Theory of Chaos and Elections 2019

Newton’s laws of motion pushed philosophers to believe in a world which is deterministic, predictable and one that works with clockwork precision. Determinism is a philosophicaI belief that future events are predetermined based on the present day’s events or actions. After all, if the motions of faraway planets could be predicted using simple laws, why not our future on earth, ran the argument. It was only a century later a French mathematician Henry Poincaré stumbled upon a chance observation that the stability of our solar system cannot be predicted on a long-term basis. Ironically, this unfortunate scientist was penalised for this discovery instead of being rewarded. That’s an interesting story by itself which I will not dwell into in this post. However, it was left to two mathematicians of 1960s and 70s Lorenz & May to explain the theory of Chaos in all its dimensions.

Lorenz who graduated from MIT coined a beautiful expression Butterfly effect to drive home his theory. Working for a meteorological department in the US, he discovered his famous Theory of Chaos. In a sense he stumbled upon the discovery. He ran a few computer programs on weather patterns and happened to take a long break. When he came back, he reran the same program with minor changes in inputs. This was an unintended mistake. Instead of correcting the inputs, he went ahead with the program thinking that the changes in the inputs were after all very minor. But to his utter surprise those small changes made a huge difference to the final outcome on the long-term weather behaviour. In a famous research paper titled, Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas, published in the prestigious journal Nature, he talks about how even minute and insignificant changes in the initial conditions like wind velocity or moisture in air can make a huge impact on long-term predictability of weather. An important implication of the theory of Chaos is that future events are almost impossible to predict given our inability to measure initial conditions with a degree of precision demanded by the theory of Chaos.

With this background, let us consider the predictions of pundits on the results of the upcoming elections. The theory of Chaos which applies to natural processes like weather or solar system should be equally applicable to human beings and their institutions.  In the case of human beings, one has to additionally contend with complex human behaviour, their emotions, impulses etc. With all the advances in behavioural sciences, we are still far away from understanding or predicting human behaviour.

Look at the number of questions being asked: will the Pulwama attack and our retaliation neutralise all the negatives of Modi government – the job crisis, slowdown of GDP, demonetization and it’s aftermath, intolerance of minorities etc. Then, of course, you have the neutralizing effect of a magician in the name of Arun Jaitely who can pull a rabbit out of a hat! He can explain away any negative with logic and finesse.The question is how many voters will fall for this rhetoric.

With all these uncertain factors and the theory of Chaos operating, if anyone ventures to predict the election outcome, he is living in a fool’s paradise. But the, the news papers have to sell too. Under pressure of competition, they need to come up with alternative stories for the consumption of gullible people like us. As they say, a sucker is born every minute!

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Published in: on March 17, 2019 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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