Tuesday, December 16, 2003

(dis)order: a discussion begins

To give you some background: it started here, with a post on Anticipatory Retaliation that promised the Mother of All Screeds on the nature of war-- a rich topic indeed. Part One just came out, and it deals with the question of order and disorder (chaos/complexity, randomness, information, systems, etc.).

This inspired me to write out some questions that mainly reflect my ignorance of terminology, but which also reflect certain muddled metaphysical/epistemological assumptions/prejudices I have. I finished that post by inviting people to send in their own thoughts, and Edwin Thomas, always quick on the draw, shot me an email:

Some additional observations on order, from someone who is not quite an
engineer, an officer, or an artist. Terms are mine, but are probably from
something I've read at some point in the past.

There is more than one type of order. There is order in motion (process), and
order not in motion (static).

The Mona Lisa is a patterned, structured object. It is a thing that does not
change (excepting aging and extreme periods of time). Likewise a building, or
an altarstone, or anything that is an object. This represents an example of
static order.

Water, if frozen, may be considered ordered on a molecular level. Bring it to a
boil, and you have unpredictable structureless chaos. But only on a static
level. The process is ordered. You can boil the same volume of water in
the same type of pot at a given temperature and get the same results as
far as the activity of the water (boiling), even to length of time to
evaporation, etc. The process is measurable, predictable, and ordered. Order in

I will propose that there is yet a third type of order - conceptual order.
Mathematics is neither order nor chaos. It is a framework, a language if you
will, which can be used to describe and understand concepts which other
languages cannot properly describe. Nevertheless, there are mathematical
concepts (proofs) which do not exist in physical reality in our experience, but
which are definable, repeatable, and predictable. They are, in a word, ordered
concepts. Artistic perspective is also an ordered concept which, like mathematics,
provides a structure for representing a 'real world' or theoretical concept.

To apply this to your leaf analogy- The process of the leaf dropping is stable.
The results will be similar, within an expected range. Do it 5000 times and you
will have a pattern of behaviour. Is this order or chaos?

I'm reminded of a short but eloquent poem from the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (by Stephen R. Donaldson), a song of Giants about stone and sea:

Stone and Sea are deep in life,
two unalterable symbols of the world
permanence at rest and
permanence in motion:
participants in the Power that remains.


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