The Strange Attractor
The word strange attractor comes from mathematics. It describes how a set of values will begin to emerge from chaos, toward which everything seems to trend.
Chaos is the disorder, lack of harmony or uncertainty, which can begin when random events are put into motion. But deep within chaos, underlying patterns, fractals, feedback loops and a type of self-organization begins to take shape. In nature, disorganization drives change.
Fractals emerge because something attracts all possible solutions into a type of order. These fractals represent the complex, yet self-similar behavior patterns which emerge from a chaotic system.
Predictability and Illusion
Meteoroligists might observe diverging temperatures in a region and predict wind. When high and low pressure systems are drawn together, they initially battle it out. The contrast in air pressure of neighboring masses creates gusty winds. As the weather changes, we see the strange way opposites are attracted, transform into chaos, and ultimately reveal a pattern of change from one condition to the another.
We want life to be predictable. We watch the moon rise at night, and in the morning, we can be certain that the sun will rise. However, their rising and westward motion is an illusion. It is the earth, which is actually turning east.
Our need for stability has led us to perpetuate and live comfortably with this illusion. Nobody wants to live on a rock that is going in circles. However, when we are swept up in illusions, which can impede the growth and wellness of the entire system, chaos can emerge as the orchestrator of change.
In fact, we can’t really see the wind other than its effects on the swaying branches of trees. The wind is the outcome of the chaotic interaction of opposites that regulates temperatures on the earth.
After the winds pick up, we can predict that the temperature will change. The high pressure system moves in an anti-clockwise motion, while the low pressure system moves clockwise. Whatever mechanism has drawn them together is indeed, strange. It uses chaos and opposites to drive balance and order.
From the motion of the pressure systems, we get the icing on the cake. As if from nowhere – out pops a fluffy cloud! We think of the clouds and wind as if they exist in and of themselves, traveling around the earth. They are actually the children born of the chaos of change.
Making Sense of Chaos
When life begins to get chaotic, we have the sense that predictability has disappeared. But everything in life seems to move toward order, disorder and order again. Order may be the highest state at a moment in time, but life’s endless innovations require the opportunities that arise from disorder.
Given time, order will return. This is why it is better to live as the guest and not the host. Our attempts to control or thwart change can make life chaotic. Life knows what it is doing and would guide us gently toward change, if we allow it. Chaos is just a way of understanding how nature transforms anything that blocks its growth.
The illusions we live by allow us to exist in an alter-reality. If we could see life from nature's perspective, we would see one large tapestry drawing everything together to affect change.
Strange Attraction of Opposites
Like pressure systems, positive and negative atoms have unlike charges. The bizarre way opposites attract, leads atoms to organize into molecules. The male and female are also opposites, but come together and give birth to a more complex arrangement of molecules. The ride to matrimony can change from simple attraction to turmoil as a more long term perspective leads each to question the other's idiosyncracies. Order returns once we appreciate how these unique qualities are what brought us together in the first place.
The organizing behavior of opposites is also visible in the stock market and economics. When the market grows chaotic, some people will see value in the falling prices and buy, while others see this as a negative event and sell. After short term chaos, the trajectory moves toward order.
The patterns observed in nature also resemble how our behavior changes over time. Like a low pressure system pushing warm air upward, unhappiness seems to excite changes in the psyche that will lift us back up. Just like the weather, we can expect a few showers before the sun breaks through the clouds.
When daily life becomes chaotic, we seem to remember our dreams more. While our need for stasis and predictability can trap us in the illusion of living, dreams work counter to this tendency and return us to our authenticity.
Archetypes as Fractals
Mandelbrot saw fractal patterns in nature, in the way each aspect of a cauliflower resembles the entire cauliflower. We observe a copy of the original in how a fern branch has tiny little leaf representations of the larger branch. The word archetype derives from the idea of an original, out of which, copies are made.
Fractals are self-similar forms that are visible at different scales of perception. The fractals scientists see emerging from chaos are similar to the archetypes that appear in dreams.
As the Anima, a man can dream of a ‘crazy’ woman when he perceives his emotions as something that should be restrained. A woman can dream of a male stalker or Shadow when she has repressed some aspect of her power. Like the blending of all opposites in nature, we must balance our masculine and assertive drives with our feminine and feeling nature. And just to keep with nature's strangeness, one aspect is focused outward, while the other looks inward.
