Edgeofchaos is not an edge and it’s not about chaos, and it’s not about order: World Problematique

Some people appear to misunderstand, says the arrogant author, that part of my work/thinking which they describe as being about ‘chaos’.

I feel moved to attempt, vainly*, to counter that misunderstanding. (*both senses)

It has to be said: I’m largely to blame for this misunderstanding.


My work is widely understood as being about chaos. It isn’t, it’s about the edgeofchaos.

Let’s say that we are talking about two things: order and chaos. Think of it like this: we have black and white, like a chessboard. We can see only black and white: is that a black square or a white square? Not sure.

We keep seeing squares which sort of look black and sometimes maybe look sort of white. Some of us aren’t too bothered by this, we take a quick look, decide whether a square is black or white and get on with our lives.

Until this Greek bloke, ex-follower of Aristotle,  pops up and starts eurekaring. There is another colour, he shouts! There’s loads of it about!  I’ve given it a name! I’m calling it ‘blackywhitishwhiteyblackish’. It’s not black! But it’s not white either! It’s sort of in-between. There aren’t just two shades, there are loads!

Weeks later his wife decides that blackywhitishwhiteyblackish is a stupid name. She decides to call it grey instead. She writes a book about the profound implications of her husband’s discovery: ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey Instead’.

He forms a band called ‘Aristotle’s Error’. They have a minor hit with a cover version of Steve Strange’s song ‘Fade To Grey’, which had been a number one hit for him and his band, Strange Attractor.

It’s not about chaos.
It’s not about order.
It’s not black and white.
It’s complicated.

To be precise: it’s complex.

This thing in between order and chaos is ‘neither one nor t’other’ it is a thing in its own right. You can call it the edgeofchaos or you can call it the edgeoforder or you can call it complexity.

The world is not black.
The world is not white.
The world is grey.

The world is not order.
The world is not chaos.
The world is many complex adaptive systems at the ‘edge of chaos’.
The world is complexity.

When things are really connected, that’s order.
When things are really disconnected that’s chaos.
In between is complexity.

It’s about the connections between things. In an NK network, it’s about the K not the N. Would that we could relabel them KN networks.



Waddington, C. H. (1977) (published posthumously). Tools for Thought. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.


When I wrote my little book ‘Navigating Complexity’ I had the immense ‘Tools for Thought’ as my lodestone:

” At the deeper level, we find that most aspects of life and its interactions with its surroundings are interconnected into complexes. No powerful action can be expected to have only one consequence, confined to the thing it was primarily directed at. It is almost bound to affect lots of other things as well […] We need nowadays to be able to think not just about simple processes but about complex systems… We have found ourselves faced by a series of problems- atomic warfare, the population explosion, the food problem, energy, natrural resources, pollution and so on- each complex enough in itself, but then it turns out that each of these is only one aspect of, as it were, a Total Problem, in which all aspects of the world’s workings are inter-related. This Total Problem is sometimes called the World Problematique.”

The world is not order.
The world is not chaos.
The world is complexity.


2 thoughts on “Edgeofchaos is not an edge and it’s not about chaos, and it’s not about order: World Problematique

  1. Great. Love the 50 Shades – gets one into the stream of things in a very useful ‘LTC’ way.

    I am just wondering in human environments that we attempt to get people to the edge of chaos to in a temporary fashion in order for them to connect their ideas into new emerging forms which then are a new complexity that they move forward with.

    The ‘edge of chaos’ is only, but a very necessary, staging post.

    Or could I put it this way perhaps:

    ‘Being’ -> Status quo is the current order/disorder
    ‘Becoming’ -> ‘Being’ -> ‘Edge of chaos’ is a necessary stage on the journey to the -> new complexity – a qualitatively different new ‘being’.

    Does this make any sense to you Arthur?

    • Yes, I pretty much agree with your thinking, although I disagree your expression of it. When deploying LTC, we need to be clear when we are LingTC and when we are stating a thing. As in, for example: edge of chaos is a scientific concept, wikipedia says, blah blah, followed by our choice of explicatory LTC, like 50 Shades.

      Your temporary fashion, is like, Lewin’s unfreezing, as is my use of EoC. Your being becoming thing is neat. Again, love the idea, dislike the frame you chou to express it within.

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