The Secret Life of Chaos

The Secret Life of Chaos

2010, Science  -   72 Comments
Ratings: 8.17/10 from 117 users.

The Secret Life of ChaosChaos theory has a bad name, conjuring up images of unpredictable weather, economic crashes and science gone wrong. But there is a fascinating and hidden side to Chaos, one that scientists are only now beginning to understand. It turns out that chaos theory answers a question that mankind has asked for millennia - how did we get here?

In this documentary, Professor Jim Al-Khalili sets out to uncover one of the great mysteries of science - how does a universe that starts off as dust end up with intelligent life? How does order emerge from disorder? It's a mind-bending, counterintuitive and for many people a deeply troubling idea.

But Professor Al-Khalili reveals the science behind much of beauty and structure in the natural world and discovers that far from it being magic or an act of God, it is in fact an intrinsic part of the laws of physics. Amazingly, it turns out that the mathematics of chaos can explain how and why the universe creates exquisite order and pattern. And the best thing is that one doesn't need to be a scientist to understand it.

The natural world is full of awe-inspiring examples of the way nature transforms simplicity into complexity. From trees to clouds to humans - after watching this film you'll never be able to look at the world in the same way again. Find out more about the secret life of chaos.

More great documentaries

Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

Loved this documentary! It finally explained to me ,in the best way possible, the nature of the universe.

4 years ago

One of the best documentaries I have ever seen. I truly enjoyed watching this video.

5 years ago

In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Douglas Adams

5 years ago

Beautiful and very interesting documentary. As usual though the creaters of such documentaries by the end attempt to use the material there in as proof for their belief that the universe did not need a creater and so there is no God. One can just as easily use the evidence shown to point in the direction of a highly advanced intellect that could creat, or allow to unfold, a universe of such a complex magnatude from such simple designed laws and priciples. Its always possible to swing the argument either way, and so atheism(just as theism) is, always was, and always will be a chosen belief.

5 years ago

Pretty good.

Ashish Viswanath
6 years ago changed my perspectives about life and my understanding about reality......trying to analyze the causality between isolated variables (as we often do in research) turns out to be utter foolishness. In this world of causal ambiguity and feedback loops, I wonder the only purposeful thing that we can do is sit back and enjoy the mess.

6 years ago

Debunking this documentary (to a large extent at least ) . . .

The entire emphasis is on shapes. The repeating and replication of shapes and forms. Yes . . . it is true that algorithms can create/repeat shapes . But this theory ( documentary ) leaves out so many other factors of the actual real natural world that it makes me wonder if this was more so a film for propaganda rather than actual information . Shape and the form of a thing is one thing in itself , but life itself is not merely just shapes and forms . There is energy, mass, volume , gravitational pull, magnetism, heat, motion and a plethora of many many other things that are the make-up of the natural real reality/world. Shape is just the encasing . So going back a 2nd time and viewing the documentary one will notice that the documentary (theory) substitutes repeating shapes and forms for meaning the (repeating life, repeating energy, the ability of repeating actual reality or repeating actual wholeness). Yes all things in the universe (*real reality*) have forms and shapes but inherent and in all of these shapes are various other things and other conditions such as previously mentioned (matter, light, energy, mass, heat index, gravity etc) . Form and shape by itself do not make up the inherent qualities and function of all the universe . That is to say form and shape are (*parts*) of an even larger system ((not the system in and of itself!! )). Transferring these qualities over into A.I (artificial intelligence) is another mistake. How can you validate transferring a statement such as " a (*Natural*) occurrence takes place in a (*Virtual*) created *Simulation" ? A computer generated simulation (run and set-up) by a human can never be completely organic or natural within its on-self. In other words- if a human decides to take fractals (algorithms) into a virtually created space and say that by the outcome of the A.I. (Artificial Intelligence ) learning to program itself to walk in the simulator , you then have a confirmation that the fractal itself is a representation of consciousness and fullness , is a contradiction of premise. The premise is natural , the intermediary is virtual and by design intentional or not the outcome will inevitably have *natural qualities. This is called a confirmation bias. In actuality the premise is broken from the beginning because you have a natural being (human) who is designing and setting up the virtual experiment. Hence any resulting information will be tainted by the human interaction , the human injecting his/her *own* natural tendencies into the algorithm(fractal). It is not that the algorithm or fractal developed within its own self -but - rather that it exhibited the natural tendency of the human experimenter. The laws we abide by for walking are proof enough that there is a human prejudice/bias in *measuring* just how *smart* - *evolutionary* the fractal/algorithm is. It never was solely purely natural within its own existence because it only merely describes form and shape. It is a by product of nature , not nature Ailey within its own self. Not the entire gamut/spectrum of reality which exists in multiple dimensions simultaneously. The experimenters have failed to prove replication across all spectrums and across all dimensions ( only merely in shape and form). This is only definable by 1 sense and 1 sense only - the eyes . When birds migrate yearly the birds may weigh more or less each year , there may be 1 or 2 less birds each consecutive year, each bird may have different feathers according to each year. Hence although the form/shape of the flock may look similar their other qualities/dimensions are never completely identical , completely perfectly repeated . A river may (Visually) -LOOK like a visual fractal but rivers have other qualities like density, volume, temperature , flow direction etc. Yes the overhead view of a river and its river banks may look visually similar but the different banks and branches all have variety in them unlike the computer generated Mandelbrot set .This theory/documentary does not properly account for the other dimensions repeating, only the simple and obvious visual appearance. Although it has some basic visual truth. . . In the end it is not representative of the whole entire reality , the whole truth. It is a theory that exists only for certain cases, certain plants and certain occurrences but doesn't stand together when one digs deeper into many other plants, animals (with pattern like hair-fur) or if one digs deeper past the visual and into the more less commonly thought of 3rd dimensional aspects .

7 years ago

This is by far one of the best documentaries I've ever seen along with Carl Sagan's Cosmos

10 years ago

DigiWongaDude you mean at the beginning of the universe as we know it but it doesnt answer to why a beginning or an eternity instead of nothing?

10 years ago

I REALLY LIKED THIS DOCUMENTARY. Order Over Chaos is the hallmark of our existence. This Doc explains it so well.

An atheist here... As a "reasonable" person, I question myself EVERYDAY about what I believe to be true -mostly because I'm astounded that so many live by this supernatural notion. Over the years the clarity of the situation has become PAINFULLY OBVIOUS -We humans, as par for the course, have placed ourselves at the center of the universe again when we believe some super-being cares for and listens to each of the 7 billion of us. Here are the points I would like you to read.

1. EVERYONE should look DEEP at exactly WHY they believe what it is they believe. Was it only because someone told you? Or are there good reasons? Yes, this can be very upsetting to "examine" one's self.

-just because you have a feeling. -just because you can't fathom an answer. -just because the alternitive is too scary. IS NO REASON TO EVOKE THE SUPERNATURAL.

2. Any person inducted into ANY religion will believe that religion 100% and will defend it just as much as the next person & religion. Therefor, If one has no good evidence to back up their religion, they must question the validity of it. Because they would have to admit that they would be just as vigorous to defend ANY religion they were brought up in. Without evidence I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU -or the next guy.

3. Cross Level Coherence occures when: what one believes, how one acts, and the environment one lives in, all agree with eachother. It's a stable spot in someone's life. A mountian of people behind you, who agree with you, DOESN'T make it ture. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I invite everyone to step into the light of reason. Yes, it's scary at first I admit, but the joys of the "examined life" are truely great AND REAL.

The Secret Life of Chaos hints that life and evolution are self orginizing, AND still at work creating more and more complex designs. Intelligent life is it's greatest design yet.

10 years ago

I enjoyed the debate in the comments before mine as much as the film. As far as I am concerned I know two thinks for sure: 1) I don't know everything and 2) God was the designer of everything we humans ponder. Pondering is good, though. I think God gave us this mind. We have been here a few thousand years and the planet has been here tens of billions of years. Humility makes learning new things much more fun.

10 years ago

Creationism and religious dogma is in gradual collapse. As more research cultivates our understanding of how the universe emerged, more and more rational people will disbelieve in childish religious fairy tales. I rather know that there are things which I don't know, than to believe any divine creationism. Great claims require great proof. People claim that god exists, they need to objectively prove its existence and its influence on daily events in our world and outer space. Any claim that cannot be proven through scientific measures, is good for nothing. Creationists' and theists' main issue is that they view themselves as highly important, as if the entire universe revolves around humans. They need to digest the notion that we are simply a spec in this 13.7 billion year journey. Hypothetically, even if we were the ultimate creation of God, the special species that we so proudly think of ourselves to be, why would God the omnipotent take 13.7 billion years to start sending revelations through profits/messengers only in the last 5 thousand years? Many grow up to become highly intellectual and influential individuals, but they still hold on to their religious beliefs. I have always found this a mind-boggling phenomena. Perhaps this can be accounted by the early indoctrination of kids into believing and practicing which ever religion they happen to be born into, hence, never really getting an opportunity to explore and view the world from a more neutral and objective angle.

