Just when you thought it was finally making sense, scientists have officially declared life completely chaotic.
For the last decade, researchers in fields from math to meteorology have been applying chaos theory to explain spontaneous, individualistic, and virtually unpredictable phenomena. Now psychologists believe it may also shed light on the complex organization of the brain, human relationships, and the often baffling progress of psychotherapy.
While there's no universally accepted definition of chaos, chaotic phenomena generally have three characteristics: They display highly disordered behavior-like the random branching of a lightening bolt or the twirling path of a falling leaf, they can change dramatically in response to insignificant events - a normally functioning heart, for instance, may suddenly start to beat erratically if a few random neurons fire out of sync; and chaotic phenomena may actually follow patterns that are detectable-if you look closely.
Paul Rapp, Ph.D., a physiology professor at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, has been looking for a while. He's found, for example, that the human brain becomes more electrically active, or chaotic, when solving simple arithmetic problems than when at rest. Rapp predicts that all brain activity-normal and abnormal-produces precise electrical patterns that can be detected, measured, and correlated with overt behavior.