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The Butterfly Effect

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The Butterfly Effect

 

If you hold a piece of string between your hands you have an "end" in each hand, but in more ways than one each end can also be called a beginning: The beginning of the string, the beginning of the transition from string to hand, or the beginning of the transition from string to air. Quantum physics has taught us that nothing is absolutely any one thing. The string--be it nylon, hemp, or cotton--has electrons, and those electrons, busy critters, move, flux, and orbit, constantly redefining the space of that piece of string. The electrons of your hand, too, constantly shape and reshape your "personal space" by their activity. In the resultant intermingling of the subatomic parts of your body and the string you become, to some extent, an extension of that piece of string and it becomes a part of you.

 

Astronomers speak of a similar idea called "The Mediocrity Principle." This idea says that, at this time, the view of the universe from earth is no better or no worse than from anywhere else in the universe. As Chet Raymo says in his book The Virgin and the Mousetrap: "We're cosmically mediocre." But because the universe continues to expand, there must have been a time when it began to expand. Though with today's technology they have no way of knowing when exactly this occurred, astronomers have formed a hypothetical idea called zero time. Even this, zero time, is not the beginning of the universe, however; that's just when it began to take its current shape. You can trace the evolution of a loaf of bread back to when it was just a lump of ingredients, and you can trace it to a time when the ingredients came together, but even beyond that all the ingredients were still there; they just hadn't come together yet. Cosmologists differ on what they think the universe was before the ingredients came together or how they got there in the first place, but even the strictest of evolutionists believe in the literal truth of at least one bible passage: Ecclesiastes 1:9: "That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which will be done: and there is nothing new under the sun."

 

For the past twenty-five years or so Chaos Theory has been one of the hottest, most interesting fields of scientific study. Edward Lorenz was one of the founders of this new method of scientific inquiry, and the founding idea of chaos theory is what he called his "Butterfly Effect." In studying the earth's weather systems, Lorenz proved through a series of differential equations that even the tiniest fraction of error in the measurement of weather patterns could lead to drastically different effects. His term for this phenomena, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, is one of the most important characteristics defining chaotic behavior. For example, if a measurement was rounded off at the twentieth digit and placed into his equation, the result would vary considerably from the same measurement rounded off at the twenty first digit. His "Butterfly Effect," then, says that the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil will significantly affect the weather in Texas, eventually. What begins as a wing-flap today may someday be a hurricane. A ripple in the ocean may someday be a tsunami. What this says is that nothing is self-starting; the physical world is powered by inertia. The butterfly that causes the hurricane in Texas flaps its wings to escape the little Brazilian girl chasing it with a net. A surf contest is won in Hawaii by someone who got lucky and caught the best wave of the day--the wave having been started eight days earlier in Alaska by a young boy skipping stones.

 

Because nothing can be called simply one thing or another, this sensitive dependence on initial conditions is applicable to more areas than just physical scientific theory. Because beginnings and ends form a type of coordinate system for human lives, slight variations in the characteristics of those points can also be the difference between love and hate, or getting or losing an important account. Because of the complexity and immeasurability of human emotions we can't even round off at the equivalent of the second digit, let alone the twentieth. But if first impressions are everything, wouldn't it be nice to know which glance, if properly given, would be the butterfly flap that accelerates into love?

 

Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody

is not its goal, and yet if a melody has not reached

its end, it has not reached its goal. A parable.

 

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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