The first time I talked with “Dr. Chaos” about Buddhism was one twilit night a couple of years ago in a California January. We were sitting on the deck of a friend’s house in Big Sur, two hundred feet above the Pacific. It’s a place where you can both hear and see the waves break. As we listened and watched, the water stretching out like a vast mirror to the horizon, there, in glorious magenta light, the winter sun slowly set: metallic, then amber, then scarlet—one of those natural scenes so far beyond the viewer, so much grander and deeper, that a kind of vertigo swept over us.

“You know, I have never watched a sunset before in my life, not to that final moment,” said Dr. Chaos as the darkness rose up out of the ocean and covered us.

“Why not?” I asked, shocked that anyone could have missed that for fifty years. Certainly even an ensconced physicist from Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore Lab must have come away from the computer long enough to stumble on a sunset now and again.

“Because it would make me too lonely,” he replied. “I couldn’t watch it alone, it would be too overwhelming.”

Then somehow I understood something new about Minh Duong-Van’s work on “controlling chaos.” For him, the natural world of phenomena would be too unpredictable to face head-on—all those unleashed floods of passionate color bleeding extravagantly across the sky. As we talked, it occurred to me that of course such a man would find his happiness in mathematical order: unable to contain his own emotions, he would strive—and flourish—in the world of theory.

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