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CHAOS & THE DERIVE

Introduction
This is an assessment of the chaos variable implicit in the derive, as well as an assertion that the inability to determine the degree of chaos in any given derive is quite with the spirit of the activity. I argue in this essay that a simple recognition of the chaotic aspects of the derive can serve to illuminate the mysterious, unpredictable elements of cause and effect inherent in the perambulation of a city. Having considered the subject in recent months in tandem with my regular activities in Austin, I furthermore assert that 'randomness and indeterminacy' in the traditional sense - though misguided notions in the context of science - are precisely those qualities which allow for the derive to remain a subjective experience, forever open to subjective interpretation.

Chaotic Systems
In order to apprehend what is meant by the chaos variable it is first necessary to understand what exactly is meant by 'chaos'. The context I am using the word 'chaos' in is the strict scientific context of the term, not the common denotation of chaos as a mere 'randomness and indeterminacy'.

All chaotic systems exhibit what is known as sensitivity upon initial conditions, meaning that the resultant dynamics of any chaotic system are sensitive to small differences in the initial state of the system, the ramifications of which can prove quite macrocosmic despite seemingly insignificant origins. A famous example of this quality is the butterfly effect, in which a slight breeze generated from the wings of a butterfly in one geographical location may cause a drastic and unpredictable climactic condition in another location many thousands of miles away; the flutterings of a viceroy butterfly in Austin, USA creating a lightening storm in Southampton, UK, for instance. Furthermore, all chaotic systems evolve in a determinable periodic manner for some time before returning to more random behavior and thus - as there remains a degree of measurable consistency in the nascent stages of a system's chaotic evolution - 'randomness and indeterminacy' are far from being an accurate description.

Let us consider further this definition and add that chaos is the superposition of an infinite number of periodic motions, meaning that the chaotic system may spend a short while in a nearly periodic motion and from thereon transition to another periodic motion with a period that is some quantifiable degree greater than the previous one. Thus, the evolution of a chaotic system from one unstable periodic motion to another gives an overall impression of randomness and disorder when indeed - in a short term assessment of the chaotic system - it displays an observable degree of determinacy and order, for example, 40 times the periodic motion of the period directly proceeding it.

Better yet, in the context of the derive, imagine that a psychogeographer entangles himself with an ashcan and - to an unpredictable (as well as uncontrollable) degree - the environment surrounding the ashcan at some later moment becomes conducive to a pleasant or unpleasant ambience that previously had not existed there. In such an instance, the collection of interactions between him and the ashcan (which might be seen as a situation) has determined to a degree the ambience of the setting and thus, the entanglement might be said to have catalyzed the transition of the previous ambience into something quite different than beforehand.

Entanglement with Phase Space
Difficult as it might first appear, this analogy can be better understood when the entanglement is seen as being conducted in a phase space, which denotes the collection of possible states of a dynamical system. A discerning psychogeographer will recall that every unstable periodic motion created in the course of a situation would be shown to have corresponding trajectories in the phase space and thus - what first appeared as a minor action - will create effects amplified within the created chaotic system, effects that can be defined as unstable period orbits.

As there are numerous unstable periodic orbits in a phase space - let's say our psychogeographer is entangling with the ashcan at the corner of 24th and Guadalupe Streets in the city of Austin - the trajectories which correspond to each of the unstable periodic orbits created by the entanglement with the ashcan are packed very closely together in the phase space. Indeed, in such close proximity (envision the phase space as a zone of psychogeographic space, exhibiting for some three-dimensional area enclosing the street-corner a specific ambience) only a small change in the system is necessary to push it from one orbit to any of a large number of others, consequently changing the dynamics of the system, and thereby transforming the ambience and - depending on degree of interaction - the setting as well.

Randomness and Indeterminacy as Inherent Elements of the Derive
In any physical system - for the sake of argument, let us consider a system comprised of the physical elements present in the ubiquitous urban landscape (buildings, autos, pedestrians, etc) - knowing the exact values for all of the physical elements, or even calculating the amount and nature of all of the elements present at any given moment, is impossible. Due to the fact that psychogeographers are not typically carrying measuring devices with them in the course of their derives, and even more importantly, that they are unable to discern every aspect of the environs when passing rapidly through them, it can be said that they are unequipped to determine the precise effects of their actions upon their surroundings, thereby leaving psychogeography solely to the study of a personal subjectivity which, discernibly enough, it is intended for.

The consequence of this variant indeterminacy is that a precise prediction of any chaotic system - short-term or long-term - while drifting is impossible or, at best, entirely unreliable. An illustration of this might be located in the context of situationist psychogeography which, from my perspective, deals primarily with the subjective perceptions of an individual or a group of persons shunting through the city in search of spatially defined ambiences which are characterized by their specific emotive and aesthetic concentrations.

For example, suppose that one sunny morning in the month of July, I set forth from my home to enjoy the aura of a particularly pleasant area of Austin and - in the course of my derive to this area (assume I am visiting the downtown) - I encounter along the way a beautiful woman who, from thereon, preoccupies my thoughts and - to the corresponding effect that my thoughts have upon my actions - determines my actions for the remainder of my derive (for example, I pace a bit faster, perhaps I even skip a little).

Arriving a few hours later in the downtown, which I had predetermined as 'pleasant', I suddenly discover that the ambience of the setting is no longer anything like I determined it would be. And not only is this sudden change of psychogeographic ambience unpredictable (much less expected), but the precise reasons for this change cannot be calculated by myself to any worthwhile degree, for the dynamic repercussions of encountering the beautiful woman alone can in no way be objectively accounted for, much less the erratic velocities in my stride upon the sidewalk, less still the effects of any situations I create or partake of along the wayfare. But should this indeterminacy deter me?

Far from it - it is encouraging. For my inability to calculate precisely the effects of my 'chance encounter' - indeed, the very stirring of the air molecules caused by the skip in my stride - upon the ambience of the environs is much more in line with the subjective elements which are necessarily - and as I have asserted - traditionally ascribed to the derive. The result of this causal uncertainty between myself and the environment being that I am allowed not only a greater enjoyment of traditional 'randomness and indeterminancy' in my derive, but my derive remains intact in its most familiar form - a perambulatory adventure, full of quest and mystery, through the varied settings and ambiences of everyday life.

We must agree that there is an element of chaos inherent in the derive.

Matthew Manus
SWORG/Austin Division - 1999

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