Chaos and the butterfly effect ...

Chaos and the butterfly effect …

It was a neat idea; the choir entered from the back of the church, singing as they walked up the aisle single file. At the front of the church they passed over a wooden checkerboard-style floor vent.

A few of the choir had passed over it, when one of the ladies’ high heels caught in the vent. The quick-thinking lady slipped the shoe off her foot and walked on without missing a note.

The quick-thinking man behind her, reached down, grabbed the shoe, and walked on without missing a note but missed the fact that the shoe and the wooden grate were still together, and in his hand.

Head held high, concentrating on his high notes, without missing a note, the next man disappeared into the hole left by the missing grate.

This inconsequential event, except for the poor chap who disappeared before the congregation’s very eyes, is an example of the Chaos Theory, a true scientific theory, out of which, if I’ve got it right, came the thought that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere in the world can cause a tornado somewhere else.

The Chaos Theory relates to “some nonlinear, dynamic systems that exhibit apparently erratic or random behaviour even though the system has limits and contains no random variables.”

A recession example of this butterfly effect, an expert tells us, is the housewife cleaning the fridge, when her child trips over a toy and hurts herself. She goes to help and leaves the fridge door open. It’s a very hot day, the child’s bruises need more attention, the fridge is open for hours, breaks down and the family needs a new one. To get funds for a new fridge, they decide to add some home repairs, so they sell off a large chunk of IBM stock from her parents’ wedding present.

By chance, at the moment she sells the stock, a market specialist sees her sale, gets it in his head the sale of a large chunk of stock means something, so he follows, selling off his stock in the tech sector. A financial reporter sees both sales, interprets it, reports it must reflect a shortage of silicon, suggests investors unload their tech stocks immediately. Many stockholders follow his advice and a massive sell-off takes place. The butterfly effect at work in the recession.

Tracing the origin of a popular quotation into the realm of science was a new experience for us, and we found a scientist named Edward Lorenz is credited with its origin. The story told is that he was using a numerical computer model in 1961 to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a number in the sequence, he entered the decimal .506 instead of entering the full .506127 the computer would hold. The result was a completely different weather scenario.

He published his findings in a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences noting that “One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.” As is the way of our world, it was dressed up to the more poetic butterfly becoming “A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas,” or a version thereof.

Hey, that’s a bit of alright, Stan commented. That chaos /butterfly-effect thing is the first scientific principle I’ve wrapped my head around. I got it right away; I see it everyday when I watch Question Period.

If butterfly wings can cause a tornado somewhere else in the world, I wonder what our official territorial birds can do?