The Secret Life Of Chaos Review: Mind-Blowing Science

January 16, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

5Mandelbrot300THE SECRET LIFE OF CHAOS: Saturday 16th January, BB4, 8.30pm ALERT ME

If you were to ask someone on the street what chaos theory was, they’d probably mumble something about butterflies and tornadoes. But it’s not just a terrible disaster film starring Ashton Kutcher, but a real phenomenon which explains the very patterns and origins of the universe. Just try explaining that to the average man on the street.

Amazingly Professor Jim Al-Khalli (even though at first he seems like a spokesperson for a particularly pretentious phone company) succeeds in doing this. He’s a brilliant presenter: clear, thorough and engaging and the daunting science which he’s trying to explain is effortlessly meshed together with the stories of some of science’s greatest pioneers.

We’re told the tragic story of Alan Turing, one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived, who was instrumental in the breaking of the Enigma code during the war and whose work formed the basis for the modern computer. It was his work on mathematical biology which opened new doors for science.

It’s one of the 20th century’s greatest tragedies that Turing, instead of being rightly heralded as a hero, was persecuted for his homosexuality.

The programme contains so many insights into the ideas and the men behind them that it’s impossible to cram it all into this short space – the freaky beauty of Belousov’s oscillating reactions (a flask of fluid which continuously changes colour), the stunning complexity of Mandelbrot’s fractals (those patterns that were on a million t-shirts after Jurassic Park came out) and how these ideas indicate that the universe was created, not by God, but by mathematics.

We need more shows like this, ones which simple make you gawp at the sheer majesty and beauty of the world but also ones that crowbar your mind open and fill it with information.

Self-organisation is a mind-bogglingly tough subject to get your head around – that complicated patterns spontaneously emerge from the simplest of rules but thankfully Professor AK makes understanding it accessible, engaging and most importantly entertaining.