Can Chaos be Good?

By Jillian Smith

As the semester progresses, and the construction on Lincoln gets more hectic, you may be tempted to throw your hands up and curse at the chaos in your life. If you have yet to experience the feeling of chaos swirling all around you, don’t worry, you will soon enough.

Maybe you are a fabulously disorderly individual and have already adopted an appreciation for chaos, or you cringe at the mention of chaos. Regardless of how you handle chaos, I would like to take a minute to let you relax, breathe and meditate on why it can be a good thing

I will begin at the “beginning.” What I mean by that is how our Earth presumably began, from the collection of heavy elements left over from the massive, cataclysmic interstellar reaction called a supernova.

Supernovae are events that are the very definition of chaotic. They are uncontrolled chain reactions that release hundreds of millions of kilojoules of energy, spewing out stellar material at a rate of 30,000 kilometers per second. But it is precisely the chaotic nature of this event that allows it to send out the atoms into the universe, which allowed our Earth to form and our biological processes to start.

These supernovae release out elements like iron and nitrogen, which formed as a result of a nuclear fusion inside star cores millions of years ago. Some scientists speculate that humans are stardust.

Obviously, I probably haven’t convinced you quite yet. The fact that stellar dust allows your cells to respire probably doesn’t fill you with massive amounts of gratitude, and maybe I just really wanted to talk about how cool supernovae are. But a place where you may appreciate chaos more is in your own ability to be creative.

Robert Bilder, a psychiatry and psychology professor at University of California at Los Angeles’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, argues that truly creative ideas are those usually birthed in environments that straddle the line between order and disorder.

“The truly creative changes and the big shifts occur right at the edge of chaos,” Bilder said.

Chaos allows our brains to relax and not have such a rigid sense of there being a “right” or a “wrong” answer. When our brain becomes too focused on right or wrong and associates outcome with our performance, it can increase our inhibitive functions and not allow “flow” to occur.

Fascinatingly enough, this phenomenon has been scientifically observed in musicians who improvise. The more into the improvisation process they get, the more brain scans show a move away from the lateral pre-frontal lobes, which are in charge of monitoring and self-censoring.

Finally, chaos actually creates greater bonding and social cohesion between individuals. This happens because chaos often produces stress, and stress — which is actually proven to be somewhat beneficial in small amounts — causes our body to release oxytocin, or what psychologists call, “the cuddle hormone.”

It is a hormone that instills trust between individuals and lowers our barriers toward other people. Our bodies sense that our chaotic environment may not be dealt with relying on the self alone, and so it instinctually sends a signal to our brain to reach out to others who might be able to assist us in the midst of our chaotic environment.

Reaching out to others reinforces the human being’s social tendencies, and therefore, your display of trust in another actually leads to the release of greater levels of serotonin, or the “feel-good” chemical in both your brain, and the brain of the individual to whom you reached out.

So there you have it Penguins. This semester, or maybe some future point in your life, may be crazy and chaotic. But just remember that chaos means that you are mighty post-explosion stardust. Remember to spend some time away from your pesky lateral pre-frontal lobes, and remember to cuddle, or something like that, when you feel overwhelmed.