Thursday, October 19, 2006


The Chaos and Fractals course is on! Apparently, it was even pretty popular at the University level committee, and there is some interest in transforming this into some sort of permanent course offering. Still not much success in finding a book that I really like.

However, I did find the following quote, which I like a lot:

A dictionary definition of chaos is a "disordered state or collection; a confused mixture." This is an accurate description of dynamical systems theory today--or of any other lively field of research.

Morris Hirsch

I'm in the process of trying to collect some more quotes, plus cool pictures and so forth to try and advertise this course. I need to make sure I get sufficient enrollment. Of course, I've always liked the following by Terry Pratchett from the opening of Witches Abroad, but it's too long to fit on a flyer:
...the universe was full of ignorance all around and the scientist panned through it like a prospector crouched over a mountain stream, looking for the gold of knowledge among the gravel of unreason, the sand of uncertainty and the little whiskery eight-legged swimming things of superstition. Occasionally he would straighten up and say things like "Hurrah, I've discovered Boyle's Third Law." And everyone knew where they stood.

But the trouble was that ignorance became more interesting, especially big fascinating ignorance about huge and important things like matter and creation, and people stopped patiently building their little houses of rational sticks in the chaos of the universe and started getting interested in the chaos itself--partly because it was a lot easier to be an expert on chaos, but mostly because it made really good patterns that you could put on a t-shirt.

(So maybe I should call this 'Fermat's Review': "I have found a wonderful quote about this topic, but the flyer is too small to contain it.") If I recall correctly, I did put up this quote at my dissertation defense, 'though. When people ask what I study and I say "Julia Sets", I can always follow up with "the mathematics of T-shirts and coffee cups."

The Pratchett quote also seems to be about as close as we come to a criticism of chaos or fractals. I was hoping for a long list of quotes, at least one of which would have someone kvetching about it being some sort of abomination, but nothing so far. Any suggestions?

No comments: