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Can you define chaos in logical terms?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/19/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,475 times Debate No: 34886
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (10)
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I speak of the concept by a modification of the definition that Hesiod and the Pre-Socratics used in their mythology—a void from whence the gods and their powers emerged. This would not be an abyss of nothingness, nor would it be a battleground of conflicting forces, as modern definitions of chaos so deem; for the Greeks, chaos was the state that exists prior to form. One may think of it like a blank blackboard that never ends. It is only when the board is fragmented—when lines are drawn—that form begins. Until that point, however, the board is not a state of order; there are no lines that define it. It would not be something, nor would it be nothing, for those concepts are definitions of themselves. Chaos would be infinite; any confined chaos is not true chaos. As we know it, true chaos would be an otherworldly and incomprehensible abstraction of form.

Order, on the other hand, is the fragmentation of form. It is discovered when a system is broken down into cohesive parts. Contrary to most people I have met, I do not define order as a system. That is simply the effect of order in motion. The most basic form of order is a structure with distinct definitions, but order can also take form in numerical calculation and cause-and-effect thinking.

These are my understandings of the words according to Greek cosmogony. Almost 25 centuries later, ideas were revealed by psychoanalysts to be mere expressions of needs and desire. Chaos became forgotten as order came to known in its fragmented, contradictory state—the law of natural selection. But these ancient concepts still apply to the human condition. Long ago, this application was prominently explored by Protagoras, one of Plato’s students, who rejected cosmogony in preference of reason, which, according to Platonic thought, acted as a mediator between abstract concepts. According to Protagoras, man, via the power of reason, could become “the measure of all things.”

Plato and his disciple were wrong in their conclusions; man is the abstraction of all things. He achieves an abstract state of mind by abolishing reason, thereby comprehending the world in its entirety and not in “digestible parts.” It is generally agreed upon that by achieving the awareness of infinity, man achieves a higher consciousness. I add that this consciousness, by understanding infinity as an abstract concept, would have the capacity to understand chaos. Until reason and order are discarded, however, modern man is incapable of understanding what true chaos is.



Chaos in my opinion only has one logical definition: there is none. Chaos is a feeling, how something looks or is an unexpected event throwing the planned parts off balance. When things are all over the place, there is no order or organization, it's just there. The feeling of chaos is when you have all of your emotions overwhelming you or something is not going right that causes the feeling. As for the planned parts of plans, when a little detail is missed, and it shows up, them the people become confused and try to do what they think is best, depending on the situation, and the plan falls apart, creating disorder and chaos. The Ancient People of the earliest civilizations believed that Gods of what ever they believed in caused disasters and sickness because of something that some one did as punishment throwing the balance of peace into the direction of chaos where people were frantic to try to make amends. Their lives were lived in fear until good fortune returned, even though they had no idea that it was only natural occurances in weather and new diseases had found their way to their homes by foreign travelers, their ships and the animals with them.
Debate Round No. 1



First, allow me to thank you for joining me in my first online debate.

I feel that we are discussing two different types of chaos—and that the commentators are confused by my admittedly poorly written introduction to this topic. Your claim is that “chaos is a feeling.” Using that definition, your logic is sound, but I am afraid that we are discussing two different definitions of the word. To prevent going around in circles, let us establish a coherent topic of debate.

As I have tried to say (albeit somewhat successfully), chaos is not a literal force. It is not an emotional response to external conditions. Rather, it is the condition itself—or lack thereof. I speak of the Greek interpretation of chaos—the void from whence all things came. Please look below at this quote from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Meaning "utter confusion" (c.1600) is extended from theological use of chaos for "the void at the beginning of creation" in Vulgate version of Genesis (1530s in English). The Greek for "disorder" was tarakhe, however the use of chaos here was rooted in Hesiod ("Theogony"), who describes khaos as the primeval emptiness of the Universe, begetter of Erebus and Nyx ("Night"), and in Ovid ("Metamorphoses"), who opposes Khaos to Kosmos, "the ordered Universe." Meaning "orderless confusion" in human affairs is from c.1600. Chaos theory in the modern mathematical sense is attested from c.1977.

(Please let the record state that I am not saying that one cannot define chaos in logical terms. I have not been able to do so for myself and am open to any successes in that arena. I would even be open to coherent religious arguments, so long as they are coherent and in reference to the Greek understanding of the word.)

You say that chaos is a feeling. I say that one does not “feel chaos”; one feels confusion. Confusion is a state I would define as merely incomplete knowledge—that is, an order that is only partially seen. Going with my blackboard argument, it would be like a scribbling. There would still be “a method to the madness”—a subjective order. Chaos would be the blank slate, the space from which shapes and order could spring forth.

To bring this into sociopolitical terms, I would assert that Syria, for example, is not in chaos. Although we cannot see it, there is still a coherency to the violence. Survival-of-the-fittest, the Arab Spring—these are merely the effects of rage and hunger. In other words, there is a cause and an effect. There is still order.

Hopefully the topic and parameters of conversation have been made clear now. I look forward to your response.



First, I am glad to be the first to debate you. Now about the debate, I think you and I are on different terms of chaos, I understand your point quite clearly as well, it's just to me, chaos is a feeling or emotional state. Confusion is a state when you don't have knowledge on a certain point, however when a large group of people have no idea what they are doing, it leads to widespread confusion and disorder, thus causing a huge disorganized mass that leads to chaos. We as humans have so many complications, one being our emotions, if we don't know how to do something or are feeling too many things at once, it leads to our emotional state being in chaos. This is a logical way to explain it because not everything needs a scientific explanation, some things just require looking at it, then explain with your point of view, or however you see it.
Debate Round No. 2


On that point, I would have to respectfully disagree with you. Please do not think that I am not looking for a good definition; I am, indeed, not without misunderstanding on the subject. However, my question essentially concerns a very specific point. Can chaos, as defined by the Greeks, truly be understood, either inside or outside of scientific explanations? In my opinion, it is impossible because to apply definition to chaos is to rob the force of its chaotic nature. It is applying a box where a box is not meant to be applied. If something can be defined, it has inherently obtained form and congruency; in other words, it exists within the boundaries of form, either objective (gravitational systems) or subjective (systems of morality or language). Therefore I define chaos as an abstraction--an existence freed from form.

However, I am perfectly open to a more refined definition. If you can logically explain to me how something without form--chaos as understood by the Greeks--can still be defined, then I will have learned a great lesson in my own philosophy.

In regards to your ideas about feelings, it is my opinion that feelings have a coherency of their own. In other words, they are a subjective order. A mother feels angry because her husband has abandoned her and her child. A grandson mourns because his grandparents have passed away. There is a causal (albeit unconsistent) relationship between stimuli and response. Feelings may betray other systems of logic, but that does not mean that there is not a certain logic.


You make a very good point and I respect your opinion. Chaos however is one of the things that can be tricky to describe because there are many ways for it to be described. Logically speaking when something has multiple definitions, there is no true form which it can obtain because of its diverse level of which it is being described and depending on the person's point of view. To me, the definition the Greeks used had to do with the emotional state of things and just as well as the natural disasters they attributed to the gods of their society. To simply answer your question, there are logical explanations about chaos, but they remain chaotic in their own way because they don't match to any definition other than their own. Emotional states as I've said are also chaotic due to their complicated nature.
Debate Round No. 3


I respect your opinion as well. I agree that chaos is tricky to describe, considering the many variations of the definition there have been over the years. In fact, there have been so many variations and elaborations on the definition that, when put together, they become seemingly incoherent. Where once it referred to existence prior to the cosmos (the ordered universe), the term often now refers to a lack of order in human affairs.

