Chaos and Open Space

Meg Salter meg.salter at
Sun Feb 4 07:24:24 PST 2001

Another version of the story - Buddhist - is the constant intertwining of the formless state - the ultimate emptiness/ void , which then manifests as radiant energy, and then ultimately as form. Constant movement/ dance. And where we rest/ how the form manifest is pretty much determined by our intent and depth of personal practice. - which leads us to the preparation of the facilitator for Open Space.......!

Meg Salter
MegaSpace Consulting
meg.salter at

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Harrison Owen 
  Sent: Friday, February 02, 2001 9:18 AM
  Subject: Chaos and Open Space

  This conversation is wonderful, but I fear it may have become rather tangled... so I have pulled it out and offer a "clean sheet of paper...

  Harrison wrote:

  And by way of definition, chaos is the absence of meaning and lack of 
  predictability -- in short it is absolutely nothing.

  Christoph wrote:

  Well, yes and no. 
  Actually there are two kinds of chaos: Predictable and non-predictable. The 
  latter being pure noise, nothing. The mathematical branch of chaos theory 
  deals with the former: With chaos that can be described, defined, predicted 
  in some way. With "ordered chaos" so to say. 
  You may observe those 'strange attractors', a set of states the system can 
  be in or reach. You cannot predict which state leads to which next, the 
  transitions are chaotic and non-predictable. The famous butterfly in China 
  may be the trigger for a tornado in the Caribic - or the trigger for the 
  absence of that tornado. But what you can predict is that the system's 
  state will always be one out of this set of allowed states. You will never 
  find the system in a state outside of this set. This is predictable. And 
  you may very well be able to make statistical assumptions or observations 
  leading to predictable probabilities. In the simple example of a system 
  with two distinct attractors you may be able to predict that chances to 
  reach each one of them are 50:50, or 20:80, or whatever (my values are 
  arbitrary). -
  Having said that - In discussing this subject it may help to distinguish 
  between those two kinds of chaos and say which one we are talking about.
  I start: Usually I am talking about the 'predictable' chaos, the subject of 
  chaos theory.
  Hope this can improve mutual understanding.

  Harrison writes:

  What you say here certainly reflects a lot of the conversation among Chaos Theorists. But from my point of view, the issue and confusion derives from a lack of clarity and precision on their part. In the first place, I think "Chaos Theory" is a fundamental misnomer. The core notion is not so much about chaos, as the contribution of chaos to the on-going process of system evolution -- which in our case is life. Perhaps we should blame it on the Press for whom chaos is always news, whereas order is not -- ergo Chaos Theory. But whatever. 

  Another piece of this is the history of the notion of chaos. And chaos, for sure was not the invention, discovery, or creation of the Chaos Theorists. Just by way of example, chaos (usually described in mythical terms) is a major player in Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. Tiamat in the Babylonian Creation Epic comes to mind. The Hebrews put it right up front. In the opening lines of Genesis we find -- "In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the earth and the earth was without form and void (tohu w' bohu) -- no meaning no predictability -- CHAOS! So at least 3000 years ago, folks were noodling on the subject. And their noodling generally took the form of a polarity -- chaos AND order. The sacred stories describe the emergence of all that is in the midst of a dance between chaos and cosmos. Shiva, over in the Hindi world, has been doing that dance for eons.

  Does all this esoterica make it "true?" Who knows, but I would just point out that there is a clarity of thinking and long historical precedent in this material, which seems to carry on very nicely over the next millennia -- until we run into the Chaos Theorists. 

  Anyhow -- for me Chaos is  the absence of meaning, form, and predictability -- in short an open space in which  new life may manifest, on its way to order. But that journey is never done as long as life is living and the dance goes on.

  And for Open Space? My interpretation would be that we start with nothing -- no meaning, no structure, a void. All the folks are sitting at the edge of chaos. And the experience is -- that from the void, new life erupts. Of course this is just a story, but a useful one I think, as we engage our role as facilitators. We need to understand the high stakes game under way as first we, and then the participants, jump into the void.  It is in this context that our own, personal preparation becomes critical. At least that is a story.


  Harrison Owen
  7808 River Falls Drive
  Potomac, MD 20854 USA
  phone 301-469-9269
  fax 301-983-9314
  Open Space Training 
  Open Space Institute
  Personal website

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