Philosophical Society of Washington

Thoughts on Chaos

Mark L. Spano
White Oak Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center

2032nd Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 14, 1994 at 8:15 PM


Chaos is the rather whimsical name given to a phenomenon that had remained largely unrecognized until 20 years ago. Many systems that once were thought to be random are now understood to incorporate a subtle underlying order. This order is very sensitive to small disturbances. Chaos dictates that the effects of these disturbances grow exponentially and therefore predicting the long range behavior of a chaotic system is impossible. This unpredictability is thought to be responsible for many of our frustrations with such natural systems as the weather. However, it turns out that the selfsame qualities which make chaos unpredictable also make it controllable.

As the experimental control of chaos approaches its fourth anniversary, the interest in applying this technique has grown at an accelerating rate. Because of the great generality of the technique, practical applications abound, with examples in the fields of mechanics, lasers, electronics, chemistry, and, surprisingly, even such medical fields as cardiology and neurophysiology. I will explain how chaos is controlled experimentally and will present an application to neurophysiology.

About the Author:

Mr. Spano received his PhD in experimental Solid State Physics from the University of Maryland in 1980. At present, he is an experimental physicist at the White Oak Laboratory of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. He has published over 50 scientific papers and has been granted a patent for the control of chaos in cardiac tissue in addition to having a patent application pending on the control of chaos in neural tissue. He is also one of the founders and organizers of the Experimental Chaos Conference series. Mr. Spano recently received the Navy's Independent Research Excellence Award for his research on the control of chaos. His latest work on the control of neural chaos (in collaboration with Children's National Medical Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology) appeared in Nature this past August.

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