CHAOS IS HEALTHY*
Usually, when we think of chaos or of a chaotic situation, we think of something that is awfully awry and disturbing. However, in 1970 Benoit Mandelbrot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented the "Theory of Chaos," in which an initial condition can produce more and more complex results, often very beautiful. We can examine smaller and smaller parts of the developing patterns—always exceedingly complex—and, according to the theory, this increasing complexity proceeds to infinity. An essential aspect of the theory shows that tiny differences in initial conditions can give widely divergent results.
The Theory of Chaos has been applied in many fields, including economics, stock market fluctuations, mapping of flooding, and human health. In fact, it has been applied so widely that scientists now say that there have been three scientific breakthroughs in the twentieth century:
In the field of human health chaos theory has been applied in many fields, including cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, immunology, and epidemiology. Actually, chaos provides a healthy flexibility to the heart, brain, liver, and other systems of the body, whereas loss of this innate variability and a more orderly state with just periodic fluctuations signals an impaired and unhealthy system.
For example, a normal brain is much more chaotic than a brain that is undergoing seizures. The firing of brain cells becomes very regular and very periodic during any episodes of seizures. This regularity can actually lead to seizures—a very strange notion indeed—topsy turvy to what we have come to accept. However, in actuality, the normal brain is in a state of readiness to take in new stimuli and to sort things out and it can function much better if it is in a state of chaos. The background neural activity needs to switch rapidly from one pattern to another. Without the background chaotic state the brain is unable to perform this wonderful and rapid switching function..
We think of our heart beat as regular. Actually, a healthy heart is not regular, hourly, by the minute, or even by the second. There are variations. We need to have variability and a pacemaker with none, which simply gives periodic stimuli, can be a problem.
Leukemia patients have a very much lower than normal level of the white blood cells, which fight infection. The level of these cells fluctuates cyclically, which represents a loss of chaos. In contrast, healthy people have chaotic fluctuations in their white blood cell levels.
Laboratory experiments on pituitary cells show that healthy cells respond to the chemical orders from their natural regulators, but tumor cells do not. The tumor cells are locked into a fixed rhythm.
In regard to muscle activity, an illustration from soldiers marching is illuminating: When a platoon of soldiers approaches a bridge they "break step" and no longer march as though on parade because a march in unison could resonate with the bridge and cause it to collapse. Similarly, if muscle cells synchronize they can produce tremors and uncontrolled tics.
The aging process, too, may involve a loss of variability; the young body is more chaotic than the older one. Some scientists claim that chaos is the key to health, a formula for feedback among all the many systems that function in the body. They suggest that disease is the breakdown of chaos.
*A review of one article covered during the first day of a two-day seminar by NOHA Honorary Member Beatrice Trum Hunter at the Randolph House in Peoria, Illinois, May 14 and 15, 1999. The lectures were for the Human Ecology Study Group, which was founded in the 1960s by the patients of the late Theron G. Randolph, MD, who was a founding member of NOHA’s Professional Advisory Board.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Fall 1986, pages 1-2.