Cambridge Massachusetts, 1961. MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz routinely entered some data into a weather program on his computer. When finished, he left his office to get a cup of coffee while the computer crunched the numbers. What he found when he returned would change the scientific world forever.
Lorenz was repeating a weather simulation he’d run earlier—but this time he had rounded off one of the variables by roughly one thousandth of one percent. To his surprise, that tiny alteration drastically transformed the entire pattern his program produced, over two months of simulated weather.
The unexpected result led Lorenz to a powerful insight about the way things work. The understanding that seemingly insignificant events can produce massively significant results over time. The idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” after Lorenz suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could ultimately cause a tornado somewhere else in the world.
Lorenze’s “Butterfly Effect” ultimately became the founding principle of what is now known as “Chaos Theory” which has had a massive influence in modern science.
When considering Lorenze’s theory, it raises an interesting question. Does the “Butterfly Effect” apply only to weather patterns? Or might it have some significance in other areas of our lives.
If a butterfly can affect entire weather patterns, how much could our seemingly insignificant thoughts, words and actions affect the world around us over time?
Suppose you choose to do one small act of kindness today… and it raises someone’s spirits just enough that they may act, or react, more kindly to someone else who in turn is positively affected. On and on it goes. How might the world be affected over time by our simple gesture? My best guess is that the butterfly effect is NOT measurable since this energy ripples out across all of creation… forever.
Now consider what might happen if you choose to say or do an unkind thing today. Do we even want to think about this? Again, the long term effect on the world could be staggering.
There are hundreds of simple decisions we make every day without giving them a second thought… Could these decisions be affecting the world around us more than we realize?
My father met my mother at a roller skating rink in Philadelphia many years ago. What if he had decided to go to the movies that night instead? The ripple effect of that simple decision could have been enormous. It's possible that my entire family wouldn't even exist! That is a scenario I would prefer not to think about. But again, we discover that the long-term ramifications of seemingly insignificant decisions can be massive in scope. I'm sure if you think back, you will find events in your life that seemed insignificant at the time but, in hindsight, they shaped your world immensely.
So… can the flap of a butterfly’s wings really cause a tornado? When asked at a lecture in 2008, Edward Lorenze replied “Even today I am unsure of the proper answer but the value of the question is the larger point it evokes”. To me, the larger point is... We are all changing the world every single day... whether we are aware of it... or not!
So how will you change the world today? Perhaps with a simple act f kindness... or a trip to a roller skating rink... you just never know!