Love and Chaos

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty..." 
John Keats

"Between whom there is hearty truth there is love."
Henry David Thoreau

"God is love."
1 John 4:9

"Love is all there is."
The Beatles

Some people see the world as a cruel, brutish place where the strong oppress the weak, and where there is little hope for improvement. They see the world as chaotic, random, ruled by tooth and fang, and not in a good way. If that is all they can see, they will likely give up on finding meaning in life and drift into despair. We can do better than that. It is possible to see our chaotic world in a better light.

First of all, chaos is not such a bad thing. For creativity to occur there must be randomness. Evolution and learning rely on stochastic processes. A stochastic process is one in which "a sequence of events combines a random component with a selective process so that only certain outcomes of the random are allowed to endure."  The word comes from the "Greek, stochazein, to shoot with a bow at a target; that is to scatter events in a partially random manner, some of which achieve a preferred outcome."*  Arrows hit a target in a random pattern, but it isn’t completely random, otherwise they would also hit the trees and the grass and any other object that might be in the vicinity of the archer.

The world is full of these seemingly random processes that, if examined carefully, show order in chaos. A flock of  birds may dart this way or that. The directions seem randomly chosen, but in the end, all of the birds land on the branches of the same tree. They are not scattered all over the landscape thudding into the ground at random trajectories and velocities. Out of the chaos comes order. At a concert, the audience claps for the performers. Each person claps independently, but is influenced by the other attendees. The applause starts and stops more or less together, with nobody giving the signal to begin or end. Again out of chaos we deliver order. In evolution, mutations cause physical changes in an organism that either improve or decrease its chances of survival. The selection process moves the species along into a better fit with its environment, or else the species dies out, in which case, some other species will take over that environmental niche.

Stochastic processes can lead to higher levels of organization. Atoms form molecules that somehow become life. After a lot of bumping around, something fits with something else and a new form is created. As the complexity increases, new selection criteria come into play and the complexity advances to another level.

Somewhere in the heart of this process are the attributes of God: love, beauty, truth, unity, balance, harmony, coherence, wisdom. These are the principles around which the world creates itself.

When everything is in chaos we seek balance. We fall off our first bicycle time after time, until we find our balance, and then we are off to a new adventure. Falling off gives no rewards, so it is not the state we seek. Balance rewards us.

We are drawn to beauty. There is no joy in ugliness. The sculptor chips away at a boring hunk of rock, until the beauty is revealed. Then she sweeps up and throws away the parts that were not beautiful. She has found wholeness and coherence that satisfies something in her soul.

When we seek a mate, we look over the field of possibilities, and sometimes, after considerable fumbling and failure, something clicks with one person. Perhaps with little warning, we are in love. Looking back, we can  see that something drew us together, and keeps us together. The affinity for each other, the sense of rightness, the balance of personalities, the feeling of wholeness we have when with each other, the sheer pleasure that comes from knowledge of the beloved, all say to us that this is right. This is the person we love and that we wish to be with.

When we look closely, we may see that this is what runs the world. Plants love the sun and grow toward it. Bees love flowers. Birds love to build nests and sit on eggs. Squirrels love to collect nuts. They don’t know why they do it. It just feels right. When the fish is out of water, it doesn’t feel right and will try to get back in the water. When the baby mammal is separated from its mother, the mother knows this is not right and seeks the baby. When the baby is found, order is restored. Completeness feels good. Incompleteness, disharmony, incoherence drive living beings into action until satisfaction can be attained by a return to harmony. Sometimes the process is not pretty.

Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth. When we feel that evil outweighs good, we may be at a point of instability that will necessarily precede a higher level of harmonious organization.

Prophets, it doesn’t matter from which tradition, always predict bad times before the dawning of a new age. Why is that? Because that’s the way the world works. It takes a period of social instability to stir things up before a new homeostasis, a new order of balance, will fall  into place. Otherwise conditions tend to stay the same. We select out of the chaos that which we love. If we want peace, which we will after times of war, we select peace. If we want freedom, which we will after times of oppression, we select freedom. What we love is what we draw out of chaos.


 Relax. Breathe calmly. Be at peace and think of these things:

Imagine the universe, when it was young, as a cloud of gas. It was without form moving out from its center. Molecules of this gas bump into each other, and as they bump, some of them fit together. Combining and separating, they gradually form larger molecules and they are attracted to each other. Clustering together, they become stars and planets.

After a long time, there is a planet just the right distance from its star, so that it is warm, but not too warm. It is big enough that its gravity attracts and holds onto the gases that surround it. This is a lumpy wobbly planet at first, but as it spins through space, the high spots that are out of balance shake themselves down, and the surface becomes smoother. The heavy parts of the planet are attracted to each other, and so are drawn to the center. In time, a great deal of time, the planet we call earth is sailing smoothly along. It has found its balance.

The many gases on this planet blow around its surface, are heated and cooled. Some drift off into space, but some of them, oxygen and hydrogen, fit together so that water vapor comes into being. These water molecules have an affinity for one another, and they form into drops. These are attracted to the earth. They fall as rain and the seas are formed.

These seas are rich with chemicals. Some molecules bump into each other, but they don’t fit, and so they move on. After almost infinite bumping, some molecules find that their shapes are unbalanced and when they bump into certain other molecules they combine to form a more beautiful whole. Those combined molecules continue to join and part and grow in complexity. Some molecules form into shapes that have an inside and an outside. The juice outside the shape is different from the juice inside the shape, and things begin to happen. These forms begin to split apart without losing their wholeness. Some of them stick together. It seems like the right thing to do. After much splitting apart and coming together, some cells find it nice to be in the heat of the sun. They also find it nice to be where food is. Soon they are moving about yearning for warmth and nourishment.

Some of  these moving cells grow more complex and are attracted to other cells. They find a way to exchange DNA, and they like it.

In these early days, life is full of opportunity. Tiny multi-celled beings find new places to thrive, and grow bigger, because they can. They grow to fill the seas. Then they grow to fill the land. In time they find ways to move through the air as well. The simple becomes complex, and the complex finds ways to preserve itself.

After a long, long time, people develop. They live together, because they like to. It is nice to snuggle at night to stay warm, and it is nice to see familiar faces day by day. Life is more predictable if you stay with the same people. More and more people cluster together, because it is easier and safer to be together. In time we have civilization. Some people are cruel, and they grow powerful through intimidation. But other people grow to hate their cruel leaders and resist their rule. It can take a long time, but always the cruel are taken down low, because their cruelty is out of alignment with the way of things.

In different places and times,  wise people learn the way of things. They say it in different ways, but always they understand that love binds the universe together. They recognize the unity of all things. They value balance and harmony. They encourage those who would hear to seek after wisdom, for wisdom is the way of knowing good from evil. It is the way of peace. It is the way of love.

May we grow in wisdom.

May we walk in beauty.

May we see unity in diversity.

May we speak the truth.

May we live in love.


*Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Gregory Bateson. Bantam Books, 1979.

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© 2002 Tom Barrett