Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 9, No 1 (2013)

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Chaos beyond Order: Overcoming the Quest for Certainty and Conservation in Modern Western Sciences

Riccardo Baldissone


Chaos theory not only stretched the concept of chaos well beyond its traditional semantic boundaries, but it also challenged fundamental tenets of physics and science in general. Hence, its present and potential impact on the Western worldview cannot be underestimated. I will illustrate the relevance of chaos theory in regard to modern Western thought by tracing the concept of order, which modern thinkers emphasised as chaos’ dichotomic counterpart. In particular, I will underline how the concern of seventeenth-century natural philosophers with order and conservation oriented the production of their concept of nature. Moreover, I will match this resulting world of natural facts with both the classical construction of the cosmos, and the nineteenth-century physico-chemical structure of conservation laws. Furthermore, I will recall the challenges to the deterministic and determinable modern scientific framework. These challenges arose from within the hard sciences, and they were often understood as a temporary lack of knowledge. I will argue that scientists long failed to acknowledge results that were at odds with their expectations, which were deeply engrained in modern Western thought, and which even harked back to the classical theoretical framework. Finally, I will suggest a link between the cultural earthquake that shook Western societies during the ‘long sixties,’ and the questioning of scientific expectations, which chaos theory defied.

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