On Fringe

Introduction: Fringe Science

By Kevin R. Grazier, Ph.D.

Among the many scientific premises and science- fiction themes explored weekly in the television series Fringe, as well as within this anthology, one concept not explicitly addressed in an episode to date is that of chaos. At the same time one could easily make the argument that the entire series is a study in chaos theory, and no single episode makes explicit reference simply because its influence is interwoven throughout the fabric of the entire series.

A colloquial definition of the term chaos might include descriptors like disorder, disarray, and/or randomness: the disarray of Walter Bishop’s laboratory or a Harvard fraternity house on Saturday morning being good examples. The definition advanced by a scientist or mathematician, on the other hand, would have less do to with disorder, nothing to do with randomness, and everything with predictability.

Dynamical systems–physical systems with many interacting parts–are all around us and a part of our everyday lives: billiard balls on a table, gas molecules in the room, a pendulum clock, our weather, the Solar System. A dynamical system is said to be chaotic when the solutions to the differential equations that govern its behavior are extremely sensitive to initial conditions: an ever-so-slight change, or perturbation, in the starting point leads to dramatically different outcomes or behaviors. A classic model for a chaotic system, and certainly the most familiar, is the weather, which exhibits behavior known as the Butterfly Effect. (After all, how many physical phenomena have movies named after them?) The notion is that weather is  …

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