The best chaos theory books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about chaos theory and why they recommend each book.

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Chaos Bound

By N. Katherine Hayles,

Book cover of Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science

In a study of great conceptual daring, Hayles examines the links between scientific chaos theory and the representations of disorder in modern literature, from Stanislaw Lem to Doris Lessing. She is more or less unique in the present day in being able to align hard science with contemporary aesthetics, a world away from the half-digested appropriation of scientific chatter by those who love nothing better than an algorithm. Her grasp of contemporary theory is sound, and her readings of modern literature are sensitive and enlightening.


Who am I?

My work has always been interested in the ways in which systems can be disrupted and subverted by taking radical fresh approaches to them, even where the prevailing view is that overturning them can only lead to the dreaded chaos.


I wrote...

An Excursion Through Chaos: Disorder Under the Heavens

By Stuart Walton,

Book cover of An Excursion Through Chaos: Disorder Under the Heavens

What is my book about?

A study of chaos, disorder, mayhem and confusion in history, philosophy, religion, and the arts, asking whether order is always preferable to everything being in a mess.

Chaos

By James Gleick,

Book cover of Chaos: Making a New Science

This is a book about "non-linear" thinking. I like this kind of weird stuff. 

Research in psychology shows that the human mind struggles to understand non-linear relationships. Our brains seem to like the rather dull and predictable story of simple relationships. Ones like "you drive quicker, you arrive sooner" or maybe "the more books you read, the brainer you become."  But real life is not following these laws! Take dieting: if you eat less food you don't necessarily get thinner - maybe your metabolism slows down instead. Maybe you skip breakfast but start snacking late at night. "It's complicated."


Who am I?

Most of my books (101 Philosophy Problems, Wittgenstein's Beetle, Critical Thinking for Dummies, and so on) are on thinking skills, in the broad sense. However, I'm always a bit uncomfortable when I'm presented as an expert on thinking, as people tend to imagine I must have some brainy strategies for thinking better when my interest is also in the ways we "think badly." Because logic is really a blunt tool, compared to the brilliant insights that come with intuition. Yet how do you train your intuition? So the books I've chosen here are all ones that I've found don't so much tell you how to think, but actually get you thinking. And that's always been my aim in my books too.


I wrote...

Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

By Martin Cohen,

Book cover of Rethinking Thinking: Problem Solving from Sun Tzu to Google

What is my book about?

Everyone, as the French philosopher René Descartes pointed out long ago, thinks. That’s the easy bit. The harder part, and what this book is really about, is how to make your thinking original and effective. And here the problem is that too often we don’t really engage the gears of our brain, don’t really look at issues in an original or active way, we just respond. Like computers, inputs are processed according to established rules and outputs are thus largely predetermined. Yet that’s not what makes us human and that’s not where the big prizes in life are to be found.

Chaos Imagined

By Martin Meisel,

Book cover of Chaos Imagined: Literature, Art, Science

A comprehensive, elegantly written survey of the territory from a genuine polymath, Chaos Imagined considers the philosophical issues raised by the turn to disorder and chance in everything from cutting-edge artistic movements to mathematical chaos theory. Meisel moves with agile ease from historical narrative to considerations of some quite knotty theoretical problems in a style that is genuinely readable and elegant, rather than academically abstruse. He is as assured on avant-garde art movements as he is on the more elusive aspects of western philosophy.


Who am I?

My work has always been interested in the ways in which systems can be disrupted and subverted by taking radical fresh approaches to them, even where the prevailing view is that overturning them can only lead to the dreaded chaos.


I wrote...

An Excursion Through Chaos: Disorder Under the Heavens

By Stuart Walton,

Book cover of An Excursion Through Chaos: Disorder Under the Heavens

What is my book about?

A study of chaos, disorder, mayhem and confusion in history, philosophy, religion, and the arts, asking whether order is always preferable to everything being in a mess.

The Joy of X

By Steven Strogatz,

Book cover of The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

There are books that simply tell us (or perhaps remind us) how mathematics can be interesting and fun. This delightful book is one of the best, describing how mathematics can be amazing, surprising, and beautiful, all at the same time. While mathematics has helped people accomplish so many things that we may have never dreamed of, this book shows us that mathematics can be popular as well. 


Who am I?

I have enjoyed mathematics and writing since I’ve been a kid, not only enjoying doing research in mathematics but assisting others to appreciate and enjoy mathematics. Along the way, I’ve gained an interest in the history of mathematics and the mathematicians who created mathematics. Perhaps most important, my primary goal has been to show others how enjoyable mathematics can be. Mathematics has given me the marvelous opportunity to meet and work with other mathematicians who have a similar passion for mathematics.


I wrote...

Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics

By Gary Chartrand, Albert Polimeni, Ping Zhang

Book cover of Mathematical Proofs: A Transition to Advanced Mathematics

What is my book about?

Why was this book written? This is the book its three authors wish we had when we were students. If you have encountered calculus already, then what lies beyond it? This is what this book is all about. What exactly does a mathematician do? Some mathematicians simply enjoy mathematics – others also create new mathematics. They look for or observe patterns that suggest something appears to be true. If they guess correctly, then they need to convince others why it’s true, beyond any doubt. This is where proofs enter.

For example, the famous mathematician Ron Graham felt that all numbers (positive integers) are interesting. Suppose not. Then there is a smallest number that’s not interesting – which makes this number interesting. That’s a proof! 

Divine Action and Modern Science

By Nicholas Saunders,

Book cover of Divine Action and Modern Science

This book considers the relationship between the natural sciences and the concept of God acting in the world. Nicholas Saunders examines the Biblical motivations for asserting a continuing notion of divine action and identifies several different theological approaches to the problem. He considers their theoretical relationships with the laws of nature, indeterminism, and probabilistic causation. His radical critiques of current attempts to reconcile special divine action with quantum theory, chaos theory, and quantum chaos are especially interesting, though he will not convince everyone! Saunders provocatively suggests that we are still far from a satisfactory account of how God might act in a manner that is consonant with modern science despite the copious recent scholarship in this area.


