Over the past few decades, “chaos theory” and “complexity theory” have emerged as new scientific models for understanding chaotic and/or complex systems. Chaos theory has grown out of physics and mathematics. Complexity theory has developed mainly from studying biological and human systems. These theories share a natural alignment with the spirit and practice of astrology, more so than other attempts to use astrology with the concepts of modern science. The current configuration of Uranus and Pluto makes this an auspicious time to discuss chaos and complexity theory with astrologers.
Among the many resources available to the general reader on the subjects, I am particularly indebted to Bernadette Brady’s Astrology: A Place in Chaos (2006). She has helped open up chaos theory to astrologers and has inspired much of the study I have done in this area. Although my ideas differ from hers in some ways, I suggest that anybody who wishes to study this material further begin with Ms. Brady’s book – but don’t stop there. At the end of this article I include additional resources for the interested reader.
This essay is divided into three parts. First, we look at chaos from our own understanding and experience and briefly trace its history in cosmology and philosophy. The second part provides a brief history of the development of modern science’s chaos theory, some of its methods and findings, and possible applications to astrology. Science’s chaos theory examines disorder, or randomness, while seeking to find its underlying hidden structures – as we do as astrologers. Finally, we will look briefly at the idea of complexity, which provides an understanding of states that move toward chaos, or move from the more chaotic to the more orderly.
The title of this article is taken from a book by the Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, entitled Orderly Chaos (1991). Chögyam Trungpa tells us that the mandala principle (a view of the structure of the world and life around us) is orderly chaos: it comes in a pattern, but working with this pattern is chaotic, confusing. As astrologers, we are along a similar path, applying the ordered world of astrological delineation to the seemingly random events in the lives of our clients.
The Word “Chaos” and Its Modern Use
Google’s NGram Viewer tracks the frequency of words in publications in English since the 1800’s. Applying this graph to “chaos” and “chaotic” shows how common these words are in our language at various points in time.
Google NGram View of the usage of the words "Chaos" and "Chaotic" in publications since 1840.
Their frequency of use grew during the more difficult times of the last century, but increased even more within the past twenty years. Interestingly, their usage increased dramatically in the mid-1960’s at the peak of the Uranus/Pluto conjunction and the world events signaled by that conjunction.
What is the meaning of “chaos” and “chaotic” in our daily lives? It often refers to a flurry of disorganized activity around us when everything seems to be coming at us at once. We lose our sense of centrality and the world becomes temporarily disordered. Chaos is disorienting and overwhelming, requiring a great amount of energy from us.
But some chaos can be good. In a work of music or art, a moment of chaos can have a spontaneous feel to it, and we enjoy the chaos of five-year-old children engaged in boisterous activity – until we have to get them to sit still. Even if we sometimes experience chaos in our lives as unpleasant, at other times we long for things to get interesting once again. Chaos brings many people to their astrologers. Our clients may experience their current life situations as overwhelming and unpleasant, or they may feel stuck and long to have things stirred up. Much of our work as consulting astrologers is to help people navigate life’s movements toward chaos, or the re-emergence of new order from chaos.