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Does chaos theory have major implications for philosophy of medicine?
  1. S Holm
  1. Professor Holm is also Professor of Medical Ethics at the Centre for Medical Ethics, University of Oslo, Norway
  1. Professor S Holm, Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics, University of Manchester, Williamson Building, Manchester M13 9PL, UK;


In the literature it is sometimes claimed that chaos theory, non-linear dynamics, and the theory of fractals have major implications for philosophy of medicine, especially for our analysis of the concept of disease and the concept of causation. This paper gives a brief introduction to the concepts underlying chaos theory and non-linear dynamics. It is then shown that chaos theory has only very minimal implications for the analysis of the concept of disease and the concept of causation, mainly because the mathematics of chaotic processes entail that these processes are fully deterministic. The practical unpredictability of chaotic processes, caused by their extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, may raise practical problems in diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, but it raises no major theoretical problems. The relation between chaos theory and the problem of free will is discussed, and it is shown that chaos theory may remove the problem of predictability of decisions, but does not solve the problem of free will. Chaos theory may thus be very important for our understanding of physiological processes, and specific disease entities, without having any major implications for philosophy of medicine.

  • chaos theory
  • philosophy of medicine
  • non-linear dynamics
  • concept of disease
  • concept of causation

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