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Chaos Glossary
Dippy Bird Data
Dippy Bird and the Carnot Cycle
Dippy Bird 6 MB Movie
Physics of the Dippy Bird (B. Houghton's expired web site)
Glossary of Chaos Terms

(Systems that exhibit deterministic and non-deterministic behaviors. For instance you can count the small dips between the big reset dips where fluid is exchanged: but you can only forecast, not predict, the number of small dips between resets because they will vary... Look at the data link above to see how complex the dipping behavior really is. In other words, you know the bird will dip, but not exactly when.)

Alphabetical List of Terms



chemical action

dissipative structures

entropy: order and disorder


feedback: positive, negative


heat engines/Carnot
heat engine

inequivalency or equivalency
initial conditions


mechanical action

non-equilibrium behaviors

open systems
order & disorder

period doubling


stable & unstable
system history & irreversibility

thermal action

thermodynamic laws

Relational and Hierarchical List of Terms
An asterisk (*) indicates foundation importance.

adiabatic (general definition) a system behaving without loss or gain of heat. The dippy bird is sensitive to heat inputs from its environment. At equilibrium, it can "die" or quit moving in either of two ways. First, if it dips too often (runaway wetness or positive feedback as in the wetter it gets, the wetter it gets is really the unbalancing of its Center of Mass by the mass of water that collects on the fuzzy head) it will stop "face down" in the water. Second, if it does not dip often enough (dries out and cannot maintain a working difference in temperature between the bottom and top) it stops vertically. (Thermodynamics is the field of physics that studies the properties of systems that have a temperature and involve the flow of energy from one place to another.)

farthing a former British bronze coin worth a quarter of a penny

*system (general definition) A system is composed of components and relations among those components. Components are usually solid entities (such as a rock, a resistor or a species). They may also be ideas or abstract concepts. Relations are usually behaviors or other connections.

*pattern (mathematical definition) A pattern may be motifs, designs, templates, regularity of connections/disconnections or behaviors recurring in a more or less systematic manner (note the multilevel character of this definition as "a pattern placed within another pattern"). The concept of inequivalency/equivalency is defined in terms of pattern for the purposes of this glossary. The degree of pattern match which will be tolerated is part of the quixotic nature of systems: enzyme/substrate pairs have different capacities to be "fooled" than species substitutes in ecosystems. A square peg should not fit in a round hole: mathematical inequivalency and computational equivalency (and complexity) have different definitions.

*level position, placement in a system.

*complexity Genuine rather than perceived inequivalency.

*simplicity Equivalency, matching of a pattern, logical sequence, or cause and effect relations.

*complication Variations on a theme, motif or template; includes relationships, components and behaviors in a system.

*heat engines & Sadi Carnot
chemical/thermal/mechanical action Fire transforms matter; fire leads to chemical reactions, to burn and to release heat. Heat may lead to an increase in volume (and its loss may lead to a decrease in volume)---combustion produces work if coupled in such a way as to allow volume and pressure changes in a system to be converted to energy of motion. Oscillating systems (example: patterned changes in volume) link three important actions. Heat engines are the technological innovation on which industrial society was founded. Then came the microchip and the possibility of artificial systems with memory as pattern at the atomic and molecular levels …

Thermal Action: a certain amount of heat may be given to or removed from a system, or the system itself may be brought to a given temperature through heat exchange

Chemical Action and Enthalpy: a flux of reactants and reaction products; the making and breaking of chemical bonds involves heat and thus chemists talk about enthalpy or heat content (delta H). A chemical reaction is a complex system where the atomic components of molecules are rearranged by breaking of chemical bonds (a process given a plus sign) to form new bonds (a process given a negative sign). Thus in any reaction an accounting of the bonds broken and formed will reveal whether it absorbs heat (endothermic reaction) or gives off heat (exothermic reaction).

