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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hodges

The Experience Of Chaos

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

We all have the hope that we might live ordered lives. Life might, at least at the surface level, have that appearance. Humans generally have a strong desire for safety and with it certainty. In the absence of disturbing news it is possible to perceive of life as a 'calm sea' the waves gentle breaking on the shore. We can ignore the possibility of the storms which exist beyond the horizon.

We often talk of people as living in their own 'bubble', seemingly oblivious to risk, to cause and effect. The force of those storms still exists even though we can't see them. There may even be indications on the horizon. The signs might be there. Do we pay attention or ignore them?

There will be information present; a pattern which is discernible. If we stay alert we can prepare, or we could find ourselves surprised and unprepared. Sometimes we read the signs but read them wrongly. There was nothing there after all. We feel a little foolish. (But perhaps it was better to be safe rather than sorry?)

The potential for us as humans to experience the possibility of chaos is ever-present in our lives even if we live a life oblivious to it.

Human beings are a species that have the mental abilities to 'be' in the past, the present and the future. 'Being' in any of these states is far from perfect, however these abilities have enabled us to build on our collective memories to create the world we live in now. At the level of the individual we have a facility with memory but we know that memories fade. With regard to the future, our ability to plan is dependent on our ability to predict the future. We can see the potential for future events to happen and can, to a certain extent, plan for them. That is, until the unexpected happens. Even trying to live in the present has issues. We can spend too much time hanging on to past experiences to be able to be 'in the now'. Also we could instead be fixated on fear of the future and not be properly alert to what is currently happening around us. Taking a much wider context, at the level of community, it is quite obvious that these present, past & future skills have given us immense powers. Whether we have used them wisely or not is another matter. ​ Riding through all of this is one highly developed skill; that of communication and our ability to work together. Other species demonstrate their use of sound to co-ordinate their actions in order to work together. A good example of this are killer whales acting together to hunt seals on an ice flow.

Mention has already been made how humans use sound to bring themselves together to act as a team. Over the millennia we have refined our sounds to become words. It is equally true too that we have refined other sounds to become music. We have even notated the words and the music so that they can become 'objects' in their own right. Just as an aside, this is in fact a reversal of the process of the development of language. As already mentioned, real objects are represented by a form of sound we call 'words'. For human beings this is already acknowledged as a very clever thing to do. Latterly, since the invention of print and then recordings, the sounds themselves have quite extraordinarily become objectified. Sounds were just always and everywhere. Prior to this, it would have been impossible to literally 'own' sounds. That said, prior to the notion of intellectual property groups, clubs, fans, and nations could in a sense 'own' sounds. National anthems are a case in point where organised sounds are used to invoke in the people a state of 'nationalism' and so for a group of humans the sounds carry identity. ​ Whether or not we use sound, words or music, what we each transmit therefore has some kind of meaning; the meaning we hopefully intend or the meaning we infer as hearers. Meaning is felt more than heard. Words themselves have a literal meaning which can be found in a dictionary, but it is the tonality as well as the body language which create the word's true meaning.

Rod Paton in his book "Living Music" (p20) talks about the idea of life as a "maze", i.e. how we might respond to complex, apparently hidden patterns with uncertainty, doubt and indecision. The maze feels like a mystery. We enter it at birth and follow its twists and turns until the 'final exit'. Mazes usually have a structure so it ought to be possible to learn the maze's structure. If one believed in rebirth then perhaps each time we return we might arrive at a new maze. In some religions our task is to repeat the cycle and return to relearn the maze until we final break the cycle. On the other hand if we only have one lifetime available to us perhaps our life might consist of several mazes each new mystery becoming something to learn how to navigate. Whichever way it might be we can have a sense that there is an overall structure if only it were possible to discern it. ​ We know through science that there are patterns in the Universe, in the functioning of Nature and of ourselves. We have knowledge of these structures and through the scientific method we can infer structures which as time moves forward can be tested to find proof. ​

However at the individual human level of existence our experience of moving through Life can occasionally be perplexing. We attempt to lead ourselves and lead others through these experiences as best we can. We use whatever knowledge we have personally acquired through our childhood, our education and our experience. But sometimes we are confronted with issues over which we feel we have little or no control, that are complex and even seemingly chaotic. We feel uncertain and unsafe. ​ We can’t therefore rely on our lives being settled and orderly. In recent years there has been a political shift from what is referred to as the 'rules based' system of international agreement to more 'populist' forms of government where the leaders who have emerged have threatened to break at least some of the established rules. At the highest levels this has led to population-level unsettlement. Some leaders have made promises they can't or won't keep which has resulted in feelings of deception and demoralisation especially amongst those of 'the forgotten' who previously supported these leaders. The 2008 financial crash led eventually to the austerity programmes which commenced in 2009. Individuals and businesses have had to make considerable adjustments to try to cope with these uncertainties.

The pandemic of 2020 was an enormous shock to the system which has led to feelings of extraordinary unsettlement in ordinary individuals. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our generally mental wellbeing has been negatively affected. This is at least part of the background (our 'maze') in which each of us as individuals have had to attempt to steer our lives. If nothing else these fundamental changes whether they are right or wrong have lead to large-scale confusion. ​ More close to home we live and work in communities and groups. The sense of disturbance we are experiencing influences us on many levels. Although we have learned models of interaction and patterns of behaviour these can sometimes be inadequate. Rules we believed we could rely on seem to stop working; sources of more confusion. In summary our reality has the appearance to a lesser or greater extent of being ordered. We try to create an ordered life which some refer to as our 'bubble'. We have ways of coping with change; we can ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist until the storm breaks and we have to take cover. Another way to cope is to believe that we all see the world in the same way; that we think similarly, that we have the same attitudes and values. From this standpoint we project this out on the world until change happens and we discover that our own isolation exists in a world of chaos.

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