Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Butterfly Effect...

If a butterfly moves its wings in Brazil, can it set off a tornado in Texas?

This question is at the basis of the Butterfly Effect: the idea that even the tiniest changes in the atmosphere could have far reaching effects many thousands of miles away. The term itself is based on the work of Edward Lorenz who while investigating chaos theory said that there were implications for meteorology. The effect in a line of causation may seem to have nothing to do with the cause which may occur far away either physically or even metaphorically. Anyone who has seen the brilliant though disturbing film Babel will know exactly what I am talking about.

I will shamelessly quote Wikipedia on the subject of the butterfly effect:

“Recurrence, the approximate return of a system towards its initial conditions, together with sensitive dependence on initial conditions are the two main ingredients for chaotic motion. They have the practical consequence of making complex systems, such as the weather, difficult to predict past a certain time range (approximately a week in the case of weather), since it is impossible to measure the starting atmospheric conditions completely accurately.”

A film called The Butterfly Effect met with mixed reaction when it was released in 2004, although it did go on to win some more obscure awards. The implications for the butterfly effect seem to me most obviously demonstrated in deep ecology where the introduction of just one member of a species, one plant, even one seed can cause disastrous and long-term consequences for the environment. But in my case, I am hoping that one positive and optimistic act can set off a positive chain of events, as in another excellent movie Pay It Forward. I have a friend in Canada who regularly, while in line at the drive in, will buy a cup of coffee for the person in the car behind. Her rationale is that we are all trying to do the best we can and this might really make someone's day.

I have special friends...

So now you know…

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