complete confusion, too, but one that you’ll be able to find some charm in.
The nice thing about chaos is that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of a system that will display some sort of chaos. The not-so-nice thing about chaos is that it makes it very, very difficult to study such systems.
Try visualising a complicated system. How complicated? Well, let’s say that any system with a large number of interacting components will serve our purpose. Now, you can choose being lazy and not do anything. But you can also choose being not-so-lazy and make a small change to some part of the system. Hold your nerves, wait for a while and behold, the small change made to a part of the system changes the entire system altogether and does so very significantly.
Your system has many interacting components; it’s not surprising then, that with time the itsy-bitsy perturbation you’d created spreads throughout the system. This is what chaos is: small changes at initial times leading to very drastic changes sometime later.
Like many other Shakespeare’s plays, ‘As You Like It’ is a narrative that oscillates between order and disorder, harmony and chaos. It is about the madness and the energy and the whole lot of confusion that the forest of Arden is overflowing with. A perfectly complicated system, right? The bard was a genius, no doubt!
Systematic studies of chaos have helped us realise that it is an important cogwheel in the clockwork that our universe is. It is a common feature of the classical world that we perceive to be inhabiting. And we do understand a great deal about chaos in such classical systems.
But then, we also understand the universe to behave in not-so-classical manner at a more fundamental level. Well, it does not behave classically at all! There are these weird, mystical quantum mechanical laws that dictate the underlying dynamics of all systems. As it turns out, it is even more difficult to make sense of chaos in quantum mechanics. But physics has a knack for providing more of an interesting answer the more difficult the question is.
Alas, this post has its limitations. You’ll have to stay tuned for the next one to read about where this discussion about chaos in quantum systems is heading to. (Hint: What is common to scrambled eggs and a weasel that falls into a black hole?)
The HandleBards are four-strong troupes of cycling actors which perform environmentally sustainable Shakespeare plays the world over. An all-female troupe of The HandleBards is touring India right now. You can join them at different venues across Bengaluru over the next few days.
Postscript: Ranga Shankara, the theatre where The HandleBards performed yesterday was opened in 2004 in the memory of the illustrious actor and director Shankar Nag. Many of you who grew up in India would probably still have fond memories of the television series Malgudi Days based on RK Narayan’s short stories; the series was envisioned and directed by Shankar Nag.