twisting chaos/science

Chris Burford cburford at
Wed Aug 30 19:59:18 MDT 1995

I did mean that capitalism is relatively *stable*. Steve caught the
sense in which I meant it.

My inspiration was a passage from Gleick's "Chaos", English paperback
edition, pp 193-4, chapter on Libchaber's experiment with a tiny helium
cell heated to study the onset of turbulence:

"Vibration always worried Libchaber. Experiments, like real
non-linear systems, existed against a constant background of noise.
Noise hampered measurement and corrupted data. In sensitive flows
 - and Libchaber's would be as sensitive as he could make it - noise
might sharply perturb a nonlinear flow, knocking it from one kind
of behaviour into another. But nonlinearity can stabilize a system
as well as destabilize it. Nonlinear feedback regulates motion,
making it more robust. In a linear system, a perturbation has a
constant effect. In the presence of non-linearity, a perturbation
can feed on itself until it dies away and the system returns
automatically to a stable state.

Libchaber believed that biological systems used their nonlinearity as
as defense against noise. The transfer of energy by proteins, the wave
motion of the heart's electricity, the nervous system - all these
kept their versatility in a noisy world."

If the heart, why not capitalism? Capitalism by its fluctuations can
absorb many technological changes. It can adapt to political shifts
that redistribute a portion of surplus value to a mass consumer market,
and adapt back again when that market is cut by unemployment and
welfare benefit reductions. It can adapt to the centre of gravity of
capitalist accumulation moving from Europe to North America, and then
again from North America to East Asia in the 21st century.

No, I am at one with Steve that if we are to analyse and change
capitalism, we are not looking for theories which play tricks with the
broad facts of capitalism's strengths and weaknesses. Chaos theory and
complexity theory are not quick fixes, but they do give an opportunity to
look again at what we mean by the scientific method in economics, and
therefore in politics.

Chris B.


From: glevy at
Date: Tue, 29 Aug 1995 13:26:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: twisting chaos/science

Chris B. wrote:

> Marxism will not be able to progress unless it can explain why
> capitalism has been so relatively *stable* as an overall system.
> Certainly it was more resilient that state-centralised socialism.

Capitalism has shown a rather remarkable ability for adaption,
resilience, and reproduction, BUT it is NOT "relatively *stable*."
Stability is the exception rather than the norm when one considers
capitalist dynamics.

> Paradoxically chaos theory may give insights into this. Despite its
> dramatic name, chaos theory shows that non-linear systems are *usually*
> stable, with only occasional phase changes.

Is that right? I don't really think it is, but I will allow others to


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