When we look into the workings of our minds they often seem chaotic and random. Can understanding the deep simplicity underlying chaos theory help shed insight into the way our minds work?
You can explore this in the first video episode of The Losing Stress Podcast or by reading below:
Seeing The Mind Through Chaos Theory – The Losing Stress Podcast Ep 54
Looking at the mind through Chaos Theory might at first appear to be a strange way to go about better understanding the mind.
Surely it’s overly complex?
But by acknowledging there are simple underlying factors that describe chaotic systems we can see how they relate to the workings of the human mind.
Let’s look into the first factor:
1. Sensitivity To Initial Conditions
All chaotic systems are sensitive to their initial conditions:
How chaotic systems behave depends on the way they start or what starting point you look at.
Psychologically, you can observe this in human beings.
Our behaviours, thoughts and emotional responses are dependent on our underlying personalities – most heavily influenced by genetics and childhood.
So directly built on the content of our upbringing in our families and in our various cultures.
And if you start to take a look into the content of thought running in the mind right now you find it’s very makeup is what you read/watched recently or from who you spoke to recently.
What this implies is that the stimuli that you expose the mind-body to directly shapes the thoughts that run in the mind.
In chaotic systems what the system produces or does itself affects the way it works.
In the mind, you can observe this in operation in two key states.
One is during an emotional or stressful response.
When a stress response is occurring, emotions i.e physiological responses in the body are linked to negative and stressful thoughts.
Effectively, emotional reactions feed negative thoughts and thoughts feed the emotional reaction.
Secondly, you can simply observe this in everyday automatic operation.
A thought links to another thought.
More specifically, the content of a thought tends to start a theme from which other thoughts arise from.
In effect, a chain mechanism exists between thoughts. This mechanism is propelled through analysis seeking to come up with a solution or set of solutions to a ‘problem’.
These solutions form statements and conclusions about reality.
From these conclusions, our minds in automatic operation view the world.
The pattern of activity of a chaotic system does not depend on just one predictable changing variable.
In the mind, you can observe this with the content that arises through thought:
The content that pops up is a bit random.
There isn’t so much an easily recognisable pattern to the content and topics that appear.
Negative thoughts often arise out of nowhere. And this doesn’t just go away easily even if you spend hours in meditation.
4. Entropy or Disorder
This is linked in a way to non-linearity:
All chaotic systems decline into disorder. Or in other words, they lack predictability.
(Entropy is simply a measure of the amount of disorder).
With the automatic operation of our minds, we can see how they tend to disorder.
This is most easily observed when we go through prolonged periods of stress. Or when our minds have to deal with negative impacting stimuli for our health, wealth, possessions or relationships.
For example in poker, this might be losing a big pot during a session.
During a stressful response, there is a huge amount of energy used in repressing our emotions (denying them or keeping them from coming up) or expressing them (verbally or physically).
Seen a slightly different way, this is a wastage of energy that points to the fact our minds are struggling to come to terms with what occurred or is occurring in actuality.
What entropy very simply highlights is that unless we are aware of what our minds are doing the possibility to fall into disorder (an emotional reaction) is always there.
The Connection Between Weather & Our Emotions
If you know anything about predicting weather and chaos theory you know it is difficult to do accurately beyond a few days.
This is because the prediction model for the Earth’s weather system is chaotic. Hence, it’s determined by its initial conditions.
Predictions are made using a snapshot of data at a single point in time. The further in time you go into the future from this point the more potential ‘pathways’ there are for the climate system to follow.
Beyond a particular time point, the prediction model goes into chaos. That is the potential temperatures and types of weather that could occur are random. And so the weather could be ‘almost’ anything.
Relating this back to the mind might not be so obvious at first.
But perhaps looking at the culture of Zen meditation can point to something useful.
Making This Practical
In Zen meditation, there is an emphasis on a ‘beginner’s mind’.
Which is essentially seeing through the filter of memory being applied to reality so that there is an experiencing of the world afresh.
This is something, in fact, that you can carry out right now by simply asking yourself:
Is the filter of memory being applied right now?
You can also take a look into the feedback process of thought. How there is a chained connection between thoughts.
And you can also take a look at the content of thought that does arise. How the topics that come up are not exactly predictable.
The amazing thing is if you look into this all quietly, directly and clearly (that is not just take these written words at intellectual value) you can see there is a space away from the chaos and noise of the automatically operating mind.