the poverty of chaos and dialectics

HANS DESPAIN HANS.DESPAIN at m.cc.utah.edu
Mon Sep 18 00:14:56 MDT 1995


In response to Kevin Geiger's comments: I do not only not have a very
poor understanding of Chaos, I also don't have a very good grasp of
dialectics.  No one ever seems to be talking of the same thing when
speaking of Chaos or dialectics.  However, in spite of my impoverished
understanding I still do not comprehend the so-called paradigm shift
from dialectics to chaos.

Below I compare commonality which I see between dialectics and chaos, but
I won't address specifically the philosophical import of dialectics,
which Jerry seemed interested in.

Chaos has for many years been talking of a paradigm shift, never have
I understood such comments to be taken with respect to dialectics.
For example, when Gleick speaks of paradigm shift in his popular book
he seems to be refering to an empiricist conception of science.
Hence, equating the (Kuhnian) revolution of chaos; as replacing or
challenging empiricism; not necessarily dialectics; to think so, seem to
be a misunderstanding of dialectics.

I have in mind, and with respect to especially (political) economics (when I
said chaos seems a special case of dialectics) that chaos is an
analytical-type of approach to dynamics and complexity.  Although I too
would maintain that chaos is a paradigm shift from (empiricism in general
and specifically) micro and macro economic textbooks, it still, almost
strictly, relys on quantitative analysis.  Usually choatic systems are
written in the form of non-linear differential and difference equations.  My
point is that when we are speaking of "system" or "totality," some of the
more significant aspects cannot be given a mathematical description (I
have in mind here A. Giddens and Critical Realists "structuration").

Hence, if chaos is capable of making relational explanations and can be a
sort of epistemology, the theory of chaos's metaphysics and ontology
remain open; dialectics is a capable metaphysics and ontology for chaos
theory.  Hence, my comment 'chaos is a special case of dialectics.'  Now
this is not to say that someone that accepts chaos presupposes
dialectics; but it is to say that if dialectic is not accepted it is in
need of a metaphysical and ontological theory.

The genesis of dialectics is philosophical; that of chaos is
methodological.  In this sense, the non-linear model of chaos seems to be
in a similar situation as econometrics (or statistics), that is it lacks
metaphysical and ontological backing.  I am not suggesting that chaos
has no metaphysical warrant, but that it genesis being methodological has
left its philosophical backing suspect, and consequently quite flexible.

It is true that dialectics too do not have a "fixed" ontological or
metaphysical position.  But since Hegel [idealism] (and than Marx
[materialism], and now Bhaskar [Critical (transcendental) Realism]
dialectics has never been lacking a metaphysical and philosophical commitment.

The strongest implication of chaos seem to me to be: (1) "sensitive
dependence," (2) "non-predictablity," and (3) "non-deterministic
determinism."

(1) Sensitive dependence means that we live in "a world where small causes
can have large effects, but his world is not arbitrary.  On the contrary,
the reasons for the amplification of a small event are a legitimate
matter for rational inquiry" (Prigogine and Stengers 1984:206).  And an
(probably) exaggrated example is given by Gleick:

	"For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
	 For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
	 For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
	 For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
	 For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost!" (1987:23)

[I am wondering with respect to the reform\revolt discussion, why Steve
Keen is saying that a small change is safer than a big one, in light of
chaos?]

With respect to (1) it seems dialectics, like pre-chaos science, chooses
to ignore such things as a butterfly's wing turbulence on the motion of a
billard ball, etc.

(2) non-predictability; this has at least since Kant been a feature of
retroductive logics (e.g. transcendentalism and diaelctics).
Transcendentalism for Kant and Dialectics for Hegel for special
types of reasoning which had little import beyound the particular
realm of reasoning.  For Kant the move from transcendentalism to
the empirical world was dubed the "transcendental illusion."
Hence, for transcendental arugment and dialectics (and chaos)
alike the aim is explanation asymmetrical to prediction.

(3) non-deterministic determinism.  Again its seems that both chaos and
dialectics are sharing a similar feature.  Unless Hegel and Marx are read
as strong teleological thinkers, both seem to be committed to a
non-determinsitic determinsism (e.g. Hegel's history or Marx's FROP).

I like very much Kellert sub-chapter "The Four Layers of Determinism" (in
*In the Wake of Chaos*, 1993, pp. 55-62).  non-determinsistic determinism
seems to me the strongest commonality between dialectics and chaos.

Also interesting is that chaos is very much committed to the notion of
"emergence,"  the "power to change," and usually seems geared to a
*realist* positon (that is if the world itself is chaotic).  These all
are very powerful themes in Bhaskar's Dialectic.

Moreover, Kellert points out that epistemologically chaos is interested
in processes not events, and ontologically interested in finding or
desribing the *hidden mechanism(s)* behind these processes.  This very
much reminds me of Bhaskar's (pre-dialectical, but now dialectizied)
commitment and conception of stratification between the domains of the
real, actual, and empirical (or differentiation between mechanisms,
events, and experiences respectively).

However, Chaos still seems to me a methodological stance, which claims
that we can come to know something about the world by way of differential
and difference non-linear equations.

Hence, it seems to me that chaos or non-linear models are capable of
making a dialectical comment or remark by demonstrating the unexpected.
Moreover, it is often shown in economics that the dynamics of a model
are governed by some parameter, where small changes in the parameter
have great effects in the outcome (cycle or aperiodic behavior), e.g.,
investment functions playing the pivotial role in crisis theory.

Thus, chaotic models are theory dependent and philosophically "needy."
Wherefore, either a special case of dialectics innovatively expressed in
non-linear equations, or metaphyically wanting or non-committed.

Hans Despain
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu







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