The Flapping Of A Single Butterfly’s Wing

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The flapping of a single butterfly’s wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month’s time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn’t happen. Or maybe one that wasn’t going to happen, does. [Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141] The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Click To Tweet

The first true experimenter in chaos was a meteorologist, named Edward Lorenz.

In 1960, he was working on the problem of weather prediction. He had a computer set up, with a set of twelve equations to model the weather.

It didn’t predict the weather itself. however this computer program did theoretically predict what the weather might be.

One day in 1961, he wanted to see a particular sequence again.

Flapping Of A Single Butterflys Wing - Forward Steps image 1500pxTo save time, he started in the middle of the sequence, instead of the beginning. He entered the number off his printout and left to let it run.

When he came back an hour later, the sequence had evolved differently. Instead of the same pattern as before, it diverged from the pattern, ending up wildly different from the original.

Eventually he figured out what happened. The computer stored the numbers to six decimal places in its memory.

To save paper, he only had it print out three decimal places. In the original sequence, the number was .506127, and he had only typed the first three digits, .506.

By all conventional ideas of the time, it should have worked. He should have gotten a sequence very close to the original sequence.

A scientist considers himself lucky if he can get measurements with accuracy to three decimal places.

Surely the fourth and fifth, impossible to measure using reasonable methods, can’t have a huge effect on the outcome of the experiment.

Lorenz proved this idea wrong. This effect came to be known as the butterfly effect.

The amount of difference in the starting points of the two curves is so small that it is comparable to a butterfly flapping its wings.

This phenomenon, common to chaos theory, is also known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system.

The source of the text, above, is:
(ad) Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis: Volume 1 – The Physical Climate.

If you read it a few times over, and really “get it”, then it is easy to see how our most teensy action, or inaction, can take our life off on a tangent.

You have likely heard many times, the well known adage of needing to do different, to have different.

Remember, just a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a system.

Take on board Mahatma Gandhi’s message, with the information above at the forefront of your mind:

Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.

Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Click To Tweet

I think you might also very much enjoy reading the struggling butterfly story, here.


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The Flapping Of A Single Butterfly\'s Wing