Jurassic Park, Wooden Dinosaurs and Chaos

Jurassic Park was showing on TV tonight and it brought back memories of the circumstances surrounding my first viewing of this dinosaur movie at the cinema…

I had organised to give a talk on Chaos and Fractals to the Canberra chapter of the CSIRO’s Double Helix Science Club and was asked to do an interview with the Canberra Times aboutt he talk. One of the first things I was asked by the reporter was what I thought of Jeff Goldblum’s “Chaotician” character in the Jurassic Park movie. Unfortunately I had not yet seen the movie, which had just opened for screening, but the rest of the interview went very well (she only got my suburb wrong – not bad for a reporter!).

I resolved to watch the movie before I gave the talk. My favourite part is the arrival at the island and the first sighting of the dinosaurs. When I saw the sequence, which is perfectly accompanied by John Williams score, I was simply in awe of the dinosaurs. I thought to myself “Wow, they really are alive” which is something I had never imagined I would have the opportunity to see.

Needless to say, Jeff Goldblum’s Chaotician characted irritated the hell out of me. I was a second year university student of mathematics at the time and my coursework included a fair amount of chaos theory. I don’t recall anyone else acting like him and calling themselves a chaotician, but I guess there’s always the possibility.

Apart from the above character, my talk on chaos had nothing to do with the Jurassic Park movie or dinosaurs, yet the newspaper photographer (no doubt aided by the Helix organisers) brought out a wooden dinosaur kit. The photograph that appeared in the paper had some of the kids and I holding the wooden skeletons. Lucky my t-shirt had a mandelbrot set, so there was at least one item on topic.

One of the points I brought up in my talk was how the complexity of systems such as the weather mean that we may never be able to make precise predictions for their future behaviour, despite the demands of business and the general public. This didn’t go down well with one member of the audience, who seemed to take offence that we could not predict perfectly. I received some unexpected support from another audience member. I was not until the following day when one of my maths lecturers mentioned that the Dean of Science (a renowned statistical mechanics expert and mathematician) was very impressed with my talk. Pity they refused to give me official credit…

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