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Henri Poincaré - Change and ChaosHenri Poincaré - Change and Chaos


Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)


French mathematician (pictured right).

A major contributor to the Theory of Relativity.

Founder of chaos theory.


His most famous book is...

Science and Hypothesis (1902)


What did he say about chaos and change?

Henri Poincaré - Change and Chaos


1. Unpredictable results

Isaac Newton (pictured right) hoped that everything could be explained by rules and theories, i.e. knowledge comes from order in the universe.

But Poincaré’s chaos theory says that sometimes you will get results that you don’t expect. What you thought was right is actually wrong.

So the world becomes chaotic and unpredictable (like the unpredictability of the weather).

Nothing is certain to happen in the future.

 Henri Poincaré - Change and Chaos

2. Tiny changes lead to big changes

This is now known as the ‘butterfly effect’, because the meteorologist, Edward Lorenz (pictured right), talked about a butterfly in Tokyo causing a hurricane in Florida by flapping its wings.


3. Rules can make things worse

If you have a problem, more rules and regulations may make things worse.

They can’t deal with every situation, because they:

  • reduce people’s freedom and flexibility.
  • may be the wrong rules.

 Henri Poincaré - Change and Chaos

4. Change needs creativity

Creative solutions to problems are needed to cope with change.

Here are Poincaré’s (pictured right in 1887) tips on how to be creative:


a) totally absorb yourself in the problem

This is why he was so absent-minded.

Once he landed in a stream, because he forgot where the bridge was!


b) inspiration from relaxation

  • think hard about a problem’s possible solutions.
  • leave them to let your subconscious think about them.
  • wait for a solution (which will suddenly come to you).


c) love the beauty of knowledge

The scientist doesn’t study nature, because it is useful, but because its intellectual beauty gives great pleasure.

 Henri Poincaré - Change and Chaos

d) follow your intuition

Intuition is more important than logic in scientific discovery.

Poincaré is pictured right discussing a problem with Marie Curie in 1911.


Key quotes on creativity

It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.

To know how to criticize is good, to know how to create is better.

The mind uses its faculty for creativity only when experience forces it to do so.

Thought...is everything.


Key quote on science

Science is built up by facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.

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