The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

The term "butterfly effect" was coined in the 1960s by Edward Lorenz, a meteorology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was studying weather patterns. He devised a model demonstrating that if you compare two starting points indicating current weather that are near each other, they'll soon drift apart – and later, one area could wind up with severe storms, while the other is calm.

At the time, weather statisticians thought you should be able to predict future weather based on looking at historical records to see what had happened when conditions were the same as they are now. Lorenz was skeptical. He was running a computer program to test various weather simulations and he discovered that rounding off one variable from .506127 to .506 dramatically changed the two months of weather predictions in his simulation.

His point was that long-range weather forecasting was virtually impossible, in large part because humans don't have the ability to measure nature's incredible complexity. There are simply too many minute variables that can act as pivot points, cascading into much bigger consequences.

 What does That Have to Do with Me?

What does this butterfly effect have to do with us, as students or individuals?  Everything, actually.  Just like the butterfly being part of the larger system in nature, we humans are also part of the larger systems in this universe, where various parts interact and affect one another.  So, whatever we do, no matter how small or big, can have a deep impact on our and on others’ lives.

One way of looking at this is "attitude".  Our attitude, good or bad, can affect other people.  To be successful one must develop a successful attitude, regardless of the environment.  Your positivity can affect your work and your relationship with other people.  One bad move from you, no matter how small it is, can affect the system in which you are in.  Likewise, one good move from you, no matter how small it is, can cause a lot of changes in your surroundings.  Such a negative or positive attitude can propagate in larger ways throughout the whole system.  

Small Things Matter

The butterfly effect can work both ways, negatively or positively.  The two pertinent things that the butterfly effect teaches us is that small things matter, and we are all connected to a bigger system.  Our action now, today, would have been the result of a previous action and this could in turn, lead to a future action.  With one small gesture, you can change somebody’s life.  Remembering this would make us more aware that whatever we do, no matter how trivial we think it is, would lead to a ripple effect.  One small whiff of a cigarette now can change your whole life down the road, in 10 years, 20 years, or maybe 10 months.  One dollar donated from your money can change your life or somebody else’s life in a more amplified manner than you think.  

Don’t ever underestimate the power of small acts.  That small act can change a person’s life as well as your life.  Harness this beautiful butterfly effect in your life.  Do small things each day.  A little progress each day will soon add up to big results.  That darn assignment that you have to write, that laborious reading that you have to complete, or that tiresome housework that you have postponed from one day to another. Do small things at a time if it’s too loathsome.  Don’t leave it to the last minute.

Be Persistent and Consistent

One of my favorite idioms is this quote by Ovid, a Roman poet, which says, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”.  In Chinese, there is a similar aphorism 水滴石穿(shui di shi chuan) which means “Constant dripping of water wears away the stone.”  Tackle that mountainous task bit by bit and soon it will be over.  Be consistent and persistent, no matter how problematic it is or how tiresome.  A mountain isn’t created or destroyed in one day.  It takes years, millions of years for such things to happen.  

Because life is so unpredictable, we can never know what will happen to us in the future, but if we can do just one good deed, just one small act, we can hope that the good deed can produce an optimistic future.  A small gesture of kindness, a smiling face, a helping hand, could all make a difference in somebody’s life, or our lives for that matter.  All these simple examples are a part of a bigger picture and if we can just focus and pay more attention to these little details, we may be able to make our lives and others’ lives so much better.