One of the findings of chaos theory is that complex systems which seem to
be in equilibrium (stable) are not
really at equilibrium. Systems damped by friction, and driven by some kind of
energy input, while appearing to be at an equilibrium state, are not really at
equilibrium at all. Tiny variations are present which can send the system into
chaos at any time. Complex systems, and especially living systems, require far-from-equilibrium
conditions in order to maintain self-organization or growth.
A good example of this phenomenon is the beating of the human heart. Many
people think that the heart should beat evenly, and may worry when it
occasionally beats irregularly. However, medical researchers have learned that
the heart needs to periodically fluctuate in rhythm in order to function
correctly. (Briggs & Peat, 1989; Gleick, 1987)
The well-known mathematical Law of
Large Numbers says that for large numbers, fluctuations are negligible.
However, this law only holds for equilibrium conditions. At far-from-equilibrium
conditions, small fluctuations can no longer be ignored. A classic example is
the physics experiment of a gas in equilibrium. The gas has a volume V, and in
this volume it has a large number of molecules, X. We divide the gas in half, so
that there are two equal volumes. If we counted up the molecules in each new
volume, we would expect to find X/2 molecules occupying each volume, V/2. The
error in our count, E1, will be so small that for all practical
purposes we can ignore it.
We can repeat the experiment using a gas that is in far-from-equilibrium
conditions. We will find that we can no longer get an equal number of
molecules in the two volumes. The
random motion of the gas molecules makes it impossible to get an equal number of
molecules into the two volumes (Briggs & Peat, 1989). The error, E2,
cannot be ignored. The value for E2
will be much greater than the value that we found for E1.
In equilibrium conditions, we have errors in our observations of the
order E1 which are very small. In far-from-equilibrium conditions, E1
has increased to E2. This increase in our error has brought about an
entirely new outcome. We no longer have X/2 molecules in the two volumes.
If we look at the errors in our measurements, E1 and E2,
as inherent nonlinear fluctuations, then we can say that such fluctuations can
be ignored for systems in equilibrium. But for systems in far-from-equilibrium
conditions, fluctuations within the system can determine the outcome of the
Molecules behave as independent entities when in equilibrium. However, in
far-from-equilibrium conditions, molecules take on a coherence, and arrange
themselves in a quite dependent manner.
The psyche, as a complex dynamic system, is seldom if ever in
equilibrium. The friction of the psyche is stress. The stress of everyday life
dampens the psyche, while daily conflicts with the external environment perturbs
the ego and sends it into far-from-equilibrium conditions countless times every