Thursday, January 15, 2004

Multiple Attractors Are Possible - In Chaos, Climate, And Warfare

It's not every day that I am researching (googling) a topic, in this case the intersection of complexity theory and national security strategy, and not only find what I'm looking for, but also synchronicitously find further explanation of a prior topic, in this case the nonlinear dynamics of climate change.

I love Google.
Multiple attractors are possible in a chaotic system. This statement means that chaotic systems can have multiple quasi-stable states. The earth's climate is a good example of this sort of behavior. Our current climate appears to be relatively stable. There is some variation in the climate, but it falls within a general range for a number of years. On the other hand, we know that the earth's climate was significantly different during the ice ages, when it fell within a very different range for a long period. Our current climate and the ice age climate are both quasi-stable states for the earth's climate. The causes of changing climates for an ice age are still not understood and might be quite insignificant, which further highlights the nonlinearity of chaotic systems.

In an analogous fashion, armed forces can drastically change their organization and means of fighting a war. The People's War of Mao Tse-tung is an example of this. Mao divided the phases of war into different stages. In some stages, his army fought a guerrilla war as small units. Only later, when conditions were right (i.e., the opposing armies had been sufficiently weakened), did he combine his units into a conventional force. If warfare is chaotic, then chaos theory warns us that enemy systems can exist in different states. The implications are that we must be aware of these possible states and, if necessary, be capable of changing our own system's state to counter the enemy strategy. Chaos theory also warns us that the transition from one state to another can be very fast.