When a butterfly flaps its wings

The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect
Spread a smile

Following a downpour, one might spot bunches of mushrooms sprouting here and there. One may wonder, does it abruptly grow overnight or was it present there all this time, hiding beneath the surface of the soil. Is it the rain that hastened its overnight appearance or something else?


Likewise, some of the daily occurrences or happenings that people encounter as individuals, society, or a state might not just happen at once, or it does not happen in vacuums. There are almost always some preceding causes behind it, something akin to the butterfly effect.

The butterfly effect

Small causes can create enormous consequences in places that you would never expect; that is the butterfly effect in the most straightforward terms.

The traditional way to conceptualise the butterfly effect is a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil that can cause a tornado somewhere else in the world.

A metaphor

The butterfly effect has become a metaphor to describe how a minimal change in a variable in a dynamic system can significantly impact how the system behaves.

There are countless subtle varieties and colours of butterflies exerting their power in our everyday lives.

We can glimpse the butterfly effect acting in the following illustrations where a slight fluttering kick-started to a longstanding and tremendous impact somewhere else.

Bitterness gets snowballed

Some of the conflicts and wars we see today have antiquated origins that might have possibly initiated after trivial verbal arguments, inflamed emotions and egos.

These ancestral grudges slowly get snowballed across generations and continents, transpiring into hatred and enmity, steering into an endless loop of mindless bloodsheds and devastation of lives.

 Despite the all-around development humans have earned in many domains with improved reasoning capacities, people find themselves continuously entangled in the age-old web of hatred and conflicts. 

Some personal gestures can unexpectedly set the entire world ablaze. The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia ignited Arab spring.

Faith in humanity

The same applies to gestures of kindness and acts of good deeds. The far-fetched and long-term effects of a kind word, a word of encouragement or assistance at times of crisis, are familiar realities of life.

Many unsung heroes in our midst have been a catalyst to the upliftment of the underprivileged sections of society.

Without reliable humanitarian assistance from society, it is almost impossible to overcome life struggles and adversity in life.

Even if the public ignores or forgets this kind of great humanitarian deed, the kindness once received never gets exhausted. It inevitably gets multiplied and reciprocated in numerous ways at places and times we never anticipate, making every human being believe in the power of humanity. In a good sense, what goes around, comes back around in a bigger, better version.

The history behind the butterfly effect

History says that, during the ’60s, meteorologist Edward Lorenz was trying his hands to model weather patterns.

His data for that included wind speed, air pressure and temperature that were linked to three equations. The calculation from the first fed into the second, which then fed its results into the third, so on and forth, creating a mathematical loop.

While rechecking the results of a long calculation, one day, Lorenz took a shortcut.

He entered the same data he had used previously but rounded it to the nearest one thousand rather than one-millionth (for example, .408 instead of.408222)

What he thought was, this change would hardly have any impact on the overall result.

But in reality, when he was amazed to discover that the results were significantly different. He realised that the feedback process would magnify even a tiny change in the numbers reflecting wind, temperature or pressure conditions, and the end results would be significantly changed.

This observation led him to wonder,” Does the flap of a butterfly wing in Brazil cause a tornado in Texas”?

Over a period of time, the butterfly effect became an everyday metaphor.

Pay attention to small things

The butterfly effect should make us more aware and conscious of the consequences of apparently insignificant actions.

A rude remark can crush someone’s confidence, a word of encouragement can do wonders, a compassionate comment can heal the world.

Next time when you see a butterfly flapping its wings, don’t get mesmerised by its magnificence alone; but give credit to its power too.

Sayeeda Pearl

Doctor by profession, Trivandrum medical college alumni, a passionate reader first, writing tidbits here and there on this and that. Sharing bits of life’s fascinating teachings that everyone encounters.

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