The Enigma of the Butterfly Effect
“When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it could cause a hurricane in the other.” Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? The Butterfly Effect is an elegant concept that analyzes the chaotic nature of the universe. The explanation of this theory differs based on who you ask. The initial scientific theory defined it as “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. But with increasing interpretations and pop culture references, people now pay more relevance to how a small change at any point in time could set off a different chain of reactions, leading to drastic changes in our future.
Of course, this theory does not actually imply that a butterfly can cause a hurricane. What it means to say is that even a slight change in pressure caused by a flap of wings is capable of giving rise to a cascade of events that could lead to a storm. There are about a million things that could affect the weather, and it is scientifically impossible to trace it back to the single event that caused it.
In the 1960s, a Meteorology Professor by the name of Edward Lorentz was closely associated with extensive research in the field of chaos theory. One can only imagine the level of sophistication of the calculations involved in an advanced concept such as that. When Edward ran a simulation to predict a weather forecasting model, he started off by entering a value of 0.506127. Now six digits after the decimal point would seem ridiculously cautious to an ordinary person, and for a brief moment, Edward became an ordinary man and re-ran the simulation with a truncated figure of 0.506. But the results of these experiments were so far apart, that it changed the way scientists perceived the world. Although they were seemingly inconsequential digits, the minuscule errors mounted up till the point where the final models had a sizable variation.
(These figures show the three-dimensional evolution of two trajectories for the same period of time starting at two initial points that differ by only 10−5 in the x-coordinate)
Science depends on a level of predictability of events in order to make observations and predict future models accurately. To understand that such minute events can have drastic consequences was very concerning at first. But the world has come far. While we are able to predict the weather in advance due to compensations made to account for as many variables as possible, the field of medicine has gone one step further and harnessed the knowledge of the butterfly effect’s existence to predict heart conditions. The fact that the errors arise from the smallest of sources is vital information that is used while tracking the abnormalities at a cellular level. With the help of powerful computers, simulations are run with different initial conditions to predict the kind of heart condition that may occur in the patient. Genius, isn’t it?
Numerous authors and other personalities have urged us to do better in life by stating the fact that if we strive to do just 1% better every day, then at the end of the year, we would be an entirely different person as compared to if we had done nothing. As trivial as it may sound, they are not wrong! The math involved is pretty simple - doing nothing would mean that you are the same person you started off as:
(1)^365 = 1
But take a look at what happens when you do 1% better every day:
One could argue that great personalities such as Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi were all cogs in a gigantic system that made substantial change with small but meaningful actions. Everything we do, irrespective of the size of the action, is capable of altering the future. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.