Abdullah Ă–mer Aydar
10 years ago

I thought it was a great documentary until the last 10 mins of it. As Jim says " a design doesnt need a designer, all universe, mountains, sand heights in deserts, oceans, all living things happened randomly." Well, he uses the analogy of " evoulotinary programming". But there's a programmer who writes it, why he cant think about that :( I see a pantheistic view in that doc. Actually, it's emphasized that God made a mould of everything, and everything randomly happened by itself. Actually, maybe that's right, but again here there has to be a creator who writes the codes of that programme, and knows what will happen at the end. So, what i mean, it's not a random process, it's God directed evoulotion and God knows the rules of probabilty, so he knows what will happen at the end. Anyway, at least, that's what i understood at the end of the doc.

11 years ago

I am sorry but how can 'mindless rules' give rise to such an intricate system? The rules as simple as they may be, the initial conditions as incomplex as they might be, have been set by a Cause that is un-caused. What appears to be spontaneity might just be a personal choice of this Cause- just because it is unintelligible and unpredictable to us, does not mean it can be dismissed as thoughtless and unconscious.

11 years ago

How can I actually see this movie?

11 years ago

Such confident statement proclaimed!

For sure the Universe is more than simple dust. Is a photon of light simple dust? Is heat simple dust? Is your thought reaction to those questions simple dust? (yet Jim keeps telling us otherwise). We don't know what Space is actually made of - what phenomena might be infused with it (e.g.: think Dark Energy).

Documentary still came across, to me anyway, that Chaos has inherent organizing characteristic; and that Order & Chaos are yet another example of opposite extreme each both vieing for ultimate supremacy - as though fabricating process set-in motion.

The film certainly confirms that nothing is determined, and that the course of all event is random - which appears, to my way of seeing thinking, a concept perfectly designed - one certain to eliminate, eventually weed out, all trial & error.

Sand grains only form into sand dunes by wind acting as influence - semi solid heaps sculpted blown into exquisite form by {external} invisible flowing gas. Energy also flows - right ? Flow is the governing force that shapes everything, shaping chaos, shaping order, shaping morphogenesis, evolution, fractals, rivers. After studying physics I'm confident that every thing is oscillating, and that life, evolution, functions as wave. Fractal, tree, blood vessel, lung, river, ice, lightening are all example of this inherent dendritic pattern appearing throughout the Universe, and which represents the pattern of flow - of flow though available space: it even represents an undulating bird flock managing vicinity's available space (as shown in the film).

Time lag / feedback / loop? - ". . .and with a slight tweek to the system" Sorry, but wasn't the visual effect (screen and camera) used as demonstrative example, produced by configured system that was DESIGNED by DESIGNER, aka: computer - does a computer's processing capability prove anything other than inability to process information quick enough? All it demonstrated was an amplification's disturbance (check out the principle of linear super position).

Perhaps chaos is design configured for the purpose of liberation; and spark of life flowing through Universe set on course liberation - trapped, but inevitably acquiring the knowledge, know-how, expertise to emerge and break free: all part and parcel of its inherent design!

It seems to me the Designer is Flow.

Poor Turin.

12 years ago

'we cannot predict the exact shapes' perhaps because our mathematics have not reached that level, or (more likey, like fingerprints, eyes, etc) because there is inherent variability in the organism itself.

12 years ago

I hope Ralph Abraham is in this, oh god I hope so. Otherwise it is meaningless.