The common thread in these definitions is that chaos is a lack of order. That, I believe, allows us to achieve a more coherent definition of chaos by defining its opposite, which is order. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

early 13c., "body of persons living under a religious discipline," from Old French ordre "position, estate; rule, regulation; religious order" (11c.), from earlier ordene, from Latin ordinem (nominative ordo) "row, rank, series, arrangement," originally "a row of threads in a loom," from Italic root *ord- "to arrange, arrangement" (cf. ordiri "to begin to weave," e.g. in primordial), of unknown origin.

Meaning "a rank in the (secular) community" is first recorded c.1300; meaning "command, directive" is first recorded 1540s, from the notion of "to keep in order." Military and honorary orders grew our of the fraternities of Crusader knights. Business and commerce sense is attested from 1837. In natural history, as a classification of living things, it is first recorded 1760. Meaning "condition of a community which is under the rule of law" is from late 15c.

Phrase in order to (1650s) preserves etymological notion of "sequence." The word reflects a medieval notion: "a system of parts subject to certain uniform, established ranks or proportions," and was used of everything from architecture to angels. Old English expressed many of the same ideas with endebyrdnes. In short order "without delay" is from 1834, American English; order of battle is from 1769.

Once again, this definition has been through many variations and reinterpretations. However, I believe that order can generally be defined in its strictest sense as an artificial collection of connected parts. For example, human beings impose order on nature by gathering species into groups (the animal kingdom) based on those species' traits. To be concise, the prerequisites for order are the parts to be organized (e.g., different species) and the human being with the conscious intellect ready to organize these parts. Analysis--arguably one of man's greatest expressions of ordering the universe--is defined in the Online Etymology Dictionary as follows:

1580s, "resolution of anything complex into simple elements" (opposite of synthesis), from Medieval Latin analysis (15c.), from Greek analysis "a breaking up, a loosening, releasing," noun of action from analyein "unloose, release, set free; to loose a ship from its moorings," in Aristotle, "to analyze," from ana "up, throughout" (see ana-) + lysis "a loosening," from lyein "to unfasten" (see lose). Psychological sense is from 1890. Phrase in the final (or last) analysis (1844), translates French en dernière analyse.

To reiterate one of the points on my previous post, order is the fragmentation of form, or the breakdown of an otherwise inherent reality into coherent familiarities. It is quite natural--and even mandatory--that conscious beings such as humans break down reality into these familiarities. Indeed, that is why I believe that man can only understand the world in orderly terms.

This leads me to my penultimate point: that any composition of parts in inherently the prerequisite for order and will be understood as a body of order rather than chaos. Therefore, we may call the collapse of civilization "chaos," but truly it is the simplification of order or the contradiction of the orderly parts. This is not chaos; chaos is the absense of order. Therefore, there must be no parts from which one may derive the concept of order. Analysis must be made impossible for there to be true chaos. As I have said, chaos even transcends the question of existence versus non-existence, because that, in itself, is subject to analysis. Everything we say about chaos is an approximation precisely because to give it analysis is to rob it of its chaotic nature. The only way to truly understand chaos--and thus for chaos to exist--is by abstraction. And by abstraction, I mean the 17th century definition: "an idea of something that has no actual existence." By removing chaos from mathematical logic and any attempt at analytical understanding in the first place, I believe that we may come to understand chaos but not define it, for to define, as the Romans said, is to limit.

However, my good opponent, I am very curious to know how you would define chaos. So far, it seems to me that you have merely explained the circumstances as "when you have all of your emotions overwhelming you or something is not going right." You said it was a feeling, but I am curious for your elaboration on "the thing of itself." Can you please define chaos for me rather than explain its circumstance. I look forward to your response.

By the way, I, too, find you to be a great opponent and this debate to be very invigorating.


