Niall Ferguson in Foreign Affairs: "Complexity and Collapse of a Marriage"
The Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has a new theory on the collapse of marriages, and it goes something like this:
Great marriages are, I would suggest, complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder -- on "the edge of chaos," in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems "go critical." A very small trigger can set off a "phase transition" from a benign equilibrium to a crisis -- a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England, or a femme fatale with a fatwa walks into your life and brings about the collapse of your marriage. (Niall Ferguson, "Complexity and Collapse: Marriages on the Edge of Chaos," Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010)The trigger to Ferguson's own "phase transition" came when he and Ayaan Hirsi Ali met at a Time Magazine party in New York in May last year, as shown in the photo above. But there were signs of disorder already:
It is not the first time that Ferguson has been unfaithful. He has cheated on his wife eight times over the past five years, according to one family friend, and five of these affairs have apparently taken place over the past 18 months. (Katie Nicholl , Miles Goslett, and Caroline Graham, "The history man and fatwa girl," Daily Mail, February 12, 2010)Obviously, Professor Ferguson's marriage was already at risk of spinning out of control, but there's always a bright side. We now have the man's new application of chaos theory to the collapse of great marriages.
Let that be a lesson to us all . . .