12 years ago

I think that our understanding of the universe that we live in
is what the fractal represents.
Physicists have always tried to explain nature using mathematical equations yet there is always something vital missing.
The observed is always there...
What ever we seem to be looking for at a certain time mysteriously with time materializes. Hhmmm !?
I believe that we truly create our reality, and this material aspect of life, with the life force energy that powers everything in the universe.
I think that physics is our way of proving to ourselves that the knowledge we have tuned out or forgot or have ignored for to long is fact.(its easier to put on TV)
When I looked at the Mandelbrot fractal for the first time I felt like I had seen it before.
It's almost relaxing to just look at it , an awesome confirmation of that ,that has no words.
My theory of what powers everything kind of falls into place with the infinity aspects of the fractal as well I have long been looking at the fact that everything swirls .
Witch has led me to believe that the universe is infinite in a way that is not visible.
Imagine trying to see out of a molecule while the earth is a spec wising around inside the inner workings of an electron.
I don't think that you would be able to tell where the molecule ended or what it was a part of without using your imagination.
At the same time the molecules at our scale have the capacity to contain infinite scales of time and space,
If universes are like molecules than atomic energy is the power that fuels everything the big bag may have been an atom of inconceivable proportions splitting.
Like the way an atom bomb makes its cloud or the sun is burning on a time frame that is hard to comprehend.
And if matter extends to a scale that becomes perceptively invisible.we have are 11 to 8 dimensions.
I can't help but believe that this is still a construct of conscious thought.
And the awakening of an individual is knowing that you are creator along with every other,and it is all energy.
Somehow we have chosen to be more singular and maybe that is the drive that comes with being able to create whole worlds with mere thought.

I honestly appreciate and enjoy information like this video the one with Arther C Clark is a must see if you enjoyed this one.
The more people start having something tangible to rap there brain around the farther our perceptions and imaginations can reach.
"Perceptions create new worlds".K.D.
"It's not what your looking at that matters,its what you see" FB ?
My favorite Quote
From a book that was taking a more realistic view of religion.
" Immortality is not access into heaven as reward for living an upright life,it is the immediate realization of your true identity here and now,which was never born so can never die "
Thanks for sharing and allowing me to do the same.

12 years ago

I wondered where this all fits with recent studies of brain function, and I didn't find a layman's quick fix.

I used:- brain function nonlinear dynamics
as a search.

Many years ago a friend was working on neurone networks.
Specifically metabolism.

He gave me a couple of prototype glass etched matrices used for neurone network research.
The guy had grown proto brains(biological neural networks)in a glass dish. Using rat neurons and data communication via the matrices.

12 years ago

Awsome doc!...These ideas of "feedback" and "auto organized systems" remind me the Chilean scientists Varela and Maturana who talked about "autopoyesis" and the "systems' theory"...I dunno if they might be related.

12 years ago

**** at the same level of art, talking strait to the hearth like poets and painters, confirming/telling/showing what we always knew.

Even this website is an cell of chaos in its own, spreading rapidly in an unpredictable way from simple choices -

So spread this site to your friends along with good docus like?,
Adam Curtis,The Trap, Power of nightmares


Food Inc.

Life BBC

12 years ago

beautiful |

12 years ago

i think is simply the best science documentary i have seen to date and i have seen quite a lot of them since discovering this site. it just goes to show that clear and well presented ideas are better than the sensationalised mostly deep voice i have heard in most science documentaries

12 years ago

Cute documentary i'll send it to a few darwinists to help them sleep better at night =p

12 years ago

isn't this dialectic materialism?

Robert Whelan
12 years ago

This is one of the most profound documentaries I have ever seen. On the level of Carl Sagan's Cosmos.
I would love for everyone to see and discuss this information.

Ronaldo Sinigayan
12 years ago

This is another awesome documentary. Professor Jim Al-Khalili is awesome as well. He's so easy to understand even though the subject matter is pretty complex. Thank you again for having this here. =)

12 years ago

Indeed (to echo Max),

I'll be looking for more of your posts Mr. Howe.

13 years ago

Eloquently put Eric.

13 years ago

If anyone is interested, James Gleick's 'Chaos-Making a new science' Penguin books. Covers the history, beginning with Edward Lorenz.

Achems Razor
13 years ago

Good doc.
Without appearing redundant, as I have had discourse about similar on many posts.
We are talking about series of events, albeit from the very small, "Quantum" from which everything generates.

These are courses of probable actions from the sea of unlimited probabilities.
"The butterfly effect", one probable action no matter how minute will cause a direction of ongoing change that will become a concrete of reality. The unresolved other courses of probable actions however are just as valid and real, to our other multidimensional selves, other probable reality's. Which are limitless. But not in the scope of our vibrational "now's".

This falls into the realm of unpredictability, and of course comes from the realm of Quantum mechanics, the unpredictability of Quantum.

And all I can say is that from this new science should come some answers. Of which none fundamentally concrete as yet.

Because, alas, just like the Mandelbrot sets, they are mathematical constructs.

