The Butterfly Effect

Wikipedia defines the butterfly effect as the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state[sic]. The 2004 Sci-fi thriller movie of the same title describes The Butterfly Effect using simple theory. When a butterfly flutters its wings in one corner of the world, the ripples are felt in the other corner. Or something similar.

Put in a simpler manner, every different action carried out will lead to a different end result or a different state of transition towards end result. The progress of your life changes based on the actions that you undertake and it will always be different if your actions had been different under same circumstances. There is different set of consequences for every action you take. The consequences will lead to different set of results over the entire period of time and life, beginning the time of action.

How is it that you are reading this?

Have you ever wondered how you reach a certain point in your life and what were the means to this end. Just think, how is it that you are reading this article. If your think backwards in time to all the actions you carried out, you will realise that one particular action lead you to my blog. If you had done something else instead of that, you wouldn’t be reading this.

I had been intending to blog about the butterfly effect since quite some time. More so after and event at our office which reaffirmed my commitment to blog about it. But I wouldn’t find time to do so and kept on pushing it ahead. It was something else that I planned to blog about today, but I couldn’t collect all the details required today due to technical issues. And among list of topics which I have, I was better prepared for this topic. If I had collected the data for that other blog yesterday, I would have been stroking different keys. The butterfly effect wouldn’t have materialized on this blog.

Getting a sense of what this is about?

The event in my office

This small story is quite interesting and which can explain the butterfly effect over centuries.

It so happened that a colleague in my office resigned to take up new challenges in Liberia. As usual, on his final day in the office, we had a farewell get-together. During his farewell speech, he tried to reason his decision with a small story. In short, it goes like this.

There was once a woodcutter, carrying out his job in wood. Around noon time, he got tired from all the work and he decided to take a break. He found a log under the cool shade of a tree and went to sit on it. While just sitting, a caterpillar fell down from the tree and landed on the log. The woodcutter sat on the log and squashed the caterpillar. Soon he realized what had happened and saw that his pants were soiled by the dead caterpillar. He needed to clean them but didn’t have water for that.

In search of water, he went to a nearby farm and knocked on the farmer’s door. A young girl opened the door and attended to his request. The woodcutter fell in love with the farmers daughter. Over a period of time, the woodcutter and the farmers daughter got married and had a baby boy. This boy later went on to become the President of the united States. It is Abraham Lincoln that we are speaking of.

Abraham Lincoln was a well known supporter of the American Colonization Society. This society believed that the freed slaves in America had a better prospects of life in Africa. The settlers in Africa issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a constitution which established and independent country. This was the Republic of Liberia.

At this point of time this was just a nice story for all our colleagues in office. But the next sentence by our departing colleague sent out ripples of laughter across the gathering. He said, “If the woodcutter had not sat on the exact same spot where the caterpillar fell down that day, there might have not been any Liberia in existence and I wouldn’t have been leaving this organisation.”

The Butterfly effect

Now that we think of it, it seems more true to the nature of this post. Had the woodcutter decided to take rest a few moments early or later, he wouldn’t have sat on the caterpillar. Consequently Abe Lincoln wouldn’t have been been born and there might not have been present Liberia. Furthermore, if each of the important event that happened during the story, if circumstances had been different, the outcome might would have been different. Let’s say the wood cutter had the water to clean his pants, he wouldn’t have met the young women. Or if the farmer opened the door instead of his daughter? Or if their first born was a girl and not a boy? My colleague might not have had the opportunity to attempt a new venture in his life.

The plot of the novel The Bannerman Effect loosely relies on the Butterfly effect. A team of a once-deadly assassins, which has now retired, is being used by the government to test an experimental computer program. This program predicts the outcome based on certain events triggered by the government. Any event, like assassination of a particular person, triggered by the government will ultimately force others in the network to deduce the next events. These people would trigger further events which would ultimately lead to the goals of the government. The government’s efforts in achieving the expected end results would be minimised. No one would know that the government was involved. The program simulates this effects for each action.

Our lives belongs to the butterfly effect. What do you think is going to happen next? You don’t know. Neither do I. But let me assure you, whatever you are doing now will surely determine what you will do next.

The butterfly continues to flutter, relentlessly.

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