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More on Butterfly Wings, Strange Attractors, and the Human Soul

August 5, 2012

In an earlier post, we spoke about one way that the butterfly effect from chaos theory can be applied to the spiritual life and the inner world of our thoughts. We spoke of the macro effects reverberating throughout all of humanity. We can also consider how a single powerful thought, like a lone fluttering butterfly, can reverberate throughout the world of one’s consciousness and paradoxically enough utterly change it. Turning from the world at large to the single soul, we are simply following fathers such as Saint Maximus the Confessor who taught that the world can be viewed as macrocosm of a human being and a human being can be viewed as a microcosm of the world. (Mystagogy 7 PG  91.685ab).

In my book, I noted, “Thoughts are, in fact, sometimes defined as ‘simple and ungovernable energies of the mind,’ which whirl about ‘like snow flakes in the winter or clouds of mosquitoes in the summer.’” It’s a description of chaos as good as any. But via the butterfly effect, we also know that a single snowflake falling in an unusual trajectory can change the wintery landscape of the soul. And here we get close to the reason why the fathers’ methods can be such powerful means of transformation and even transfiguration.

In the nonlinear world of chaos theory, scientists refer to point attractors and strange attractors. In terms of behavior, point attractors pull an individual to repeat previous patterns, whereas strange attractors pull someone to engage in the novel and unfamiliar. Strange attractors open new worlds and can potentially change a stagnant bog into a flowing stream or a limpid pond. Strange attractors make room for the wondrous and miraculous such as walking upon the Sea of Galilee or through the Red Sea as though it were dry land. Strange attractors are what the call to repentance is all about.

In a practical, self-serving world of interests, rights, and ambitions, the Gospel and the fathers’ recommendations are in terms of chaos theory, strange attractors par excellence, for they present a radically divergent and revolutionarily way of reacting to all too familiar situations. There is nothing intuitive, particularly reasonable, or immediately gratifying about acting on the basis of commandments such as “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” And yet, when someone decides to follow those commandments, when someone lets just a single thought be attracted to these strange words of the Gospels using the fathers’ strange advice, the landscape of the soul is transformed. And amid the ruckus chaos of a thousand thoughts, that one strange, but holy thought creates a new and beautiful order in the soul, for fulfilling the Gospel commandments attracts the grace of the Life-giving Spirit to the humble soul. And as I mention in the book, “it is possible by the grace of the Holy Spirit for the soul to become, in the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, “a well-watered garden rich in flowers, abounding in fair trees, adorned by all manner of blossoms and bearing every kind of fruit.”

From → Science, Thoughts

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