The Influence of Chaos Theory on Some Ontological Ideas and on Dispute about Reductionism

Maciej Waszczyk

Zeszyty Naukowe Politechniki Gdańskiej Nr. 589, Filozofia VI / 2002


In the first part of the paper author presents the main assumptions and conclusions on chaos theory. He begins with the short introduction explaining the main problems of the classical approach to the dynamical processes. Then we can learn about Lorenz discoveries while the climate phenomena has been analyzed by him, or more precisely about his set of equations, which, most probably was the first example of the non-linear, weakly stable equations. The main notions of chaos theory are defined (attractor, bifurcation, fractal). The reader can also learn about Mendelbrot’s sets and some of its features. The most interesting parts of the text are the ontological implications and author’s position in the dispute on reductionism. In reference to the former, the ontological monism is supported which is similar to the early Greek philosophers (who were looking for arche) as well as to the process philosophy. Yet the found arche is rather of material / physical character. The another consequence of the chaos theory is indeterminism. The chaos theory also supports the evolutionary approach, so that processes which are observed in nature are spontaneous and emerge without any ontological reasons. The nature however tends to the certain order. In reference to the dispute about reductionism, in author’s view, the chaos theory supports the ontological reductionism.


It is nice to find in Polish literature the text regarding philosophical consequences of the modern researches on chaos and complexity. If we agree that the philosophy should be inspired by the scientific discoveries and should explore their possible implications, chaos theory and complexity must not be neglected. Nevertheless the conclusions presented in the text either goes too far or seems to base on misunderstandings of the described theories. Up to date, most of the discoveries within the field of chaos and complexity are not discoveries in the strict sense of the term. Especially it refers to the examples mentioned by the author. They are exclusively the trials to find mathematical models which could be similar or at least analogous to the natural phenomena. If worked out models accurately describe the nature in some of its aspects, is still unknown, as it is extremely hard to confirm or falsify those models empirically. Nevertheless even IF they are accurate, I can hardly agree that such a description of some natural phenomena can really support any of the mentioned ontological views. In case of ontological monism the reasoning looks similar to those, practiced by some thinkers just after Newton published Principia Mathematica. They were ready and eager to apply the proposed method to any fields of our cognition, including social and psychological ones. In consequence the world emerged as a perfectly working clockwork. Even less comprehensible is the support for indeterminism. The proposed models (especially Lorenz set of equations) are strictly deterministic. They are chaotic only in terms of their complexity, instability and intracktability. We can discuss its consequences in terms of epistemological restrictions but ontologically, if any, they rather support deterministic approach. The arguments for reductionism is just the another version of ontological monism.


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