13 years ago

Chaos is the Great Equalizer.

13 years ago

I wonder what it would be like without Chaos. To me it makes sense to have chaos. (Paradox)???????

Achems Razor
13 years ago

Sounds interesting.

Old Git Tom
13 years ago

Fascinating, up to the point where this contemporary thinking is claimed to rescue Darwinian evolution. No, that is staggering on to death, altho the Neo-Darwinian old guard will doubtless seize on this as a last-gasp. Perry Marshall has demonstrated from information theory that random DNA mutations cannot enhance, only degrade. At most, these developments are mathematical descriptions of the dance of chaos & order. They do not 'explain' it. Eg., the computer modeling exercises are impressive, but depend on the primary input of human intelligence. The acid test of a scientific theory is its predictive power. There seems to be a paradox here. Insofar as there is understanding of chaos, those claiming it must have some power to predict where evolution is leading. Instead, we are told this is impossible, becos the process is chaotic. Hmmmmm! OGT

13 years ago

I've a passion for science documentaries;but the secret life of chaos is Khalili's most outstanding to date.
Very well done Jim; let's have more;you've clearly got a talent for broadcasting in simple terms that which we mortals can understand and goggle at.

13 years ago

"Female cage fighters" mentioned at the very end of this vid... Shouldn't that video also be included as part of this show on Chaos? I know I want to see it...

Seems evident to me that the universe is itself a Mandelbrot Set, with infinite bidirectional nested Baby-Brots-- Those structures our scientits currently recognize as: Groups of galaxy clusters / individual galaxies/ solar systems / planetary-moon groups / groups of living organism-communities / an individual animal / groups of differentiated cells / collaborative molecules / atoms / sub-atomics / p-branes / back down-up to another whole set of next-order galaxies, of the kind I've mentioned in a previous post on my Mr. Bubble Theory of The Universe.

Do not condemn people just because they seem different than you.
The world requires them too.
RIP Alan Turing.

13 years ago

That was one of the most interesting docs i've seen in a while, just amazing.
The next day I just kept noticing patterns in nature and life that was right in front of my face all along. amazing.

13 years ago

excited to see it my friend Dan is a fan of this website and it came highly recommended

13 years ago

very interesting indeed.. but the key to all principles of self organizing systems is that they first have to be set in motion. chaos can very well explain all the beautiful and seemingly random patterns in the universe, but there is still the big question of how it all began. perhaps string theory will one day answer that....

13 years ago

If you ask me, chaos and order are the only real forces in the universe, and both are part of the same universal force. Gravity, electromagnetism, these are just manifestations of ordered chaos on different scales.

13 years ago

That was a refreshing documentary on its own. Awesome.

13 years ago

Chaos and order, go hand in hand. You cannot have one or the other. Chaos brings order and sometimes order brings chaos. I think we are witnessing the mechanics of God, if that's what we call it. This is a universal law.

13 years ago

non of the above so called white scientist were the first!!!!!!

YIN YANG was discovered long before.

now they call it chaos & order

13 years ago

It seems to me that the problem with chaos and order resulting in complexity is in the bias linked with the notion of perception. Complexity implies a standard or limit of perception. The visual array perceived by the eye of a fly can be called 'complex' in relation to our human
sense of vision, but for a fly it is ordinary, therefore non-complex. Maybe what seems to us to be very complex models are very simple from different perspectives or even different power of computation. Even the term 'chaos' is relative, and can become irrelevant under the examination of that perception bias.

13 years ago

It is very interesting, indeed. How does this conflict with physical entropy laws? It seems that the two would be at odds. I will have to re-watch this for more clues.
Also, he states that from simplicity comes great complexity because of simple laws. However, each system seems to have its own set of 'simple' laws -- some which conflict with each other. And each system needs its simple laws from the start.
I guess my point is this: If each system starts out with with a set of simple laws and moves to greater and greater complexity, and those systems evolved from earlier systems with their own simple laws, the causal chain must end with the most simple thing to possibly exist functioning by the most simple law there could possibly be with the end product being us. So, start with Hydrogen, add sufficient Time, and get humanity - all by itself.
Seriously, now. This sounds like magic. One of the problems here is that Professor Jim Al-Khalili - soothing voice notwithstanding - is in love with mathematics. Einstein is quoted as complaining that mathematicians were highjacking cosmology.

13 years ago

Pretty interesting stuff.