The first of three essays, this article tells the myth of Goldilocks and the Three Bears through the lens of chaos theory. The first thing to discuss is the reason for using chaos as the structure to hang our myth on rather than the familiar use of myth as moral lesson.
Myths have a tendency to be told with heavy emphasis on good versus evil, light versus dark, pure versus poison. To tell the tale through that myopic view would limit the potential it has in meaning and application for everyone. There are too many hues between black and white to settle in on two contrasts alone.
Myths have relevance as agents for change without forcing them to iterate themes bound with extremes and moral rightness and wrongness. A myth is universal and holds seeds of insight for anyone who reads the myth with an open heart and mind. So, let’s get right to the telling of the myth without weighing it down with undue finger pointing.
But first, I’ve already used two concepts inherent in chaos theory. Did you catch them? The first concept is the use of the numeral three. The numeral “3” establishes pattern and, in the end, chaos is ordered by pattern and vice-versa, pattern explodes into chaos. I’ll come back to this several times—about three times, actually—before my triptych is fully told.
The second concept is the use of the term “iterates” which means redundancy, repetition, over and over. Within the very heart of chaos are iterations of pattern. These repeated patterns, or fractals, hold dynamic tension within which chaos flourishes. Said another way, fractals are metaphors for chaos. Our myth will provide us the example we need to flush out chaos amidst order.
This dynamic tension holds the key to creativity, innovation, and beauty, even violence. But I’m ahead of myself. The myth first and foremost: it is the nail upon which I will hang the rest of the triptych.
One day, a young girl named Goldilocks ventured into the forest. She walked and wandered until she became tired and realized with some fright that she was lost. Looking about, she noticed a cottage that she hadn’t seen before and she approached with the intent to ask for help in order to return home. But, upon knocking on the front door, no one answered. Without anyone to invite her in, Goldilocks opened the door and entered.
She came upon a dining room table with dinnerware set and porridge prepared in three bowls. She was hungry and the food smelled inviting. Picking up a spoon she tried the contents in the largest bowl—for she noticed that the three bowls were three sizes. The porridge was too cold. She moved to the middle sized bowl but its porridge was too warm. The smallest bowl held porridge that was “just right” and she ate the entire contents because her appetite was strong.
Goldilocks looked around and noticed three chairs. Indeed, they were rocking chairs and she desired to rock back and forth while she contemplated what to do. She sat in the largest rocking chair but it was stern and formidable and she was unable, with her short legs, to move the chair with any success. She moved to the next chair, but it too, was too large to get a rhythm going back and forth. Finally, she sat in the tiniest chair and found it to be “just right”. Ah, her feet could touch the ground! But, alas, the chair broke due to her weight.
All of this testing and trying, eating and determining made her tired, particularly after such a long adventure in the forest. It was then she noticed a stairwell that looked inviting. Up she went. In the upstairs bedroom she found three beds. One, the largest, was too hard and unforgiving when she lay upon it. The next bed was too soft and not supportive enough. But the third bed was “just right”. She pulled the comforter over her tired body and promptly fell asleep.
Within time, the occupants of the house returned. Seems as though they’d taken a morning stroll while their porridge was cooling off. The odd thing about these cottage occupants was that they were not human at all but bears instead. Odder still was that they could speak.
“Hey, my porridge is gone!” cried the smallest bear, the bear that had been looking most forward to breakfast after returning from the morning walk. And, in short notice, all three bears took inventory of their home. Porridge was missing, a rocking chair was in shambles, and no one was present to take responsibility for these actions. Upstairs they all went.
It didn’t take but a moment to see that a creature was sleeping in the smallest bed. By this time, Goldilocks stirred upon hearing the bears move about their sleeping quarters.
Sitting up and opening her eyes, she exclaimed with a start, “Oh my!” She thrust off the comforter, gathered herself together in short order and bolted for the stairwell. In a flash, she ran out the door, never to be seen by the bears again.
Okay, there are queries we’re left with upon reading the myth and those will be addressed and answers proffered in the second essay. For now, lets connect the dots between the myth and chaos theory. We’re doing this because it builds toward the last essay of the triptych in which theory, myth and story will all tie together.
There are some key terms to chaos theory that will be paired with the details of our myth. Together chaos theory and myth are parallel tracks leading to a story of shape-shifting, family ties, death, disease and transformation—elements universal to mankind.
Hold on, here we go!
Chaos theory posits that within every living creature, within every molecule on the planet, and in every location in the universe, chaos reigns. There is nothing and nowhere that chaos is not present. Hand in hand with chaos are order, pattern, and regularity. The two are inextricably bound in a wholeness that is alive and vibrant.
Randomness reigns amidst order and patterns are inherent in chaos. But separate one aspect from another and we lose out on the very aspect that chaos provides which is diversity amidst unity, richness amidst mundane, and explosion, including destruction amidst ordinariness. Chaos is at its best when whole, and in fact, does not act without its compliment Order.
From the start we need to be careful not to demonize “chaos” just as we were careful not to place morals upon our myth. Too often we’ve come to view chaos as undisciplined, wild, and uncontrollable when in actuality the terms ‘chaos’ and ‘order’ have no inherent quality that is better or worse than the other. This is difficult to agree to when a tsunami explodes onto an island village shoreline. The function that chaos provides is innovation, creativity, and beauty. The function that order provides is familiarity, security, and reliability. Order is the known; chaos is the unknown—at least at first glance.
Several terms will assist us in laying down the parallel tracks of our chaotic, yet ordered, myth alongside the metaphor of chaos. The first term is “degrees of freedom”. This is the maximum range of behaviors that may occur before our subject matter shifts willy-nilly into chaos.
