Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chaos for Chicks: The Butterfly Effect

Can a small mistake ruin your life? Can a lucky break bring happiness? Do “little things mean a lot”? Does love change everything? Certainly.

Might the flapping of a butterfly’s wings produce a disturbance that days later and a thousand miles away creates high winds in Texas? If we traveled back in time, would a small change made back then produce a big change in the present we returned to? These are popular conceptions of chaos theory, an important scientific field that deals with situations where a small change in the initial situation produces a large change eventually. My own research ran into this phenomenon in trying to improve environmental measurements. Small changes in the input data or in the model produced large changes in the results, the conclusions.

Back to our daily lives: In high school, a “friend” gave me a ride home from football practice and hit 103 mph in his Chevy on a small country road. If we had crashed, my later life, if any, would never have been the same. My youngest brother’s best friend was killed when his motorcycle failed to stop rapidly enough, perhaps hitting a slippery patch of road. A current writing client of mine had, decades ago, unprotected sex with a local girl when he was seventeen and serving with the Marines in Guatemala. A son resulted, one he has shared responsibility for ever since. How many people have “tried” smoking or drugs or alcohol and gotten dependent, hooked? Choices that seem small can lead to large consequences.


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