Butterfly effect theory applies to life

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A seemingly insignificant butterfly flaps its wings on a tree in the Gulf of California, a natural occurrence that seems unimportant and trivial—until a few weeks later when hurricane and tornado alerts flash onto TV screens half-way across the world.

This is an example of the Butterfly Effect Theory, discovered in the 1960s by Edward Norton Lorenz, an MIT meteorologist, the theory states that all future events can change with one decision. This is also known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” according to the article “When the Butterfly Effect took Flight” by Peter Dizikes.

The Butterfly Effect theory term comes from Lorenz’s academic paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” that was published in 1972.

Lorenz observes how small differences in a dynamic system could actually trigger vast and unexpected results, according to the article “Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory and butterfly effect, dies at 90” on news.mit.edu/2008/obit-lorenz-0416.

Examples of the “Butterfly Effect” are found in double pendulums, where an initial position can produce entirely different swings and chaotic behavior, or when a piece of trash on the ground that does not end up in the garbage can pollute the ocean and potentially lead to deaths of sea creatures.

Another example is found in “Choose Your Own Adventure” children books where the reader can make choices that guide the plotline. The “Butterfly Effect” is applied when the choices a reader makes at that one point in the book can lead to the best or worst endings.

In order to develop a game that is similar to reality while also containing the notion of unpredictable outcomes in everyday life and allow players to make their “own ending,” horror-themed video games and movies use the “Butterfly Effect” concept of how practically every decision one makes can lead to a myriad of different outcomes.

“Until Dawn,” an interactive, horror movie-story video game that integrates the notion of the Butterfly Effect theory, allows players to make their own choices that would contribute to either a happy ending or a grim outcome for the characters. The Butterfly Effect theory is applied while making decisions during dangerous situations in the game, such as having a creature chase the main character and having to decide whether to hide or run for life’s sake.

Movies that deal with time-travel also use the “Butterfly Effect” concept. “Back to the Future” uses this theory when the main character, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), is thrown back to the past and must get his two parents fall in love with each other or he will cease to exist. The film also uses the notion that making a change in one event can lead to different results that may be either good or bad (in this case the problem of whether McFly will exist or not.)

The Butterfly Effect theory suggests that one little change can produce an entirely different ending. A butterfly that flaps its wings does not know whether the slight shift of air molecules produced will contribute to a hurricane, nor can a human make for certain whether a piece of trash will cause a sea creature’s death—but the theory of how such insignificant decisions can lead to drastic changes in the outcome may cause one to think twice and make careful and more educated life choices.


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