Monday, March 19, 2007

The Butterfly Effect in a Nutshell

http://www.perkel.com/nerd/butterflyeffect.htm
I've been thinking lately about how the smallest events/decisions can affect your life.
For instance, recently my friend Pol celebrated her birthday on the first of March, which is indeed the day she was born. However, on her seventeenth birthday she decided (for reasons I've long forgotten) to have her party on the tenth of March of that year. We ended up in the local Teen club and that was where I met Jeff, who I married.
Now, if she'd had her party on her actual birthday would I have married the same person?
What if we'd decided NOT to go to the club? Or what if Jeff hadn't? Or what if I'd had the flu that day? Or what if I'd been grounded and couldn't have gone to her party?
What would my life have been like now? One small thing. For good or for bad.
Even much smaller things can change the course of a life.
I was reading about chaos theory and the Butterfly Effect tonight. (The link above is easy reading compared to some of the more technical stuff on the theory of Sensitive Dependence on Initial Condition .
According to this theory even something very, very tiny ( like the flap of a insect's wing) can cause ripples of effect in the universe space-time continuum thingy. Tiny little things making all sorts of far-reaching changes that nobody can know or fathom (unless you're heavily into chaos equations and fractal whatchamacallits).
Makes my head whirl to think that something I did today, perhaps some 1/4 second of my life today crossing the street walking faster or slower, or perhaps something as banal as my breakfast cereal choice has changed the course of my life or perhaps someone else's in a way that I will never realize.
Something of this nature that spooked me once: I was working at a video store circa the year 1989 and I rented out a games system and a couple of games to two teenaged boys. We chatted for a few minutes before they left.
Maybe an hour later a police officer brings the things the boys rented back to the store. There had been an awful car accident about a mile away. The boys' vehicle had been T-boned by another car and both of them died.
Morbid thoughts: Was I one of the last people they spoke to? If they hadn't rented the games or spoken to me, would they still be alive? Or did they stop for slurpies at the 7-11 across the street and did that put them at the fatal intersection at the moment of impact? If they'd paused to tie their shoelace before they caught back in their car, was that enough to change their fate? Yeah, it was spooky to think about alright.
According to Butterfly theory, even the fact that you are reading this blog post instead of doing something else has probably changed the course of your life in some infinitisemal way. Or possibly just a weather pattern in Brazil.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, my.

So, how much responsibility do you want to take on? It's fine if you want to interact cheerfully with each person you meet, thereby causing untold cheerfulness as it spreads from person to person. But what if there were other incidents between you and that other person's bad/good? Do you take responsibility there, too, not knowing if something you did, or did not do, caused a situation? Where does it stop? If your actions are so far-reaching as the flap of a butterfly's wing, how can you control the myriad of outcomes and further reactions that eventually cause weather upset?

Is there room for "it was meant to be"? Perhaps you were meant to meet Jeff earlier, and circumstances prevented that. Maybe you had turned left and he, right, so you missed an opportunity. How will you know?

Some other views... Maybe the deaths of those teenagers were needed for you to evaluate the current state of your life. Maybe those deaths will wake up someone on a downward spiral, turning them around so that they will go on to cure AIDS. Maybe those young deaths were required to clean out the gene pool. (I'm a great believe in Death, but let's not go there...)

Maybe your questioning in this public forum will cause others to reconsider the path their life takes.

Maybe... Maybe it's none of those things. Or all of them.

You are not the Supreme Being. (She has red hair and the cutest little outfit...) {ahem!} You are currently a Finite Being, and have infinite choices... with infinite results, with effects that you will never know, just as the butterfly does not know how it affects weather patterns.

Will you use the power for Good?

LJ

Spider Girl said...

LJ, my friend, you are a wonderful philosopher.

I just think the concept of tiny things making all the world of difference/parallel universes heaped up on top of one another in infinite variety fascinating.

It's heady stuff. If I dwelled on theories like that every day, I'd go bananas. Everyone would. You'd be afraid to step outside.

Naw, I just was in a mood to contemplate the randomness of it all when I happened to find some interesting reading on the internet. Got me thinking.

Tai said...

I LIKE the concept very much. But then, I also believe you can create whatever your little heart desires...what effect that will have on the butterflies wings is yet to be determined.
:)

skillz said...

I agree with LJ. Everything single little thing you do has so many consequences it's not worth thinking about.

Also, the many factors combining to cause one event has a flip side. By being at a certain place at a certain time on a certain day, but without a certain other factor could have resulted in you murdering someone, which could have happened if the other factor was there. Every event has a million near misses.

Hageltoast said...

So what happens when i'm just in a flap?

john said...

One of my favorite movies is "Sliding Doors" that shows how a character's life was affected by simple slight changes. Very interesting theory.

Groovy Lady said...

I think about things like this too, having had events such as yours with the two young boys happen to me as well.

It does give you something to think about and it should make everyone think at least a little bit.. not dwell on of course, because like you said, one would go crazy if they did.

But if everyone lived their lives thinking about the fact that they very well could be the last person someone speaks to, or by being friendly to someone may help them in a way that they have no idea of.. etc., I think the world as a whole would be a better place, and everyone in it would be better people.

Dagoth said...

Hi Spider

Way too many "What if's" as I get older, too many "if I had turned left instead of right" that come back to haunt me as more and more time passes. More memories of what was and what could have been had life been just an instant later. How much different would it be? But once the butterfly flaps it's wings you just have to live with the consequences because the only alternative is for the butterfly not to fly at all, and what sort of life would that be for a beautiful butterfly...

Ian Lidster said...

Creepy story about the two boys and the accident and yes, I think of such things often. When I was at the Green Sheet I went to cover a traffic accident north of Union Bay. It was a bad one and the driver was killed. In fact, he was lying under a tarp on the road. I thought later, what if he had noticed his shoelace was untied as he was going out the door and took a few seconds to stop and tie it? Those few seconds probably would have meant he'd still be alive. Unless, of course, you follow the idea of Kismet, in which case, that day was his day to die and there was nothing he could have done about it.
Nice to see you at my blog and I was thinking that I believe you were the second person to ever respond to a blog of mine. Kimber was the first, I believe. And, I realized to my astonishment you weren't on my blogroll, so I will rectify that right now.
Cheers,
Ian

Dan said...

I totally agree with this because if has a multiplier effect. We are the product of every single interaction and experience we have ever had. Had any of those been any different, even slightly, we could be a completely different person than who we are today.

Nice post!

Jocelyn said...

I absolutely subscribe to this theory--but not in a way that means we can control such things. What will happen, will. But the ability of "retrospect" makes all such questions fascinating. Great post.

[eric] said...

Conversely, what you don't do has just as large effect. You could seal yourself in a bunker, do nothing, and change the world. Hope for slackers everywhere!

robin said...

i've always found chaos theory fascinating (if not a little overwhelming as well), but it's not something i think of often. however, i happened to read this post the morning before i was involved in my first car wreck and got my first ticket. the whole way home after that big mess, i kept thinking about this post and its implications for my situation...if i hadn't stopped to talk to a friend on the way out of the office, would i have ended up here? if i hadn't let one car in to the main flow of traffic, would i still have been in a wreck? it's crazy stuff. and ultimately, i decided it did me more harm than good to dwell on all of the possibilities. in this case, i've ended up setting aside chaos theory for good old fashioned pragmatism. :)

anyway...just thought you might like to know...your posts do in fact influence those around you.