Cover image for Seven life lessons of chaos : timelesss wisdom from the science of change
Seven life lessons of chaos : timelesss wisdom from the science of change
Briggs, John, 1945-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollinsPublishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
207 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF637.C5 B77 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The predicament of all life is uncertainty.

While humans have had to deal with chaos since ancient times, only recent has science recognized it as a fundamental force in the universe.

Chaos, theory, originally used to understand the movements that create thunderstorms, raging rivers, and hurricanes, is now being applied to everything from medicine to warfare to social dynamics and theories about how organizations form and change. Chaos is evolving from a scientific theory into a cultural metaphor. As a metaphor it allows us to query some of our most cherished assumptions and encourages us to ask fresh questions about reality.

Our modern society has been obsessed with conquering and scientifically controlling the world around us. However, chaotic, nonlinear systems--such as nature, society, and our individual lives--lie beyond all our attempts to predict, manipulate, and control them. Chaos suggests that instead of resisting life's uncertainties, we should embrace the possibilities they offer.

In this groundbreaking new book, John Briggs and F. David Peat unfold seven lessons for embracing chaos in daily life:

Be Creative: how to engage with chaos to find imaginative new solutions and live more dynamically Use Butterfly Power: how to let chaos grow local efforts into global results Go with the Flow: how to use chaos to work collectively with others Explore What's Between: how to discover life's rich subtleties and avoid the traps of stereotypes See the Art of the World: how to appreciate the beauty of life's chaos Live Within Time: how to utilize time's hidden depths Rejoin the Whole: how to realize our fractal connectedness to each other and the world If you ever felt your life was out of control and headed toward chaos, science has an important message: Life is chaos, and that's a very exciting thing.

Author Notes

John Briggs is a professor of English of Western Connecticut State University, has taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, and holds a doctorate in aesthetics and psychology. He is the author of Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos, and co-author, with physicist F. David Peat, of Turbulent Mirror and Seven Life Lessons of Chaos.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

There would have been no Jurassic Park without it. There is a perfume named after it. It is chaos, whose theory is the hottest one in science since relativity. The most powerful part of its allure is the relevance of chaos theory to human life struggles, yet no earlier book more than alluded to that connection. Briggs and Peat, whose Turbulent Mirror (1990) is one of the best popular books on the science of chaos (Briggs also wrote the lavish Fractals [1992] on chaos art), now give us a book that introduces the major ideas of chaos and shows how they can be used metaphorically. For instance, sensitive dependence upon initial conditions, or the butterfly effect, is the phenomenon of a tiny action, when amplified throughout a system, having unexpectedly disproportionate effects. (It is called butterfly after the chaos theory canard that a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a thunderstorm--or hurricane--in New York.) Apply this to politics, say, and apparently small initiatives can produce enormous changes. Briggs and Peat are careful to differentiate between scientific fact and metaphor, unlike some popular but often inaccurate self-help writers. The combination of factual exactitude and imaginative application makes this the best book on chaos yet. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Attempting to extract lessons for daily living from the emerging science of chaos theory, Briggs, a professor of English at Western Connecticut State University, and Peat, a British physicist, have produced an often frustrating, intermittently suggestive guide. Chaos scientists seek hidden patterns underlying apparently random events. By heeding their example, the authors maintain, ordinary folk can learn to appreciate the interconnectedness of all things, to go with the flow of events, to unlock creativity through heightened tolerance for ambiguity and ambivalence, to pay attention to subtlety, to act according to one's internal rhythms. Skipping fluidly from irrational numbers to Zen paradoxes, from Vaclav Havel's notion of "the power of the powerless" to the I Ching to the egalitarian, "self-organizing" interactions of an Ojibway Indian community and Manhattan's food distribution system, the authors use chaos as an overworked metaphor in a barrage of analogies, speculative leaps, platitudes and anecdotes. Their unconvincing manual is riddled with sentences like, "Positive butterfly power involves a recognition that each individual is an indivisible aspect of the whole and that each chaotic moment of the present is a mirror of the chaos of the future." Scores of intriguing photographs (66 b&w; eight pages color), which form an integral part of the book, reinforce points about the dynamics of change and the liberating potential of chaos with images of colliding galaxies, Ice Age cave paintings, a traffic jam, a craggy British coastline, plots of heart rhythms. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Briggs and Peat try to show how chaos theory can offer insight into areas including creativity, interpersonal relations, and environmental action. However, they fail on three points. First, they do not sufficiently explain chaos theory. A reader with no background would have difficulty following the authors' connections. Second, the authors confuse the definition of chaos as pure disorder with that of chaos theory. Though they point out this distinction initially, they abandon it later, leaving the reader thinking that ancient ideas of chaos, such as that of Greek cosmology, are the same as modern theories of chaos. Finally, they fail in using chaos as a metaphor. The authors argue that chaos, as a metaphor, gives insight and understanding into seven areas. For a metaphor to be useful it must give new insights. This book shows, for example, how to view the creative process in the light of chaos theory, but it does not show how this offers any new insight into the creative process itself. Without showing how new insights are gained, this metaphorical use of chaos is not justified. General readers. E. Kincanon Gonzaga University