Once a friend wanted to exhibit her Riedal wine stem—quite an expensive hand-made wine glass said to be the best stemware with which to drink wine. As she held the base and swirled the delicate glass she became overenthusiastic and swirled with greater and greater intensity. The flexibility of the stem was apparent: it swayed in a circular orbit at a speed that made it sing. Suddenly, the orbital speed became greater than the tensile strength of the stemware. The stem snapped and broke in half.
The “degrees of freedom” available in the stem wasn’t able to exceed the spinning motion, and when it did, chaos ensued: the Riedal broke. Had my friend spun gently rather than with rigor the stem would have remained in tact. Another way of saying this is had the degrees of freedom been curtailed—lessened—stability would have prevailed and the wine stem would have remained in one piece.
A second term is the “bifurcation” point, or the point of departure. When the stem snapped that was the point of departure that moved the event into chaos. There is always a bifurcation point between harmony and disharmony. The bifurcation point can be determined and, at the same time, cannot be determined— a randomness that gives chaos it’s reputation for being crazy and disordered.
Another term, “feedback loop”, has two opposing directions to look toward. But let’s define “loops” first. Loops occur when movement in any event or activity happens in a pattern and begins to repeat itself. The loops are near duplicates only because the repetition is never exact; there is always a minute change within the structure or object as it moves that eventually, over time and repetition, will create something different than the original. Remember please a very famous butterfly discovered by Edward Lorenz.
Again, the wine glass as example: my friend’s hand moved in a circular motion with base in hand but never with the exact same circular pattern. This was not done purposefully but with the wild abandon of enthusiasm, with joie de vivre. As she spun the wine glass, the speed of the spin could have acted as a negative feedback loop.
“Wait! The plasticity of this glass has limits. I want to be careful not to exceed those limits in order not to break the stemware.” Negative feedback loops monitor and stabilize in order to keep a system ordered, safe, and reliable.
Positive feedback loops go all out: they push the system to change and that change is unpredictable, irreversible, and therefore, perceived as unstable. With the wine stem, instability equaled brokenness.
Our myth is waiting.
Let’s count the reiteration of “three” in this myth. Three bears. Three walks. Three bowls. Three spoons. Three rocking chairs. Three beds. Three exclamations. There is pattern, stability, regularity, and peace in the household of these three bears.
Along comes Goldilocks and chaos ensues with the number four. The bifurcation in the scene is Goldilocks and her attendant actions. She breaks social norms and enters the house uninvited. She eats food that is not her own. She breaks property that does not belong to her. She takes and does not give. She sleeps passively while the bears become agitated and excitable due to her actions. She runs away and neglects to thank her hosts.
She acts within negative feedback loops and her actions, in and of themselves, set up an opposing pattern to the bear’s stable routine. The degree of freedom is lost when Goldilocks acts outside the bear’s norm and unsettles their daily routine. The schedule within their household is broken due to her unexpected behavior.
Had she come upon the cottage, looked in the window, observed that no one was home, and returned into the woods—all positive feedback snug within the bears’ comfort zone—nothing untoward would have occurred. The bears would have enjoyed breakfast with nary a break in routine upon their return home.
You ask, “Why the emphasis on the devilment, devouring, and destruction of the pint size antagonist in the myth?” Aren’t we getting close to defining her actions as moral actions, the very thing we were asked to be wary of not doing? The emphasis here is to shift away from the rightness or wrongness of her actions and focus on her actions as a whole. We want to highlight the entirety of the event because the clash between Goldilocks and the three Bears IS the germ seed for the myth to be told in the first place rather than her individual behavior.
If Goldilocks had wandered the woods, became lost and had never found the cottage, that experience would have generated its own apex of chaos without the inclusion of the bears. Becoming lost is it’s own story of chaos, but that isn’t the one being told here. And, if the bears had simply performed their daily routine of preparing porridge and walking through the woods while it cooled, those actions would never have evoked the creation of a myth—a documentary on bear behavior perhaps, but never a myth that has been alive for over 175 years.
It is only when seemingly opposing elements interact that chaos takes place. However chaos isn’t an accident, it isn’t lurking in the shadows to pounce upon the goodness of the unsuspecting: it is parce and parcel of wholeness, of beauty, of health and vitality. The bears are minding their own business; they are taking care of their physical needs and “Boom!” their world is tossed topsy-turvy into mayhem. Goldilocks’ actions require a response from the bears. Change must take place amidst the ordinariness of the bears’ daily routine; change has been forced upon them.
Chaos creates change. Chaos forces evaluation. Chaos demands adjustment. But not on its own—it only operates within a system already in operation. It bounces off routine like a tennis ball bounces off the court and across the net. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Without change entropy eventually takes its toll. Without Goldilocks the bears would have lived their lives in happy solitude but would have died without the notoriety of a myth in their name. Goldilocks changed the destiny of those bears’ lives without their consent.
Goldilocks performed for the bears as Chaos personified and chaos will also perform as the lightning rod for change in our lives, too. Time to move into the next portion of our triptych, however, now is the time to iterate one more term in chaos theory. It’s been mentioned already but now is the time to highlight it as the door to this essay is coming to a close.
Remember fractals? They are the iteration of patterns in our lives, in nature, and in the universe. Fractals are the form that chaos takes as it moves through all of life. Fractals remind us in their profound beauty that change is inevitable less entropy take over. Goldilocks is like a fractal—a golden haired youth with verve, curiosity, and abandon that announces to everyone, “Oh my!”