You make very good points in your arguments, you asked me how I would explain chaos and here it is. To me, chaos is something that you are a part of, take a riot for example, reasons for them can be put in terms, but most of the time there is no or little order, it is a group of people who feel strongly about things and decide to take matters in their own hands, thus causing disorder and the byproduct chaos, as things at riots, protests or anything else similar to them because events can cause something peaceful into a tailspin. Chaos in my definition is a part of nature and can be logically explained. You can see chaos in nature by a tornado, wildfires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, human nature also shows a logically definition of chaos due to how quickly our emotions can change and how it can feel to have them all over the place. Chaos also is seen in literature and movies, the writers and directors focusing strongly on the characters of the book or movie's emotions and struggles in their adventures. Chaos has a big impact on life as we know it, the upside about defining this is that no matter what definition you use you are right because that is only one of the many ways to describe it, chaos can also be used in another term like someone saying they like chaos could mean they like to stir things up, add a little spice to life by creating disorder which is a subtitle to chaos, we see chaos everywhere, sometimes we just don't see it, chaos also doesn't always have to include violence, it could be simply to describe something in disarray or out of place, like a painting, some artists may splash paint all over the canvas or draw and paint things that have no coherent connection to anything, they capture the meaning of chaos by doing these things. This is how I see chaos, I wonder how so you see it, I can understand what you're saying, but I would like you to clarify so there is no misunderstanding, I look forward to hearing your response and this debate is quite interesting isn't it?
Debate Round No. 4


Yes, this debate is very interesting. I do enjoy conversing with you. Thank you for defining your idea of chaos for me.

First, allow me to say that I believe chaos has been misunderstood by the general populace. I hear many say that Syria, for instance, is in complete chaos. However, in my opinion, a statement like that represents a serious misunderstanding of the term. Syria is not in chaos; Syria is in a state of contradictory order--that is, its people have clear causes for their actions, but the culmination of these causes results in severe disorder. Despite that disorder, the fact that the uprising of rebels can be broken down into the cause of economic fairness implies that there is a certain coherency to the revolution. Economic oppression plus factors A, B, and C equals revolution (not always the case objectively, but it would be certain if we knew a rebel's subjective reasons for rebelling). In fact, I believe that this is always true of "chaos" in the political sense. It is the trend of civilization that nations fall; when they fall, they fall for reasons, either objective and specific or general and subjective. Rome did not "fall into chaos"; it was divided into the Byzantine Empire, the Church, and Germanic kingdoms that were always in conflict with each other but were still orderly in themselves. No matter the potential of a civilization to fall into war, its people, by human nature, do not have the capacity to partake in complete, true chaos.

I realize that there is a scientific understanding of chaos at the subatomic level, but I do not know enough about physics to knowingly debate that point.

When I speak of chaos, I am defining it by approximation. In this case, the approximation is a fundamental definition known to the Greeks--that is, a void. Considering that the ancient concept of a void must be very different from ours, I will offer a similar concept: before Creation, before light was separated from dark. I am not trying to bring religious arguments into this; I am merely trying to define chaos with a common notion.

That being said, I do not believe that chaos can exist within this universe. The Greeks thought of chaos as the opposite of the cosmos. In the cosmos, it is granted that there are forms that seem out of our comprehension--one may see this in a cloud, which has a seemingly unknowable and inexplicable shape. But as we all know, many people impose their subjective order upon a cloud and upon many other facets of life, including life itself. For there to be chaos, there could be no order, objective or subjective. Yet it is human nature to explain everything in the cosmos, giving things and forms the appearence of a composition of recognizable and geometric shapes. This shape does not have to be physical; it can be chronological. The point is, all people, knowingly or unknowingly, recognize things as forms broken down, or analyzed, into their respective, orderly categories. This is not a phenomenon; this is the necessary component of a knowing, conscious being.

I cannot define chaos because it would have to be outside of the human realm of recognition. I can, however, speculate about the preliminary necessities for there to be chaos. For instance, it would have to be infinite. Otherwise, there would have to be a body of order and an opposing body of chaos. To put it in Judeo-Christian terms, the light cannot be separated from the dark if there is to be chaos, for distinction is the first principle of order.

