Sunday, March 27, 2005

Theory of Chaos

I was a misfit as a masters student of physics. The wordy books of thermodynamics and classical mechanics doused what little fire for physics I had in the first year. I was not surprised when the examiner who came from a distant university appropriately identified me during viva-voce. But I did not read Milan Kundera that night. I had my dinner and slept like yesterday.
After masters, one of my options was to do research. I went to the university. The department head told me that they had just one vacancy for research associate and that too in theoretical physics. Nothing was going to make much difference to me anyway. I said I would take it.

He spoke a little bit about the scope, stuff that needs to be done for a prelim thesis and that the topic was called theory of chaos. Theory of Chaos - The title impressed me. I needed to pick one of the mathematical problems that he was trying to solve, distantly related to photonics. I was impressed with the title. More like my life then. If I could extrapolate a little bit on it, who knows...

Mathematicians have known about nonlinearity (a characteristic of discontinuous events) since the work of Henri Poincaré, at the turn of this century. Most equations that attempt to predict the actions of nature or natural materials are close approximations rather than exact. They contain one or more factors of nonlinearity; which are approximated by using constants (in the engineering community, such constants are sometimes called fudge factors). Think about your simple newtonian
equation. The constant that you add has in it the seed of unpredictability that can grow upto very large proportions and the system eventually would look like it has lost its "memory" of what were the initial conditions.

Much like most of our life where the simple equations of life go down off an unpredictable tangent when the deemed constant factors plunge into patterns that we don't understand.

Have you watched "A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon"? a swedish movie on Sonia Kovalevskaya. She was the first woman mathematician to recieve a Ph.D and made major contributions besides working on the intial formulations of Theory of chaos. The movie had a fascinating account of the disintegration of her personal life into chaos in parallel to her research on quasi-linear differential equation.

My research was gone for a toast in a few months and I took up software for a living. I thought I was done with chaos. It was only a beginning. The bigger the application; longer the code; bigger the team; deeper grew the chaos and eventual lead up to the great american way of problem solving!!!

The seminar I attended the other day discussed adapting the principles of theory of chaos into project management practices and reduce risk factors. Infact every enterprise individual, family or business is living with the possibility of failure.

You cannot wish the angst away. Even after many an implementation of complex projects, sometimes I am still haunted by the lingering question of being a misfit among the go-getters.


Sarath Sasi said...

"... still haunted by the lingering question of being a misfit among the go-getters."
Trust me! I know the feeling.
I came through the translation of Adoor's piece on John and lingered to read through the other posts. Writing should be your vocation not coding. :)

Rajesh said...

Sarath, glad you could relate.

weren't Adoor's reflections on John validating some of our thoughts?

I wish writing lets me plagiarize like I do while coding :).

btw do you have a blog site?

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