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(FTWMI) Svādyāya V: If You Change Just One Thing About Your… May 23, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to everyone, and especially to anyone Counting the Omer!

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 2021. Class details and some links have been updated or added. One critical typo has been corrected.

“Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornados; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972


Yoga Sūtra 3.15: karma-anyatvam pariņāmah-anyatve hetuh

– “Change in the sequence of the characteristics is the cause for the different appearances of results, consequences, or effects.”

Pick a life, a personal history – maybe one of the one’s I briefly profiled over the last week, maybe your own, or someone else’s you know – and notice where the story begins. More specifically, notice where you begin to tell the story – and how things develop/evolve from there. Consider that your understanding of the story and the sequence of events, your understanding of the person and their motivation, and whether any of it makes sense may change if you start at a different place. Consider, too, that if you change something along the way, like leave out challenges the person had as a child – or the fact that someone had no children, or their children had no children – then the story (and your understanding) also changes to a certain degree. Consider where (and when) someone first experiences stability in life and what happens if that stability and sense of control doesn’t happen until late in life. What you change may seem random and inconsequential, it may seem like rounding up the smallest fraction of a number, but take a moment to consider what happened when a certain scientist did that: the results were pure chaos.

Born May 23, 1917, Edward Norton Lorenz was born into a New England family that loved science and logic. His maternal grandfather (Lewis M. Norton) was the professor at the Massachusetts of Technology (MIT) who developed the first four-year undergraduate program in chemical engineering (1888). His father (Edward Henry Lorenz) majored in mechanical engineering (at MIT) and his mother (Grace Peloubet Norton Lorenz, who was born the year before her father introduced his program) loved games – especially chess. In addition to installing and cultivating a love of numbers in Dr. Lorenz, his family also gave him a great appreciation for nature and the outdoors. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree (also in mathematics) from Harvard, it made sense for Dr. Lorenz to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. So, after working as a weather forecaster in the United States Army Air Corps (during World War II), he went to MIT to earn both a masters and a doctoral degree in meteorology; and then became a professor at MIT.

In the 1950’s, Edward Norton Lorenz began to doubt that the accepted method of forecasting weather, based on linear statistical models, was appropriate and/or logical since the method did not reflect the outcome. In 1961, while use a simple digital computer (as opposed to a human “computer”) to simulate weather patterns based on 12 different variables, like temperature and wind speed, he decided to re-run some calculations. Only, in the interest of time, he started in the middle of the story – and ended up with a completely different outcome. When he went through the process to find the “error,” he discovered that while the computer calculated up to six decimal points, the printout rounded up to three decimal points. Ergo, instead of entering something like 0.354148, he had entered (from the printout) 0.354 – and while the difference seems minuscule at first glance, it becomes compounded over time. If you know what you’re looking at, you can see a very definite pattern emerge. However, if you don’t recognize the “Lorenz attractor” at work, then chaos just looks random.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

People often associate chaos theory – the premise that “small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” – with the “butterfly effect” and science fiction / fantasy stories like Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder. However, as evident by Bradbury’s short story (which was published on June 28, 1952) the overall idea behind chaos theory existed before the scientific discovery made popular by Dr. Lorenz. In fact, it dates back at least as far as 1800. Additionally, it was Dr. Philip Merilees, session chair for the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972, that lifted certain ideas from Dr. Lorenz’s initially untitled speech in order to create the memorable title: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” That title carried the idea beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology and into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world (who sometimes don’t really understand – or even know – the actual theory).

While fiction writers and readers often get caught up in the fantasy of what happens if we go back in time and accidentally (or intentionally) alter the time-space continuum, remember that Edward Norton Lorenz was looking forward. He was forecasting. So, while we it is interesting and there is some merit to looking back and considering cause-and-effect as it relates to someone’s personal story, there is also fascinating merit to considering what may happen going forward. In other words, we can use the idea of chaos theory to “forecast” situations and possible reactions/responses in someone’s life based on their previous circumstances and reactions/responses. Dr. Lorenz addresses this very idea in The Essence of Chaos where he emphatically argued for believing in free will.

“Before proceeding further, we need to consider the question of free will of human beings, and perhaps of other animate creatures. Most of us presumably believe that the manner in which we will respond to a given set of circumstances has not been predetermined, and that we are free to make a choice. For the sake of argument, let us assume that such an opinion is correct. Our behavior is then a form of randomness in the broader sense; more than one thing is possible next.”

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

– quoted from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

I see two problems in Dr. Lorenz’s argument. First, he compares “free will” with “predestination” – as if the two are completely and utterly diametrically opposed and incompatible, which they are as he proposes them (but are not necessarily, philosophically speaking). Second, he outlines a “chaos” model illustrating the quantifiable predictable interaction between the weather, the wind, a tree, and a maple leaf that falls off of the tree (for any number of reasons); but equates human behavior to the flipping of a coin or the shuffling of cards – in other words, a “random” model that does not consider the part that previous behavior, causes, and conditions plays in future decisions.

Eastern philosophies (like Yoga), as well as current events, indicates that we are conditioned to “respond to a given set of circumstances” based on our previous circumstances and our understanding of those circumstances (i.e., our samskaras, layers of mental impressions). In other words, our circumstances and behavior may not be predestined, but they are sometimes predisposed. They can be predisposed because we may not be aware of the multitude of choices available in any given situation. In other words, we may believe we have “no choice” (i.e., no free will) in certain situations and/or believe that we only have “two bad choices. Additionally, even people who see themselves and/or are seen as having a lot of options (and resources) can, in fact, have very narrow views of themselves and the world – based on their samskaras and previous experiences. These narrow viewpoints can lead them to believe that everyone has the same advantages and experiences as them and, therefore, has the same choices – choices they may see as right or wrong.  

Therefore (as I stated last year), while I wholeheartedly believe in free will and agree with Dr. Lorenz’s basic premise and overall idealization of free will, I think our behavior might be better described as a form of “random chaos” – in that there are multiple outcomes, but those outcomes are limited by our ability to see the choices within a given situation and the possible outcomes… and our ability to see clearly is limited by the situation and by our previous experiences.

This brings us back to the instructions given to the time travelers in Ray Bradbury’s short story: “‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

Rather than looking at a time traveling scenario where we go back in time, however, imagine what happens if we look forward. What happens if we consider how our actions today become the circumstances of tomorrow? What happens if we (metaphorically speaking) “get off the path” we’re on in order to create a better future? Whether we are intentional and mindful or not, the steps we take make an impact. So, in what little, subtle, ways can we use our thoughts, words, and deeds to (even our relationships) to create the world – the harvest, the balanced population, and even the social temperament – that we want for ourselves and future generations?

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– quoted from “A Sound of Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

You can find my “chaotic” blog post from 2020 here. You will notice, that it’s “vastly” different.

Please join me today (Tuesday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

(A little theory to go.)

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### May only your “shuffle” be pseudorandom. ###