There is an unannounced change in a special meaning of the symbols (+ and -) used here: they do not mean mathematical operations, even though they may be used in a heat accounting scheme which employs addition and subtraction (confusing, but that's life). Instead, what is being compared is the aggregate of the energy involved in the breaking of bonds of the reactants (positive sign) and the aggregate energy in the bonds formed in the products (negative sign): if the negatively signed aggregate from products is less than the positively signed aggregate from reactants, the overall reaction is endothermic and the reverse results in an exothermic reaction.

The overall reaction of CH4 (methane) + 2 O2 (oxygen) ---> CO2 (carbon dioxide) + 2 H2O (water) has a change in heat content of delta H = -182 k cal/mole and is exothermic. Note that the components of this reaction, Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen, are rearranged on either side of the reaction arrow as though a watch had been disassembled and then reassembled with new relationships among its components into a different watch with no parts left over! Methane is "natural gas" and its chemical reaction yields heat which leads to volume or phase changes in a fluid, which can be connected to pistons or turbines to convert chemically produced heat to mechanical action (see first paragraph on chemical-thermal-mechanical action)

Mechanical Action: an action or "engine" which yields work from the potential energy it receives from the environment; both cause and effect are of the same nature (ideally equivalent or simple). The idea of "conversion" means that something is quantitatively retained while it is qualitatively changed (total energy is conserved while potential energy is changed to kinetic energy).

Heat engine: inherently complex in a brain-bending sort of way: that is, it involves not only transmission of movement (as takes place in a series of falling dominoes) but also transformation of the system's mechanical properties of temperature, pressure and volume---a transformation which itself produces motion. To continue operation, the motion must be brought back to its initial state (reset) by another compensatory process. A system with mutually compensating processes is said to be coupled or connected.

"Energy": as defined by Joule, an equivalency for physical-chemical transformation: the mechanical work required to raise the temperature of a given quantity of water by one degree.

*chaos uncertain order: the shifts from order to disorder are regular but not predictable (they are, however, forecastable). Lately, chaotic or complex dynamical systems such as weather (short term) or climate (long term) are being modeled by computer and are said to be "conforming or not conforming to the model."

*order/disorder The concept which concerns the disorderliness of system structure is entropy. Entropy is the condition eventually reached by isolated or "closed" systems. However, complex systems are "open" or connected to external energy flows or forces. Ordered structures (cold temperatures, weak entropy or "feeble disorder") atoms or molecules in arrays such as crystals are constrained by interactions with neighboring molecules or atoms (biological membranes may be considered to be complex quasi-crystals)

"Dis"-ordered structures (high temperatures "strengthen" entropy) and movements of molecules or atoms become increasingly dominant/ important to the system, the regularity of a crystalline arrangement is disrupted to form a liquid and then a gas or plasma (temperatures too high for atoms to exist: a mix of protons, neutrons, electrons).

On Earth, (Sol III) at 93 million miles from the central plasma fire of the Solar System, the planet is neither near hot or cold equilibrium. Instead, equilibrium and non-equilibrium conditions coexist and that coexistence creates various complex systems in which order and disorder interact (biology, geology, society, etcetera).

*open systems systems which are connected to their environments by fluxes, energy flows and so forth; the element of time is relevant to a description of events in these systems, so they have a "history."

system history:
In (classical) physics, this "history" is conceptually "collapsed" or reduced/simplified into descriptions of ideal reversible states, where past and future play equivalent roles in processes such as the motion of a frictionless pendulum.

In chemistry, there is not the opportunity to reduce or simplify a system by making past and future equivalent. Chemical reactions are transformations described by reaction rates and have a past, present and future, an irreversible "history." Where double arrows (symbols for time and direction) indicate "equilibrium" at a macro/visible level as in a liquid, the actual routes by which the system oscillates forward and backward may go through different reaction mechanisms at the molecular and atomic levels. These reaction rates are determined by the details of the chemical mechanism involved. Chemical system history is inherently complex because it includes a description of the determinate (necessary) character and indeterminate (chance) interactions of system components at the micro level and resultant behaviors (oscillation patterns) at middle and macro levels. Often the observations we make are at the macro level. Interpretation of results is a careful assessment of how behaviors at one level or position in the system (size is critical in determining level) appear in the world available to our senses.

