Does Mass Violence Unfold Randomly and Chaotic or is There Hidden Order We Can Leverage in Our Prevention Efforts?

“Newton’s laws describe the motion of everything under the Sun and give physics great power in its ability to relate cause and effect. Yet the path of a ball in a pin ball machine seems to defy human control, it seems chaotic.” ~Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University

Chaotic, a word often used to describe, the acts of mass killings we see happening all too frequently as of late and over the past couple of decades. Although still rare statistically, the randomness, unpredictability, chaos and sheer rage and deliberate violence and lives taken, involved in these acts has us with a laser like focus on, questioning, WHY would someone be so evil and do something like this, something so senseless, seemingly random and unpredictable? Yet when we dig deeper into these seemingly chaotic and random acts there seems to be some determinism, something’s in common, that strangely attracts these killers, towards rage filled outbursts that leads to these horrific and violent acts. Within these acts of violence is there some semblance of hidden order we can harness in the prevention of violent encounters? If so, what are these strange attractors that lead to chaos, hidden within the mind of a mass killer as stress, anxiety, motive and intent? When and how do they manifest themselves in the signs and signals we can read and interpret helping us exploit an opportunity in a timely way to prevent the violence and the chaos that ensues?

The science of chaos asks a critical question I think relevant to these violent acts. How can something be chaotic and random yet follow deterministic laws? I am a non-scientist but I am an avid explorer into violent acts and the people that commit them, who asks critical questions, how does chaos relate to violence and what are the commonalties in these tragedies that can help us prevent more violence from occurring and bring order to disorder? Can we predict violence in its chaotic and disordered form or is there something hidden or fail to see or, see and fail to act on in those who would commit violence in its ugliest form, that can help us prevent violent acts and if so, how?

What is chaos? The ancient Greeks summarized the tension between order and disorder with two opposing words cosmos and chaos. Cosmos means order. Chaos initially meant chasm, the abyss, the bottomless pit. Later, it came to mean the primeval state before creation, a state of utter disorder. This sense of “chaos” as utter confusion persisted into the modern era. Over the past few decades scientist began finding strange, unexpected connections between different forms of chaos. Geologist noticed surprising patterns in the frequency of earthquakes. The same patterns appeared in the variability of human heart rates and bursts of traffic on the internet. The rules of chaos were turning out to be universal, independent of the stuff behaving chaotically, the same for electronic circuits, lasers, chemical reactions, or nerve cells. It was if disorder was a thing in itself. It didn’t matter what was behaving chaotically; the process of becoming chaotic was turning out to be lawful, but the laws were like nothing science had ever seen before. (Chaos, Professor Steven Strogatz, Cornell University, 2008) Continue reading