Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Learning to Live with the Chaos Theory

In January I took a quilt class that focused on gaining a better understanding of color.  This class was comprised of 3 Wednesday evenings and the instructions were fairly simple.  We were asked to sew together strips of fabric from dark to light and from narrow to wide. Then we were asked to cut these units up some more and sew them together to build a striped quilt. Which colors we chose were left up to us to decide, the only request was to stick to solids or tonal prints that read as solids.

This was the first time I made a quilt where I wouldn’t know what it would look like until  it was done. I did not like that feeling at all. Throughout the project it felt like each step was being done wrong, and I had to fight the urge to ask someone else if my quilt looked wrong. When I finally completed this quilt, I was physically worn out and felt a little dizzy. Somehow, this project helped me turn a spiritual corner.

On the last night of the class, another student kept asking the teacher for some more rules and I quipped, “Can you give me the rules to the Chaos Theory?”

The Chaos Theory stuck with me, and so I titled my quilt, “Learning to Love the Chaos Theory”. I realized that since I’ve made this quilt into a metaphor, I better have a clear understanding of that metaphor before I start slinging it around. Since I don’t have a doctorate in Mathematical Theory, I googled “Chaos Theory for Dummies”, and got me an education for free.

The Chaos Theory, in a quick summary, nature works in patterns caused by the sum of many tiny pulses. And if you make one tiny change to any of these pulses, a completely different behavior in a complex system will result. This introduces the Uncertainty Principle. That is, you cannot determine the initial situation of a complex system, nor can you predict how that complex system will end up.  And we’re supposed to be ok with that.

 This theory is a huge departure from Newtonian Physics where everything had a cause and effect.  This old way of thinking was very tidy. If everything in the present is caused by things in the past, as soon as we finish up identifying and classifying every particle in the universe, we can predict what will happen next! In human psychology Freud proposed that every problem in the mind can be traced back to a previous trauma. All his patients had to do was go back and remember when their feelings were hurt. This was where Freud would work his magic to make the pain go away - a very clear line between cause and effect. If psychology was used to understand, predict, and then control human behavior, then the chaos theory might seek to identify the underlying order, so we can identify that one pulse to manipulate, to control human behavior. Because the one thing that hasn’t yet changed is, people still want to be in charge, and wish to leave little to chance.

It will be a while before the Chaos Theory asserts itself into my psyche where I will become more comfortable with uncertainty. Somehow, this quilt taught me that no logical system will ever be able to fully present the Truth about the Universe. The Universe seems chaotic to me because a mind bigger than me designed it. Truth can’t be measured using the human mind, no matter how brilliant that mind may be. And I’m supposed to be ok with that.


                                                 (A glass wall hanging on Market Street)


  1. Seems like responding to this would be more fun in a conversation than a post. It sparked so many thoughts and feelings. In the midst of these words sits your quilt depicting the complex system that we are all a part of...another beautiful, unique specimen of color, form, and energy.

    1. O yes! That would be more fun! I hope you'll have time some weekend in March for a couple of hours to teach me paper piecing techniques. I'll set that up through Johanna. I'd do it sooner, but I'm busy sewing 19 pairs of monkey wings for my daughter's Wizard of Oz play.

  2. Love the quilt. In spite of the obvious chaos in it, I also find a sense of completeness and balance. If I focus on one small part, I do feel a certain disharmony; but when I "step back" and look at the whole, it all "works"--the many and disparate parts suggest energy and movement that are tied together by small, unifying themes.

    To extend your metaphor, life is very much like that. We can focus on the small, chaotic and sometimes senseless elements in our immediate surroundings and wonder what it's all about, perhaps even feel overwhelmed by it. But when we change our perspective and look at the bigger picture, it can make more sense to us.

    Yet, as you pointed out, at some stage even the bigger picture expands out of our sphere of control and eludes our logic. Then we need to remember that the Creator's thoughts are indeed far above ours. But because people like to control things, many will stop contemplating the possibility of a bigger picture and their own need to respond to it, and turn inward again to the little bit that makes sense to them.

    So, what is it that allows us to be "okay" with this seemingly chaotic and out-of-our-control universe? How do we live with this uncertainty? Faith. As simple, or as difficult, as that. We *can't* control it, but we can believe that the Creator can and does. In fact, the more I think about it, how does anyone survive without such faith?

    Display your quilt and let it remind you of the Master Designer who turns random chaos into beautiful harmony.

    1. Thanks Laura, I miss you so! You touched on so many of the thoughts I explored through sewing strips, ripping seams and ironing the wrinkles. Stay tuned to see sneak peeks into the quilt I am making for you and the hidden qypsy spirit I see within you.

    2. Consider my curiosity to be piqued.

  3. I also love the quilt! I wonder how it might have been different if there had been more instructions and less chaos. I'm trying to imagine how it could have been more beautiful.


    1. Thanks Sarah

      If there had been more instructions, I wouldn't have grown. I took this class to learn more about color and instead found a doorway to consider things far bigger than quilts and fabric. The chaos experience, as small as it was, was priceless.

  4. Fabulous. I love how this dovetails with my post on the uncertainty principle. Some of us quilters are thinking along the same lines!