equilibrium Absence of special or unique distributions in the structure of a system; a condition where, at the molecular or atomic levels, equal numbers of particles are going in one direction or another; entropy production, fluxes and forces are zero.

non equilibrium behaviors:
Linear or "steady state" behaviors: Near equilibrium, the system can maintain reciprocal relations (heat flows) among its components. In the Drinking Bird, these conditions exist at its temperature extremes, the "hot" bottom and the "cool" top. These conditions also define its two "limits" or "boundary behaviors": the bird "dies lying down" horizontally if the heat flow is too great or "dies standing up" vertically if it is too little. These are two stable states.

Non linear or far from equilibrium, the "just right" flow of heat from one end of the Bird to the other maintains a complex dynamical pattern of oscillations. When the Bird is "initialized" from the vertical "dead" position by wetting its head fuzz, fluctuations are amplified and invade the whole system. At the microscopic level, conduction of heat by molecules of liquid or gas has given way to laminar flow (linear) and then to turbulence (macroscopic scale motion behavior) due to production of coherent, highly organized clusters of molecules on the microscopic scale. In this view, heat transfers can thus be regarded as highly ordered: from regular bumping about during conduction of heat to spontaneously organized clusters in convection cells and in turbulence. The "threshold" between linear and non linear behaviors is often on a "hair trigger" and the amplification of oscillations somewhere in the system has been called the "butterfly effect."

*feed back:
connections within a system which result in its equilibrium or non equilibrium behaviors.

Positive feed back: directed change to extinction or to infinity.

Negative feed back: self-referential, internal connections which permit the output of one cycle of behavior to become the input for the next cycle of behaviors (also callediteration).

feed forward Anticipation of future conditions in self-aware systems or systems which are capable of learning and using "learned" information as a basis for "planning" (the behavior of investors in financial markets, retirement program management or disaster planning strategies are examples of feed forward).

*initial conditions Possible starting parameters for a system.

For now, consider that "unstable" indicates that, from a particular set of initial conditions, there are many probable paths to system states (for instance, when rolling "honest" dice, there are many possible "paths" of events which lead to each face of the cubes as they roll and bounce). The system may behave in a number of different modes until it comes to "rest."
"Stable" then means that there are few or no options for the system to shift among its behaviors.
"Metastable" describes overall oscillatory behavior in a complex system (probability {unstable}and necessity {stable} dependent characters of a system behavior in addition to the patterns of positive and negative feedback). Metastability is also a hallmark of the complex system property called "homeostasis" or dynamic balance. In biological systems, this is often labeled "balance of nature."
multiple system levels Vertical organization of positions or places in a system; size/scale, rules of operation which correlate with position and patterns of connections.

*energy flow/Laws of Thermodynamics

First Law: conservation of energy

Second Law: direction of energy flow (hot to cold) and its relation to system structure (entropy). Thermodynamics is "interdisciplinary" in that it combines the science of heat engines with the science of energy conversion. Thermodynamics is inextricably involved with sequence and time; the Second Law is "Time's Arrow." It makes a distinction between reversible processes (independent of the direction of time) and irreversible processes (depend on the direction of time, increase of entropy/disorder). This recognition of time-independent and time-dependent processes makes thermodynamics one of the sciences of complexity.

Third Law: definition of absolute zero.

period doubling/bifurcations As a system moves away from equilibrium through linear to non linear behaviors, there exist more and more possibilities for its behavior. These possibilities can be diagrammed as "bifurcations" or "yes-no" branches. The change into a new mode of behavior is often underlain by the connections of positive feedback. The number of doublings (of fluctuations, for instance) is a kind of "map" of the system's distance from equilibrium and its approach to chaotic behavior. Systems near a bifurcation point may present large fluctuations and then hesitate, as though "choosing" among different directions of evolution. At such times, the systems have an increased sensitivity to features of their environment, such as weak gravitational or electric fields.

dissipative structures A system "jump" or sudden transition to a higher level of complexity or order which absorbs the energy perturbing lower levels. This is an evolutionary change.