Archetypes inspire the psyche in the same way we might emulate a role model. Sometimes they poke fun at us and knock us down. Sometimes they present us with a riddle to be solved. Other times, they reinforce our power and lift us up.
Carl Jung described archetypes as a “pervasive idea or image from the collective unconscious.” While we have a personal unconscious, we seem to share in collective access to a more transpersonal realm. Whether through the arts or while we are dreaming, we find recurring archetype patterns, which inspire transformation.
But if we are unaware of the type of inspiration we require – what attracts their appearance in our dreams?
An archetype embodies a set of behaviors, and these behaviors can precipitate change. The self-same replication of archetypes resembles how a strange attractor arrests chaos into a type of order. Our need for stasis and control may have led us into a type of personal chaos or crisis.
Nature is based on simple rules and yet, demonstrates enormous complexity. Since nothing can be left out of its drive toward balance and growth, some part of the whole may resonate or respond to the needs of each part.
Just as fractals allow us to look deep into the infinite, archetypes lift us out of our stagnant and subjective world view. Objectivity is a prerequisite for change. It disconnects us from the illusion that life must remain subjective. It is only our subjectivity that traps us in a self-defeating outlook.
Life seems to precipitate innovation through disorder, but what if there is an element of the universal flow that seems to want to understand what it is capable of – through us?
The Strange Attractor and Entanglement
Fractals are the outcome of a strange attractor and are ubiquitous in nature. They can be found in river systems, leaf distribution, blood and pulmonary vessels, heart rates, neurons, lightning bolts and snowflakes, just to name a few. Endowing fragments of something more universal within each individual’s psyche, soul or unconscious should not seem too far-fetched. This may be why dream themes among people with no cultural connection, are similar around the world.
Scientists also describe 'spooky action at a distance' or how entanglement can connect the behavior of particles over infinite space. The universe can be understood as both points in space, or as an endless field of potentials within an immeasurable wave. The act of measuring a point in space, is what collapses the wave function.
The wave splashes everything around, no matter how far away and we call it entanglement. When scientists measure behavior at the quantum level, they get entangled with what they are measuring. This is where we get the sense that something is looking at itself. More and more, scientists are discovering how the wave may be a more thorough depiction of reality. What we measure or see as a point in space is just an infinitesimal sliver of a more complex reality.
Like Day and Night
One part of our mind is heavily influenced by logic and reason, but something else excites the psyche to explore new possibilities. During the day, we spend 46.9% of our time unfocused, in reverie or daydreaming. Add in the one-third of each day spent sleeping and dreaming and we seem to have been designed to transcend our point in space orientation to living.
The imagination’s lack of clear definition and boundaries resembles chaos, but chaos drives innovations. Just like chaos in nature, the imagination is the area of the mind where something novel can take place. By day, we are self-organizing creatures designed to organize chaos into order. When we sleep however, the mind roams free and anything is possible.
Day and night are just illusions created by the movement of light. Giving credibility to only one aspect of the mind is not the highest use of our potential.
The Truth about Reality
Like Jung, I’ve observed the archetypal and mythical themes apparent in the dreams of those who know nothing of mythology. In 2009, I wrote the Mythology of Sleep, which explores the hero in the dreamscape through different mythical landscapes from around the world.
Just as the soul is thought to be separate from the body, humanity might be connected by the promptings of a more universal soul, which Jung called the collective unconscious. Our dreams are infused with similar archetypal themes that can lead us away from the self-defeating way our desire for stasis inhibits our growth.
We may exist as separate and random particles in space, while being self-same replications of something more transcendental. While nature balances any extremes of energy states, there is also a universal mechanism driven to evolve and grow. We are swept up by both, its drive toward balance and into its growth trajectory.
What I find most interesting about science is that our understanding of our place within the universe, really hasn’t evolved much since the 5th century B.C., when Leucippus proposed that the world was composed of atoms. We’ve tapped our natural resources to make our lives more comfortable, but the truth about reality still eludes us.
