MLAP 31500

Natural Sciences Elective


Order and Chaos in the Natural World


Spring Quarter 2014


Writing Assignment I

Due May 6, 2014


The first writing assignment of the course is to review the introductory chapters of Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick, The Essence of Chaos, by Edward N. Lorenz, and Does God Play Dice? by Ian Stewart.  Please limit the scope of your review to the assigned readings for the first two meetings of the class.  Compare and contrast the ways in which these authors introduce the phenomenon of chaotic behavior in dynamical systems to a lay reader.  Analyze the authorsŐ presentations of the subject and formulate (or adopt) a definition or a description of chaos that is general enough to capture the essence of the concept consistently with all three presentations.


Each author introduces chaotic behavior by describing at least one example of a dynamical system in which chaos occurs.  Each then goes on, to some extent, to a more systematic account of the technical concept of chaos.  Each author tries to fit the subject into a larger scientific, historical, and philosophical context.  In comparing and contrasting the three accounts, one may ask if the formulations of the larger issues and the presentations of the more technical issues are mutually consistent or, at least, complementary.  Do the authors agree sufficiently, notwithstanding obvious differences in their professional backgrounds and in their approaches ot the subject, that one might infer from their introductory chapters that chaotic behavior is a universal phenomenon?


Write your review for a reader who is familiar with the three texts and, in particular with the scientific concepts and nomenclature that are presented there.  Make use of technical nomenclature consistently with the usage in the three texts.  Omit explanations and definitions of terms and ideas that would be known to readers of these text except where detailed explanations or definitions might be essential to an emphasis of particularly important points in the your review.


Papers will be evaluated with respect to the following five equally weighted categories.


ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES:  The review should characterize and contrast the three introductions to chaos in terms of the professional backgrounds of the authors, the choices of the illustrative examples with which the authors introduce chaotic phenomena, and the intellectual or disciplinary frameworks that the authors adopt in their presentations of the subject.


ANALYSIS:  The review should describe highlights of the line of argument, reasoning, or interpretation with which each author leads the reader from specific manifestations of chaotic behavior in the examples presented to a general, possibly universal formulation of the concept of chaos.


SCIENTIFIC IMPACT:  The review should describe the authorsŐ portrayal of the scientific, historical, and philosophical significance of the development of the subject during the second half of the twentieth century.  To what extent do the authors agree that the study of chaotic behavior in dynamical systems has had an innovative, possibly revolutionary impact on science?


NOMENCLATURE:  The review should make use of technical terms and refer to scientific principles consistently with the technical and scientific usage adopted by the authors.


CONCEPT OF CHAOTIC BEHAVIOR:  The review should arrive at a definition or description of chaos that makes precise use of the nomenclature introduced by the authors.


The paper should be relatively brief; a length of the order of 2000-3500 words would be a reasonable target.  (That would be about 5-7 pages, single-spaced, in a 12 pt Times font.)







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