The butterfly effect is a term related to meteorology (the study of
weather phenomena) and to chaos theory (a branch of mathematical and
physical theory). A meteorologist named Edward Lorenz is credited with
having given the concept its name. Basically the butterfly effect is
the observation that an event as seemingly insignificant as the
flapping of a butterfly's wings might create a minuscule disturbance
that, in the chaotic motion of the atmosphere, may eventually become
sufficiently amplified to change the large-scale atmospheric motion,
possibly even leading to a huge storm in a distant place. The immense
number of tiny variables is one reason why long-term weather is so
difficult to forecast. The term "butterfly effect" is sometimes
applied to areas outside meteorology, making reference to the fact
that small, almost imperceptible things can have large and momentous
"The butterfly effect, first described by Lorenz at the December 1972
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates the essential idea of chaos
theory. In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz
had quoted an unnamed meteorologist's assertion that, if chaos theory
were true, a single flap of a single seagull's wings would be enough
to change the course of all future weather systems on the earth. By
the time of the 1972 meeting, he had examined and refined that idea
for his talk, 'Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in
Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?' The example of such a small system
as a butterfly being responsible for creating such a large and distant
system as a tornado in Texas illustrates the impossibility of making
predictions for complex systems; despite the fact that these are
determined by underlying conditions, precisely what those conditions
are can never be sufficiently articulated to allow long-range
SearchSmallBizIT: Chaos Theory
"Edward Lorenz was a physicist working in Massachusetts in the 1960s.
Lorenz was developing a computer programme that could determine the
probable development of weather systems based on current conditions.
As he was inputting data into the system, Lorenz accidentally entered
a number and missed out the last three of six decimal places. Although
it seemed unlikely that such a negligible discrepancy could make any
significant difference to the outcome, Lorenz also entered the correct
number anyway to be sure. To his astonishment he discovered that
rerunning the programme with the extra three decimal places produced
completely different results. A change of little more than a
hundred-thousandth led to an entirely new outcome.
As Lorenz was later to explain, it was if something as seemingly
insignificant as the beat of a butterfly?s wing in Peking could end up
generating a hurricane in New York. Since then, the phrase ?The
Butterfly Effect? has come to describe the way in which an apparently
negligible variable can have a surprisingly vast influence."
OMF Canada: Mission and the Holy Spirit
"The butterfly effect, used to describe many chaotic phenomena, was
first described as such in reference to weather: that the beating of a
butterfly's wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas months
later. Chaos theory posits that complex systems such as the weather,
or the stock market, are difficult to predict due to their sensitivity
to small changes. The cumulative effect of these small changes, and
their timing, makes it very difficult or impossible to predict future
conditions with a high degree of certainty.
Edward Lorenz, in a paper in 1963 given to the New York Academy of
Sciences, said: 'One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were
correct, one flap of a seagull's wings would be enough to alter the
course of the weather forever.' Later speeches and papers by Lorenz
used the more poetic butterfly.
The expression butterfly effect itself seems to be based on the sci-fi
short history A Sound of Thunder, written by Ray Bradbury in 1952. In
the history, a time traveller accidentally steps on a butterfly,
changing his entire future."
Brainy Encyclopedia: Butterfly Effect
"In chaos theory, 'The Butterfly Effect' refers to the discovery that
in a chaotic system such as the global weather, tiny perturbations in
the system may sometimes lead to major changes in the overall system.
It is theoretically possible that a butterfly flapping its wings in
Mexico could create tiny changes in the air flow that would eventually
lead to different weather in Europe. In most cases the flapping wings
would make no difference whatsoever, but just occasionally, very very
occasionally, when the system is at a cusp where it could go either
way (like a ball ballanced on top of a cone), the flapping may be just
the difference that causes the future to unfold differently.
The same principle applies to human society. Tiny changes in one
person's state of mind can, on occasions, lead to major changes in
society as a whole."
Peter Russell: The Butterfly Effect in Global Politics and Commerce
These days, the butterfly effect is discussed in management workshops,
stock market seminars, yoga classes, and popular entertainment. The
butterfly effect has been mentioned in "Jurassic Park" and "Dilbert."
A movie called "The Butterfly Effect" was released earlier this year.
What began as a rhetorical question by a meteorologist has turned into
a metaphor for the importance of small things. It should be noted that
Edward Lorenz has said that he never intended to create a cultural
catchphrase when he made his initial observations and mentioned the
"The father of the Butterfly Effect is Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist
at MIT. One day, while analyzing weather patterns, Lorenz left his
computer terminal to get a cup of coffee. When he returned, he saw
that his data points had gone haywire. A small change in his
calculations had produced a major swing in his forecasts. That got him
to thinking. And in a 1972 speech to the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, he posed a rhetorical question, 'Does the flap
of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?'
Fifteen years later, Lorenz's musings found mass appeal with the
publication of James Gleick's bestseller, 'Chaos: Making a New
Science.' The book offered a detailed analysis of Lorenz's
calculations and hypothesis -- what scientists had come to call
'sensitive dependence on initial conditions.' But the consultants who
embraced the book as compelling literature took the Butterfly Effect
much too literally.
Edward Lorenz is bemused by what's become of his speech. 'I was just
trying to determine why we didn't have better luck with our weather
forecasts,' he says. 'I never reached a point where I believed the
butterfly was a scientific fact. At most, it's a hypothesis. I never
expected it to become so huge outside meteorology."
Fast Company: If a Consultant Flaps His Lips in Yokohama
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Google Web Search: "butterfly effect" chaos
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