I have to laugh when people argue over the scientific proof behind astrology, why we dream or whether oracle readings can really provide answers. These vehicles have nothing to do with the rational mind because they allow us to transcend it. Like dreams, they are products of our more ancient and universal access to ideas. Perhaps our mythologies were inspired during a time when consciousness was not so complicated by conformity, or when the mind was not so restrictive of unconscious promptings. It may be that portions of the unconscious realm are inherited, and not tied to actual experience.
Composed of archetypes, oracles are tools that can engage us to explore transformative ideas drawn from our more ancient perspective. Astrology, dreams and oracles are the study of archetypal influences upon the psyche. Each are snapshots of a macrocosm applied to the microcosm or individual.
The psyche creates our reality at both conscious and unconscious levels. When we consider information that might expand consciousness and view the world less subjectively, this change in perspective will automatically change our lives.
In our search for answers, oracles can connect us to the unconscious through synchronicity. The word synchronicity describes the excited energy of the psyche, which erupts when a digging occurs. This digging can happen whether we access archetypes through dreams or through the rich symbolism presented by oracles. Whatever is being ruminated ‘in here’ merges with what we experience ‘out there.’ Suddenly, the same idea appears 'out there' and we have the choice to either adopt or discard a new approach.
The Arts as a Path to Meaning
Our search for meaning can just as easily be accessed by seeing a movie, reading a poem or listening to music. All of these have an effect on us that transcends words or literal meaning. What resonates and changes us from these mediums encompasses the entire being and stirs the soul, not the rational mind. Trends in the arts also demonstrate how many people access similar inspiration at the same time.
My writing career began by exploring the importance of the arts in education. In East Los Angeles, I had pioneered creative programs in schools for children ‘at-risk’ of joining gangs. By teaching children how to access inner vision or inspiration, they were no longer led only by peer pressure. We exercised their imagination and unleashed wonder, and I observed how teaching them to access inspiration was a way of increasing their self-esteem.
Einstein wrote: "The imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." The imagination is more important than knowledge, because it allows us to explore what lies beyond the known.
Tao as a Strange Attractor
Like the wind in the trees, Tao takes shape in what we see or experience as the 'carved block.' Tao, as the 'woodcarver' presents the moment to us like a sculpture. But this is actually the diverging pressure systems coming together as opposites. So Tao embodies the unseen and perpetual movement of forces that we call the 'uncarved block'. Through the interaction of hot, cold, positive, negative, and high and low, opposites are drawn together to maintain optimal conditions on the earth. Tao is the intangible, yet all-inclusive aspect of life.
In the same way we give up being the host and become the guest, our lives can become more joyful when we release the 'carved block,' or experience of the past that can trap us. We open to the wonders the 'uncarved block' is presenting at any given moment. We learn to view life in a more peripheral way, appreciating the larger picture of change. Like chaos, the 'uncarved block' is way of understanding the motion of change. Life only seems chaotic because we don't want it to change.
We have many words or ways of describing strange attractors or trends. I have witnessed it in astrological transits, through the symbols that ignite the dreaming psyche, and even as a musician following geometric patterns that give shape to music. I was always a poet, and ultimately discovered my calling in the metaphorical world of symbols and their meaning.
Like a low hum, or drum beat just below the world of everyday events, we are all swept along by a strange attractor.
As I was writing this, I had the realization that my entire life's path had led me to this point, and felt gratitude for the inspiration. Synchronistically, an email popped up on my screen! Someone had inquired about a quote in my I Ching, but I could only see the subject line, which read:
THANK YOU: the uncarved block
As the closest we can come to describing Tao, the uncarved block is the strange attractor.
Was something excited by the prospect of exploring its potential – through me? Was I exploring my potential through it? I love how life always mirrors the digging we do!
With the coronavirus pandemic, the world has suddenly become unpredictable, and it can feel like chaos has set in. Please remember that human beings are only a small part of a much larger equation in life's pursuit of balance and sustainable growth.
Stopping the world might be nature's way of allowing the environment to regenerate its defenses. Maybe our wars and political divisiveness created a trend that was not sustainable? Where were we going in an illusion of living that funded so much hatred? We cannot know why life does what it does, but we can be certain that chaos always leads us to create a better world....together.
We were never alone here. We are never alone.