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Spruiell, V. (1993). Deterministic Chaos and the Sciences of Complexity: Psychoanalysis in the Midst of a General Scientific Revolution. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 41:3-44.

(1993). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41:3-44

Deterministic Chaos and the Sciences of Complexity: Psychoanalysis in the Midst of a General Scientific Revolution

Vann Spruiell, M.D.


A combination of new concepts and the enormous powers of computation now available have created the beginnings of a major new scientific revolution. It does not have to do with psychoanalysis per se, but with some basic assumptions among the sciences generally. The result is already showing in new visions of nature variously called "deterministic chaos," "nonlinear dynamics," or "sciences of complexity." For the first time it is possible to study complex systems in process, over time. This paper, especially attending to issues of separation and integration, focuses on two components of the new understandings, fractal geometry (part of the mathematics of topology) and deterministic chaos (the tendency of nonlinear systems to oscillate toward and away from absolute chaotic disorganization). In a diverse group of intellectual disciplines, it is now possible to describe systems in operation in detail, in terms of nonlinear differential equations. From these, computer models of multiple variables in interaction can be produced. In turn, this allows experimentation on the models by altering variables. At this time, psychoanalysis can only use deterministic chaos and fractals metaphorically, but in the future, especially if psychoanalysis is seen in terms of process or organismic theory, it is likely that such models can be produced.

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