catastrophe theory

Popular Terms
Mathematical theory that models the mechanisms of sudden and discontinuous change of state in very different types of phenomenon such as buckling of a metal under pressure, freezing of a liquid, fall of a government, or riot by a mob. It explains that a series of gradual changes (such as build up of strain in a structure or frustration of people in a nation) trigger rapid and large-scale (catastrophic) changes such as the collapse of a bridge or an empire. Developed in 1972 jointly by the French mathematician René Thom (1923-) and the Russian mathematician Vladimir Igorevich Arnold (1937-).

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