February 2009
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Speech on Chaos Theory and Ecological Stability

I wrote this speech on the way to an Academic Decathlon competition in high school. I still like it, but see now that I really should have been speaking of path lines in attractor fields. Other than that very important mistake, and the fact that you have to have a good idea of what I’m discussing in the first place. I’d say it was a good speech for me at that time. I know the premise is wrong, I knew that when I wrote it. I just wanted to go against the popular opinion.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Global Warming, overpopulation, encroachment, and Deforestation. So far, scientists have predicted the hazardous effects that these problems have on the Earth. Although I’m not denying that we might harm the environment that sustains us, We cannot accurately predict what the effects of these actions might be, due to the fact that natural systems exhibit chaos in their cycles.

For example, consider a population consisting solely of wolves and rabbits. Within this population there exist a number of equilibriums. 1st; a constantly alternating number of wolves and rabbits. 2nd; a continuous and unchanging number of wolves and rabbits. and 3rd; the most stable of all, Death. Should we put this on a graph it would be evident that each of these existences or nonexistence, as the case may be, is “fighting for control” of the system. This results in a chaotic behavior of the system, as it oscillates between each of the 3 attractors.

On our graph of the wolf and rabbit population we can represent the system with a little dot in the middle of a complex attractor field. In this scenario there are 3 attractors, one for each equilibrium. Changes in the system due to human interaction and intervention can alter the placement of the system into the domain of a different attractor. Since we can never know everything that would be necessary to accurately graph the regions of the attractors, specifically the borders, we cannot predict what effects we really have on the environment, harmful or not.

All systems in nature from biological population to weather systems have a tendency to exhibit this type of chaos. In fact, without this ‘chaos’ the system wold probably collapse. It is through this principal of chaos that any changes made to the system are not cumulative, but are instead recoverable. The effect of the change is forever reduced, getting smaller and smaller until it finally disappears, instead of being progressively built upon until the entire system disintegrates.

As both events are possible, this leads to unpredictability. As we go about the simple act of living our daily lives, we necessarily and unavoidable affect the Earth and the environment in both obvious and undetectable ways. This may or may not be a danger. It is known for certain that we affect the environment but not known in what ways or to what extents. Both the slight and vast perturbations we make on natures systems affect the placement of the little dot in the middle of the graph such that it may succumb to another attractor entirely or merely go to a different spot within the same attractor.

Should I decide to shoot a rabbit and sell its feet as good luck charms the effects will definitely be felt by the system. Most likely the rabbit will be replaced, instead of causing a wold to starve and die, which may cause the rabbit population to explode unchecked, and so on until the entire balance is so upset that both populations die; all because one rabbit died prematurely. Doth events can conceivably take place, however we would expect the rabbit just to be replaced, from our experienced observations. The unpredictability lies in our disruption of the system in entirely different ways than we have done in the past.

All systems in nature exhibit this type of unpredictability. This chaos generally leads to the stability of the system but can sometimes means Death. Our actions that produce global warming, overpopulation, encroachment, and deforestation, have unpredictable effects on the environment. They could either cause chaos, disorder, and destruction, or the disruption could become smaller and smaller over time, until it eventually disappears.

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