March 23, 2009

The Butterfly Effect

This post doesn't so much have to do with our five kids, but at the same time, it does.
It has SO much to do with them.
Quite some time ago I added a little bit to my "about me" here on my blog, stating I've recently become a believer in the butterfly effect.
I put that there, as a reminder to some day post on it, to share what I think is something good.
And I am at last doing so.
I've saved this tattered article, torn in two pieces now, for several months, passed on to me from my sister. (Thanks, to her for that.) It is written by a freelance writer named Terry Mejdrich.
I hope Mr. Mejdrich doesn't mind if I share his word:

In 1952, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote a story entitled, "A Sound Of Thunder," in it, hunters were able to travel into the distant past and hunt the fiercest animal of all time, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hunters were required to follow strict rules so that nothing they would do in the past would alter the future. Yet in the story one man deviates from those rules and accidentally kills a butterfly. When he returns to the present he notices that it is not exactly like he left it.
The premise of the story is that minute changes in nature can have far reaching and profound effects. In an address in 1972, scientist Edward Lorenz borrowed from Bradbury's story and called this notion "The butterfly effect."
The scientific principle can be stated: Very miniscule variations in initial (beginning) conditions of a sequence of events may lead to very profound changes in how things eventually turn out. It is part of a larger scientific area of study called Chaos Theory.
In his speech Lorenz asked the question: "Could the tiny wind currents created by a butterfly's wings in South America end up causing (or preventing) a tornado in Kansas?"
He was not necessarily saying they could, but he'd noted in computer simulations of weather prediction models that changes on the order of hundred-thousandths (extremely tiny variations) could lead to completely different predictions.
The study of weather, and most notably weather prediction, is extremely sensitive to minute changes. There are hundreds of variables that can effect how weather pattern may evolve, and even a small error in just one might throw the entire prediction off. A change of less than one degree can be the difference between melting or freezing. Wind swirling around a mountaintop might have unpredictable consequences of the downwind side. A newly plowed field will create updrafts that might produce a thunderstorm later on. A tiny twig placed across a trickle of water might alter the path of a major torrent.
The hot topic today is the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide, which has increased the atmospheric concentration to a level higher than at any time in at least the last million years. Compared to the rest of the composition of the atmosphere, the added amount of carbon dioxide is slight, but will it end up being a major significance? This is the question, and given the potential consequences, it is too important a question to ignore.
The notion of whether or not tiny variations in initial conditions might lead to profound changes did not begin with Ray Bradbury, and has been considered by many other earlier philosophers and scientists. In the 1946 movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" (based on the story, "The Greatest Gift," by Philip Stern) a man gets his wish to have never been born, but then gets to see the resulting changes his absence produced. It is a story about how one person's life can have profound effect on those around him.
Most people have "turning points" in their own lives (though some might consider them more like long gradual curves). Others have come into our lives, perhaps teachers or friends, who have had a profound influence on the choices we've made. An encouraging word, a smile, a handshake, or a helping hand at just the right time (or a negative word at an equally sensitive time) might have changed life's direction. In a sense, then, this makes us all capable of creating the butterfly effect. Each of us has the awesome power to affect the future.
A college instructor once made that same speech to me. My rather flippant response was, "In a hundred years, what will it matter?" And her pointed response was, "No matter what you do, it WILL matter." In the overall scheme of things, doing nothing at all is also a response that could have long reaching consequences.
And so near a year ago, I took on this new perspective of looking at things with the butterfly effect in mind. "Very miniscule variations in initial (beginning) conditions of a sequence of events may lead to very profound changes in how things eventually turn out."
I believe in this. I see it every day in many ways.
I see how variations in the beginning conditions in the lives of people around me affected how things eventually turned out.
I see how we are affected and influenced in so many ways, some so small that we might not even realize.
I've had the gift of having a few very good friends happen into my life, and yes, they've slightly changed it.
I want to believe that an encouraging word, a smile, a handshake, or a helping hand at just the right time can change things overall for the good. And I know how a negative word at an equally sensitive time can change things too.
What we do matters. What we say matters.
Every day I hope for more people to realize that they are having an impact on their families, on the environment, maybe even on unknown passers-by, all-in-all, in one way or another, on the future.
I am having an effect on my children every day, and on others, some that may know me, and some I may only cross paths with for a short time. Maybe some that I'll never know.
What we do makes a difference on so many levels, even if we're each just one small being in the world.
Every little bit counts. Every little bit we recycle, care, share, preserve, conserve, and so on. Every bit that we pay attention to what's around us, or don't.
There are millions of children in the world... if I raise a few good strong butterflies, and everyone else raises their butterflies to be good and strong, too... just think of the effect it could have. :)

I wish I could take a photograph of a butterfly to wrap up with.
It is March, however; chilly, rainy, snowy, and so I'll have to wait.
Like sharing this article though, I will get around to it.
Until then, I'll be tending to my butterflies.
*Updated to add photo: Tiger Swallowtail on our wild irises in June.


  1. You speak truth...what we do, every minute, every day, effects us or someone around us. I am with you on using our influence for good out there in our universe...even the unknown implications of our actions can be astounding. Speak on, you.

  2. Hi Amanda-
    Great article. I too am a fan of Terry Mejdrich. I met him a few years ago and have read all of his books. They are really quite good. This article really makes me think about things. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sending me that... I'd like to tackle thoughts on the red flower with the green stem, too!

  4. Good job, Amanda! Thanks for making us think a little bit more about our day to day actions. I love tending to my butterflies too and I pray that my actions help them to become good and strong as well. God bless you!