What is the butterfly effect?


What is the butterfly effect?

In: Mathematics

A small change acts to change things much larger than it; drop a rock on a gravel slope and it causes a massive landslide.

The butterfly effect is the thought that if a butterfly flaps its wings in Texas there is a tornado in Illinois. Just that a small ripple somewhere can turn into something much grander somewhere else. Imagine the domino meme. Tap a small domino and it’ll eventually hit enough things where it can knock over the huge one.

It’s an idea that an action can have major unintended consequences. In the 1960s, a meteorologist Edward Lorenz was experimenting with predicting the weather with computers, and found that something as small as a butterfly flapping its wings one way or another could dramatically alter weather patterns, because that small flap of the wings would shift air a little, and that little shift could be enough to change something on the large scale.

It’s been used a lot in time travel stories, with the idea that if you go back in time and make a tiny change, like stepping on a twig, the chain reaction that comes from that could change the future in a huge way. So like, a time traveler could step on a twig, and then an animal that would have eaten that twig starves, and then another animal can’t eat it, and the chain reaction occurs that results in a world where humans never existed.

Let’s make it super simple say I went back in time and plucked the apple that fell on newton’s head before it historically happened, sure he wouldn’t have had the ideas for modern physics right then but maybe he would’ve later but also in that time someone else could theorize it instead creating a ripple effect across time and changing other seemingly unconnected events

The butterfly effect is a description of chaotic systems like the weather. It goes like this,

“The weather is so sensitive to initial conditions that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane in a decade”

It’s meant to show that even a small deviation from starting points can lead to drastically different outcomes. The butterfly didn’t actually cause any hurricanes, but if you don’t account for that butterfly, then all the atoms you didn’t account for will hit each other, and bump into the other atoms, which keep bumping into the other atoms until you no longer have a similar system, aka, a hurricane vs. clear weather.

Imagine that you are walking down a single-track path and all of a sudden there is a fork in the road. You pick one of the 2 possible paths.

Now, you keep on walking and there is another fork in the road. Likewise, the other paths that you did not take also have forks in the road.

Now, imagine that every single decision that you make is just a set of forks in the road that you are walking on. The path that you are currently on depends entirely on every single path that you have taken beforehand.

A small change (taking a different path at any one fork) will have **huge** implications on the future path that you take.

Basically it is that what seems like insignificant details can have extreme effects over time.

My favorite example is the first month or so of world war 1 (up to the miracle on the Marne). Agreements between England and Belgium, some pretty haphazard but lucky troop deployment, and that the French commander was able to convince the British commander to go on the offensive rather than try to get his boys off the continent.

This really almost went the other way. History would have been very different if the initial German advance had not been blunted at the Marne- WW1 would have looked a lot more like the Franco-Prussian war and it is impossible to conceive of the world if Germany had won WW1 in the first month or so of the conflict. No British expansion into the Middle East, no Adolf Hitler earning a medal for trying to save his dying CO, no communist revolution in Russia.

A butterfly flaps its wings on the African plains. This disrupts a small amount of pollen from a nearby plant, that lands on a lion’s nose making it sneeze. The large herd of wildebeest nearby hear the predators sneeze and become alarmed, causing a stampede. The stampede creates a ton of dust to rise into the air. That dust cloud floats over the Atlantic and water clouds form on it. Those clouds dump torrential rain on the American east coast and collide with a front coming from the west coast creating tornadoes in Arkansas.

The pinnacle example people think of when you bring this up is the possibility that A butterfly flapping it’s wings and pushing wind, could later result in a tornado/hurricane.

Small and unforseeably related events could be the thing that brings about other bigger events later on.

There is a Japanese pronoun “when the wind blows the bucket shop makes money”.
Wind blows -> somebody gets dust in their eye -> they go blind -> they become a
Street performer -> cats get hunted for their skin to make shamisen for the street performer -> less cats more mouse -> mouse chews on the buckets -> somebody buys another bucket -> bucket shop makes money.

Tl;dr unforeseen consequences from small actions and events