In an instant life can change. A single event can change all that happens downstream from that moment. This not a new insight and there are few who could not point to an occasion where a tiny blip in time caused entirely new trajectories to bubble up and change everything about their life. Perhaps a wrong turn at the library led to finding a spouse. Maybe a decision to not to stop for a burger led to a major accident, or a job was found through a chance encounter a shopping market. These kinds of events are the hallmark of what are known as chaotic systems. Chaos, unlike what we commonly mean when use this to describe the confusion of the uncontrollable, is defined formally in complexity theory as sensitivity to initial conditions. A small effect upfront has enormous downstream effects. Look at your children and you will see an example of this. Which particular sperm and an egg met, is an occurrence conditioned on zillions of possibilities and bifurcation points. Recombination in DNA ensures that our children are built half from the male genetic code and half the female, but it is a random draw as to which half gets taken from each. Also, chemical reactions at this level vary and many divergent pathways are possible. Tiny changes. Huge downstream effects. Chaos.
Kathryn Lynard Soper’s new book, The Year my Son and I were Born, explores the downstream effects of a nondisjunction event in chromosomal separation causing her child to be born with extra-genetic material in chromosome 21. Down Syndrome. That’s the techno-jargon for the very real human story that is the subject of this book—a book about chaos in all the meanings of the word we ascribe to it. [Read more...]