The Strange Attractor

We all have past lives and stories, experiences, and moments that mark those lives. One thing that might emerge from that milieu is a life-long curiosity about a certain topic. One such enduring curiosity for me is mathematical chaos. I keep coming back to the idea. It certainly shows up enough in posts – for example, “Your phone and chaos.” There are others. If you are curious too, use the “search box” on this blog to explore.

In the mathematical field of dynamical systems, an attractor is a set of states toward which a system tends to evolve for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. An attractor is called “strange” if it has a fractal structure. This is often the case when the dynamics are chaotic (there is that chaos thing again!). If a strange attractor is chaotic, that is, exhibiting sensitive dependence on initial conditions, in time the system may seem locally unstable but is globally stable.

The readings for today’s Mass led me to think about chaos. In Isaiah’s time, the times were chaotic, with Jerusalem facing powerful enemies, doom looming outside the gates, and yet there is this strangely attractive prophetic voice which holds up a vision of the great banquet to come. Isaiah proclaims: “The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” He points to this “strange attractor” of the promise of rescue, of Hope – that even though things seem locally unstable, there is universal stability if one will only hope in the Lord.

Isaiah points not only to the banquet, but to our Eucharist foreshadowed in the multiplication of the fish and loaves described in the gospel. But Isaiah also points to the host of the banquet, the one in whom we are to hope. The “strange attractor” that is Jesus. The one who is the foundation, the cornerstone, the universal point of stability, of hope in a chaotic world.

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