By: V. Goerck
Butterfly effect. Surely, you've heard about it. Maybe through a trend on TikTok (*cough* *cough* me *cough* *cough*), or perhaps you were talking to a friend, and it was the third thing you had no idea about, so you just lied and said, "Butterfly effect? Yeah, I know what it is", which was followed by a thoroughly confusing conversation. Anyways, here's what the butterfly effect means. It is the concept that small and seemingly insignificant decisions can have complex and meaningful consequences. It was created by meteorologist Edward Lorenz, and the name comes from an exciting story. Lorenz was studying the weather forecast, and as he changed one of the numbers representing atmospheric conditions from 0.506127 to 0.506, the forecast was unrecognizable. Or so he thought. Cue dramatic explanation. Basically, when put into a graphic simulator, the different data created an image that had a significant resemblance to a butterfly. It showed that it was not, in fact, completely random and baseless; instead, an infinitely complex and detailed system that caused the slightest change to have a big impact on the final prediction.
This sparked the statement that a butterfly from Brazil (yay! Brazilian representation!) could be the cause of a storm in Texas. Crazy, I know. That's kind of the point, though. Indeed it must have been something else, but what if it was the butterfly. The theory is all about the ambiguity of not knowing if it was that detail that caused such an event. The formal name for the effect is "Sensitive dependence on initial conditions." But if you ask me, the butterfly effect sounds much better.
The media has been feasting on this concept for some time now. Such as the movie Butterfly Effect, 2004. It mainly validates the concept that "everything happens for a larger, complex reason." Professor Kerry Emanuel from MIT said, "People grasp that small things can make a big difference. But they make errors about the physical world. People want to attach a specific cause to events and can't accept the world's randomness." This is quite a profound statement, as it shows that even though people seem to understand the shallower parts of the theory, they struggle when reflecting on the true depth of it. However, I think it is an interesting exposure to how science is not, in fact, all clear-cut answers and numbers but instead a constant exploring and discovering.