The Fractal Self and the Organization of Nature: The Daoist Sage and Chaos Theory

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The interconnections between self and surroundings in Daoist thought have been explored in the past in a variety of contexts. This paper, however, explores the Daoist version of the relational self from the general perspective of chaos theory and, more specifically, examines the role of the self in creating emergent form and dynamism in nature and society. The fractal self and world merge through the disciplined effort of the sage until the effort becomes effortless. Both self and world are transformed and become one through the emergent moment. This moment represents a new opportunity for subsequent patterns, or attractors, to emerge. We suggest that the self folds itself into the world, creating and being created by a new attractor, or pattern, in the organization of nature, which we argue is Dao. Our current investigation addresses the following aspects of chaos theory and its relation to Daoism: (1) the Daoist notion of wuwei as perfect congruence; (2) yin and yang at the edge of chaos; (3) the emergent nature of the myriad things; and (4) a Daoist warning against fractal disconnections in the world. Finally, we conclude that the self has the potential to become the world. To approach this amplified condition, the self must dedicate itself to and risk open engagement with events across the complexity of nature. Through openly engaging the world, the self is transformed, leaving the world forever changed.