The Butterfly Effect
The butterfly effect is a part of chaos theory, holding that one small change in a nonlinear system can result in larger changes. The term “the butterfly effect” was created by Edward Lorenz, who used the example of a butterfly flapping its wings to set off a chain of events that results in the formation of a hurricane. One of the more famous examples of an explanation of the butterfly effect occurs in the film Jurassic Park.
Chaos theory was originally proposed in 1890 by Henri Poincare, who believed that the sensitivity of initial conditions could be found in meteorology. In 1952, science fiction author Ray Bradbury wrote “A Sound of Thunder,” in which the idea of a single butterfly causing a ripple effect across time was explored. In 1961, Lorenz was running a computer model in order to run weather predictions. Rather than entering a full numeric value of 0.506127, he entered 0.506 as a shortcut, but discovered that a completely different weather scenario emerged.
Two years later, he published Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, in which he wrote that, theoretically, one flap of a seagull’s wing could alter weather forever. In 1972, Lorenz was supposed to give a talk on the subject, but could not come up with an adequate title. A colleague suggested, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” and the butterfly effect entered popular consciousness. The butterfly does not cause the tornado, but represents a small change in the initial system that cascades into a tornado.