*Macmillan Science Library: Mathematics*. Copyright © 2001-2006 by Macmillan Reference USA, an imprint of the Gale Group. All rights reserved.

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## Early History of Chaos Theory

Although chaos theory is very much a late-twentieth-century development, most chaos scientists consider the great nineteenth-century mathematician, Henri Poincaré, to be the true father of the discipline. The fundamental phenomenon common to all chaotic systems is sensitivity to **initial conditions**, and Poincaré was the first to articulate this sensitivity in his study of the so-called three-body problem.

Poincaré had described this problem in 1890 when he attempted to calculate the orbits for three interacting celestial bodies. Poincaré found that Newton's equations for two celestial objects were useless after a short time. The orbits became so tangled that he gave up hope of trying to predict where they would go. No one quite knew what to do about Poincaré's problem and so it remained essentially a mystery for the next eight decades.

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