Who am I?

I'm a teacher, philosopher, writer, Professor of Philosophy, and holder of the Sullivan Chair in Philosophy at Rockhurst University, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. I'm the author/editor of sixteen books on such topics as religion and science, religion and politics, contemporary European philosophy, and political philosophy. I'm particularly interested in how religion and science, especially evolution, can be shown to be compatible with each other, as well as in developing an argument that there is no chance operating in nature (including in biology). My book and the books below explore these fascinating topics from almost every possible angle, and should whet readers’ appetites for further thinking about these intriguing matters!


I wrote...

Evolution, Chance, and God: Understanding the Relationship Between Evolution and Religion

By Brendan Sweetman,

Book cover of Evolution, Chance, and God: Understanding the Relationship Between Evolution and Religion

What is my book about?

I wrote this book in order to explore the challenging but fascinating topic of the relationship between religion and the scientific theory of evolution, which special attention to whether the process of evolution includes a significant (or indeed any) element of chance in its operation. Written in an accessible style for the non-specialist, the book probes the implications of evolution for religious belief and along the way discusses such topics as the meaning of chance and randomness in biology and science more generally, the difference between predictability and probability, and the absence of chance in nature. The book goes on to explore related topics of design, suffering, and morality, as well as considering some of the ways that God might act in and through creation. 

Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory

By Joanna Macy,

Book cover of Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dharma of Natural Systems

I have come to understand that everything we know is by means of our relationship to whatever we are experiencing. This book describes a wonderful principle of Buddhism called mutual or dependent co-arising, which means that everything is the cause of everything else. This seems to me to be consistent with the findings of quantum physics, in which time is not what we think it is. There is a phenomenon called retrocausality, which means that something in the present can affect something in the past. On a deep level, everything is interconnected with everything else, and has an effect on everything else. The principles described in this book have a relationship to systems theory and chaos theory. I believe we are all participating in the self-organization of the universe to higher states of wisdom.


Who am I?

I believe that spiritual awakening is a service to the universe, and not just for our own enlightenment. Spirituality generally has been viewed as a return to some other realm of consciousness, rather than a means to awakening what we think of as divinity in life. There can never be a “finish line” to spirituality, as there is no end to the possibilities which collective co-evolution can bring about. The only way that intractable problems of humanity will ever be resolved is if a large number of people awaken to higher states of consciousness, while firmly grounded in life.


I wrote...

Beyond the Wonderful: Transforming the World with the Light of Your Being

By Don Weiner, Diane Weiner M.S.,

Book cover of Beyond the Wonderful: Transforming the World with the Light of Your Being

What is my book about?

We offer an approach to spirituality in which you will learn to develop your faculty of creative imagination, modulate your consciousness, and discover yourself as a multidimensional being.  Deepening the relationship between your manifest and transcendent aspects enables new possibilities to emerge which transform the world. What is gained from your life becomes part of a never-ending transmission of wisdom and a source of blessings to all of existence.

Beyond the wonderful is taking a quantum leap into the possibilities of the pull of the future. Life’s problems become portals to the sacred. Everything then speaks as Gabriel, the divine messenger. By fulfilling the deepest desire of your heart, you participate in the brilliant becoming of all that is enfolded in the Universe.

Infinite Powers

By Steven Strogatz,

Book cover of Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe

That Steven Strogatz, Cornell Professor and longtime New York Times columnist, is unsurpassed as an expositor of mathematics, goes without saying. No one can make the abstract and technical appear simple and intuitive like Strogatz. In Infinite Powers he takes on the Calculus -- the central pillar of modern mathematics that is also the bane of many a high-school student. It is an immensely powerful field, and at its core is a concept that is both counter-intuitive and paradoxical: the infinite.

The roots of the calculus, we learn, go back to the ancient Greeks, whose notions of the infinite were put to powerful mathematical use by Archimedes. Strogatz continues with Galielo’s dynamics and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, before reaching the turning point: The discovery of the Calculus by Newton and Leibniz. This leads straight to a discussion of differential equations, which are responsible for so much of what makes…


Who am I?

I have written four books (so far) about the surprising ways mathematics pervades human culture, religion, and even politics. The five books I recommend here, each in its own way, shows how mathematics is very much a part of our lives, even if we don’t always notice it. Thanks to books like these, you do not have to be a mathematician to appreciate how this seemingly abstract field shapes our very human world.


I wrote...

Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World

By Amir Alexander,

Book cover of Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World

What is my book about?

On August 10, 1632, five men in flowing black robes convened in a somber Roman palazzo to pass judgment on a deceptively simple proposition: that a continuous line is composed of distinct and infinitely tiny parts. With the stroke of a pen the Jesuit fathers banned the doctrine of infinitesimals, announcing that it could never be taught or even mentioned. The concept was deemed dangerous and subversive, a threat to the belief that the world was an orderly place, governed by a strict and unchanging set of rules. If infinitesimals were ever accepted, the Jesuits feared, the entire world would be plunged into chaos.

In Infinitesimal, the award-winning historian Amir Alexander exposes the deep-seated reasons behind the rulings of the Jesuits and shows how the doctrine persisted, becoming the foundation of calculus and much of modern mathematics and technology. Indeed, not everyone agreed with the Jesuits. Philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians across Europe embraced infinitesimals as the key to scientific progress, freedom of thought, and a more tolerant society. As Alexander reveals, it wasn't long before the two camps set off on a war that pitted Europe's forces of hierarchy and order against those of pluralism and change.

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