This beautifully photographed new BBC documentary, The Secret Life of Chaos, evocatively illustrates one way of thinking about immanence, i.e., the spontaneous emergence of beauty and complexity from natural process. Morphogenesis, self-organization, the collapse of Newtonian physics (into chaos/complexity theory, etc.), the “butterfly effect,” fractal geometry, delicious little biographical details about Alan Turing, Edward Lorenz, Benoit Mandelbrot, and others — it’s all there. Iraqi-born physicist-host Jim Al-Khalili gives us the enthusiasm and hipness of a newfangled (and perhaps more respectable) James Burke, and the music, from Arvo Part’s opening strains (“Spiegel im Spiegel”) to Satie, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, et al, adds a great deal to the pleasure of watching it. Nice work on BBC’s part.
The doc provides helpful tools for visualizing dynamic systems, which are part of what’s making it possible for science and culture, Latour’s two poles of the “modern constitution,” to work their way toward a rapprochement. What’s still missing is the integration of first-person subjectivity — mind as opposed to body — which biosemiotics (drawing on Peirce, von Uexkull, Bateson, Sebeok, et al), Whiteheadian process metaphysics, enactive cognitivism, and related schools of thought, help to get at. To actually bring these together into a successful and convincing synthesis — one that would put Newton, Descartes, and the rest fully into the past and put cognitive science on a much stronger footing (in my opinion) — will require a lot more work, of course. Philosophers in particular have their work cut out for them (as my recent exchange with Levi Bryant might suggest).
The Secret Life of Chaos is in six 10-minutes segments, but if you only have a few minutes to sample it now, watch the bit on feedback loops and the butterfly effect that begins this segement:
Incidentally, John Law’s post-Actor-Network-Theory After Method: Mess in Social Science Research, which I’ve mentioned positively a few times here recently, has now been made available at the fabulous ever expanding scholar-hipster’s online library aaaarg.org. A few of the missing social-science pieces I mentioned work their way into Law’s book…
Thanks to Integral Options Cafe for blogging about the BBC doc, which just premiered in the UK this past week.