Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Many people are coming to believe that the world is filled with chaos and catastrophe. We're not referring to war, famine, hurricanes, and earthquakes here, but to two sets of ideas in scientific thought. In this chapter and the next we explore these ideas as they bear on self-regulation. Both chaos theory (or dynamic systems theory) and catastrophe theory have implications for behavioral self-regulation. Our treatment here isn't technical, and implications go well beyond the points made here (see Beer, 1995; Kelso, 1995; Nowak & Vallacher, in press; Port & van Gelder, 1995; Smith & Thelen, 1993; Thelen & Smith, 1994; Vallacher & Nowak, 1994; van Geert, 1994). However, even this brief treatment suggests points of contact between these ideas and those in earlier chapters (see also Vallacher & Nowak, 1997, and the commentaries that follow it).
Chaos theory, or dynamic systems theory, has been heralded as a new science by some (Gleick, 1987) and regarded more skeptically by others. Several introductions to it are available (e.g., Alligood, Sauer, & Yorke, 1997; Barton, 1994; Brown, 1995; Field & Golubitsky, 1992; Gleick, 1987; Ruelle, 1991; Stewart, 1990; Thelen & Smith, 1994; Vallacher & Nowak, 1994, 1997; Waldrop, 1992). Rather than present a complete overview, we describe several focal themes, then indicate places where we think these themes apply to subjects of our interest.