I look forward to reading your concluding argument.



I have also enjoyed this debate very much. I do agree with you that our brains do recognize shapes and patterns whether we know it or not as that is how the human brain functions and that it is in human nature to give things shapes or forms, however chaos can be defined, majority of the time when we say it's in chaos is either an event occurring at school, work or even at home, accidents are often called the scene of chaos due to the scramble to get things in order so there is no confusion, just as well chaos could very well mean that there is just a void, nothing there, though some would argue that events such as the French and American Revolutions were chaotic events as both were for freedom, but yet had to go through wars to happen, which caused chaos due to the disorder society felt before, during and after, one from a strict class system and government, the other from the government and strict trade laws. It really just depends on how you look at it and how you define something like this. My definition is different from yours, but it could easily be right as could mine because of how interchangeable it can be, which concludes my argument about chaos, it doesn't have one definition, it has many giving it neither a permeant shape or form due to how someone can easily change the definition, isn't that true chaos, when something is so diverse that it can't ever accomplish a true form or shape, no matter how hard we try to do so?
Debate Round No. 5
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by spitzka.christopher 5 years ago
I admit that I was not really trying to make any point of assertion. I suppose I proposed this question in order to question my own views. It was and honestly continues to be my belief that chaos cannot ever exist in the rational, human perspective of an ordered world. Having given the subject much thought, I felt that chaos, paradoxically, could not be defined without definition giving a form and a consistency that represents the most basic form of order.

I was not trying to prove my point so much as I was trying to challenge both my beliefs and others' beliefs.
Posted by Ps346 5 years ago
"What point are you trying to raise by putting forth this question?"

I would also appreciate an answer to this question (asked by the previous poster).

Posted by prunesquallor 5 years ago
It is an unreasonable question. Logic is but a language derived from certain premises- axioms. Different axioms are fundamental to different schools of logic- yet they remain constant for their respective systems of logic. Chaos is naturally contrary to constancy and cannot be described in a language not meant for it. Whether or not Chaos can be described in any language at all, is an altogether different matter of debate. There exist mathematical models of perfect chaos, but they are completely abstract. What point are you trying to raise by putting forth this question?
Posted by elvroin_vonn_trazem 5 years ago
If I Recall Correctly, there is a Scientific Definition of "chaos". It is related to the limits of "predictability". For example, we can forecast the weather pretty accurately for a few days, but after that, more and more error creeps into the predictions (because we need more "initial conditions" data than our forecasting computers can yet handle). Chaos might be called "the essence of our inability to predict stuff".
Posted by Ps346 5 years ago
"As we know it, true chaos would be an otherworldly and incomprehensible abstraction of form."

But form is itself an abstraction. In what sense is chaos an "abstraction of form"? How is this even meaningful?

"Order, on the other hand, is the fragmentation of form."

But form is itself orderly. In what sense is order an "abstraction of form"? Once again, how is this even meaningful?

"Man is the abstraction of all things."

But man is himself a thing (albeit a very complex and "high level" thing). In what sense is he the "abstraction of all things." Once again, how is this even meaningful?

"Until reason and order are discarded, . . . "

Are you advocating for such a state as this? Why then take part in reasoned, orderly debate? :-)
Posted by ShadowWolf77 5 years ago
I can say that this is quite an enjoyable debate and that you clearly state you points and are a good opponent.
Posted by spitzka.christopher 5 years ago
Sorry, fellas. This is the first debate I have done on this site. Please forgive me for using overkill font size.
Posted by drafterman 5 years ago
This is easy:

1. O is the set of all things ordered.
2. p is chaotic if it is not in O.

Posted by Ragnar 5 years ago
The bold oversized font is overkill.
Posted by bladerunner060 5 years ago
If you'd like to post an opinion there's a whole section for that...if this is a debate, what are the terms? Is ONLY primordial Chaos (which is utterly different from modern use of the word) under consideration?
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