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Definition of CATASTROPHE THEORY
: mathematical theory and conjecture that uses topology to explain events (as an earthquake or a stock market crash) characterized by major abrupt changes
First Known Use of CATASTROPHE THEORY
Branch of mathematics (considered a branch of geometry) that explores how gradual changes to a system produce sudden, drastic results (though usually not as dire as the name suggests). A simple example is how a plastic coffee stirrer subjected to gradually increasing pressure from both ends will suddenly buckle in one direction or another. Other catastrophes include optical phenomena such as reflection or refraction of light through moving water. More speculatively, ideas from catastrophe theory have been applied by social scientists to such situations as the sudden eruption of mob violence.